Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen has publicly criticised Pope Francis, saying an imminently expected deal with Beijing is “absolutely unacceptable”.
Speaking this week to the Wall Street Journal, the former head of the Church in Hong Kong shared strong concerns about the Vatican’s attempt to woo China with a reported deal concerning the appointment of Catholic bishops.
Since the 1950s Vatican officials have been banned in the atheist country and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association has overseen the government-sanctioned ‘official Church’. Running parallel is the ‘unofficial’ or ‘underground’ Church, which follows Rome first and appoints its own bishops – believed to number 30 in total.
Pope Francis has reportedly been working towards reconciliation with Beijing over this issue, a move that would make the Church “totally subservient to an atheist government”, says Zen.
Only someone ignorant of Communism could think that the nominated bishops the Government sends to Rome wouldn’t be coerced, he says. Having taught in Chinese seminaries from 1989 to 1996, he recalls that ‘official Church’ bishops couldn’t meet or even place international calls without Government bosses present.
The Cardinal blames the Pope’s approach on a lack of understanding about the nature of Communism from his experiences in Argentina: “The Holy Father knew the persecuted communists, not the communist persecutors. He knew the communists killed by the government, not the communist governments who killed thousands and hundreds of thousands of people.” Under Mao Zedong tens of millions died.
“I’m sorry to say that in his goodwill he has done many things which are simply ridiculous”, the cardinal added, referring to Francis’ recent intervention in Communist Cuba which helped lift US sanctions against the country.
But despite his personal views, the Cardinal says he will defer to the Pope’s authority and refrain from protest should the deal with Beijing go ahead.