As China’s Communist Party rolls out even more restrictions for religious organizations, a Catholic leader is accusing the Vatican of complicity in the “killing” of underground churches.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, has been an outspoken critic of what he considers dangerous compromise with communists. On a recent visit to the United States, the 88-year-old led high mass in New York, accepted a pro-democracy award in Washington, and spoke passionately about his fears for the safety of Chinese Christians.
Though Cardinal Zen faults Pope Francis for silence and inaction, he says he’s mainly criticizing “the Holy See”—specifically the “bad people” who advise the pope. He singles out Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin for not being “a man of faith because he despises the heroes of faith.’
The Vatican’s Secret Deal With China
In September 2018, Cardinal Parolin helped arrange a pact with Beijing that was supposed to help unify the underground church and the communist-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). The deal, most of which still remains secret, requires underground (or “home”) churches to register with the government, thus accepting the rule of state authority. It also apparently lets the CPCA select bishop nominees to present to the pope for his final selection. Cardinal Zen compares the arrangement to a 1933 negotiation between Germany and the Vatican, which the Nazis immediately violated.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, William McGurn notes that China, under President Xi Jinping, “has only stepped up persecution” in wake of the 2018 deal. “Meanwhile, the price extracted has been high: the pope’s silence,” McGurn adds. “This silence comes at a particularly terrible moment, when Mr. Xi is busy persecuting everyone from Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs to house church Christians and Falun Gong practitioners.”
By endorsing the agreement, says Cardinal Zen, the pope is “encouraging a schism.” Registering with the communists goes “against our orthodoxy” and is “cheating the faithful,” the cardinal adds. He tells McGurn: “You can never compromise with a totalitarian regime because they want everything. Would you have encouraged St. Joseph to negotiate with Herod?”
Cardinal Zen Issues a ‘war cry’
Worshipers who attended high mass last week at New York’s Church of St. Vincent Ferrer called Cardinal Zen reverent, serious, and a “great example” of adhering to the truth. One woman referred to his message that day as “not a mourning cry but a war cry.”
Cardinal Zen is critical of communist-approved bishops in China who prioritize country over faith. For example, Bishop John Fang Xingyao, leader of the CPCA, recently said, “Love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church, and the law of the country is above Canon law.” Another Catholic leader, Bishop Peter Fang Jianping, justifies sinicization efforts by saying Chinese people “should first be a citizen and then have religion and beliefs.”
In his book For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent, Cardinal Zen details his concern for Chinese Catholics. He contends that Pope Francis is “shutting down” the progress made by John Paul II and Benedict. “Obviously they always give lip service,” he says of Vatican officials. “They always say, ‘In the continuity…’ but that’s an insult.”
La Civilta Cattolica, a pro-Francis Jesuit journal, is attempting to discredit Cardinal Zen, McGurn alleges. It is engaging in “missionary romanticism,” he says, by highlighting the work of Matteo Riccis, a 16th-century Jesuit “who sought to incorporate aspects of Chinese culture into Catholic worship.” The problem with that comparison, McGurn says, is that the 2018 deal was brokered mostly by European Catholics, not by Chinese church leaders who are intimately familiar with communist oppression.
That point is key, according to David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China. “The Sino-Vatican agreement was negotiated not by Chinese Catholics,” he says, “but by Vatican officials who appear susceptible to the same delusions about China and its intentions that infect many Western politicians.”