In an opinion article published by the New York Times, Cardinal Joseph Zen ze-kiun -- the retired shepherd of Catholics in Hong Kong -- wrote that a deal that Vatican diplomats reached with China over the naming of bishops means the “annihilation” of the Catholic Church in China.

Titled “The Pope Doesn’t Understand China,” Cardinal Zen speculated that the new deal exemplifies Pope Francis’ naivete. “Francis may have natural sympathy for Communists because for him, they are the persecuted,” Zen wrote. “He doesn’t know them as the persecutors they become once in power, like the Communists in China.”

The deal worked out between the Vatican and China gives the Chinese Communist party unspecified authority in the naming of bishops. Defenders of the deal claim that it provides unity among those Catholics in China who have remained underground and in communion with the papacy with those who belong to the “official” church approved by the Chinese authorities. Zen differed with the pope’s supporters, saying that the deal is “a major step toward the annihilation of the real Church in China.” Zen wrote, “Pope Francis, an Argentine, doesn’t seem to understand the Communists.” The cardinal suggested that the pope sees communists are defenders of the poor rather than persecutors. 

Zen recalled the days in the 1950s when priests and laity were murdered by Chinese Communist zealots. China severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican and then set about persecuting Christians throughout the country, sending many to labor camps or executing them. 
“I went back to China in 1974 during the Cultural Revolution; the situation was terrible beyond imagination. A whole nation under slavery. We forget these things too easily,” Zen wrote. “We also forget that you can never have a truly good agreement with a totalitarian regime,” he wrote.

Zen asserted that things changed dramatically in the Catholic Church when Pope John Paul II replaced Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, “who understood communism”, in 2002 with a “young Italian with no foreign experience” in overseeing Catholic missionary work. The new man soon  “began legitimizing official Chinese bishops too quickly, too easily, creating the impression that now the Vatican would automatically second Beijing’s selection,” Zen wrote. “Today, we have Pope Francis,” Zen said. “Naturally optimistic about communism, he is being encouraged to be optimistic about the Communists in China by cynics around him who know better.”

Based on his observations, Zen wrote that he has changed his mind about some of the current pope’s appointment of aides. “I was among those who applauded Francis’s decision to appoint Pietro Parolin as secretary of state in 2013,” he said. “But I now think that Cardinal Parolin cares less about the Church than about diplomatic success. His ultimate goal is the restoration of formal relations between the Vatican and Beijing.”

Zen wrote that the pope’s 2015 visit to Cuba accomplished little, writing: “But what did Francis’s visit to Cuba in 2015 bring the Church? The Cuban people? Almost nothing. And did he convert the Castro brothers?” What the accord with China will accomplish, Zen wrote, is the suppression of bishops of the underground, unauthorized Church, who remain faithful to the papacy.  “The Vatican’s deal, struck in the name of unifying the Church in China, means the annihilation of the real Church in China,” he wrote. If he were a cartoonist, Zen wrote, he would depict the pope, “on his knees offering the keys of the kingdom of heaven to President Xi Jinping and saying, ‘Please recognize me as the pope.’” At the end of his article, Cardinal Zen called on faithful bishops and priests of China to avoid fomenting a revolution. “Go home, and pray with your family,” he wrote. “Till the soil. Wait for better times. Go back to the catacombs. Communism isn’t eternal.”



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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