11 March 2018
Zen warns of church ‘suicide’ in China
Zen said the Vatican should be wary of the illicitly ordained bishops
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former Bishop of Hong Kong and an outspoken critic of the current negotiations between the Holy See and the communist Government in Beijing, has made his most categorical warning to date on the danger of reaching an agreement on episcopal appointments that is too favourable to Beijing.
An agreement that is reportedly under discussion would legitimise bishops of the government-sponsored Catholic Patriotic Association, currently unrecognised by Rome, requiring two bishops whose first loyalty is to Rome – bishops of the “underground” or “unofficial” Church – to retire in the one case, or to step into a lower role as coadjutor archbishop of his diocese, in the other. They would make way for government-approved bishops in each case. Seven illicit bishops, including the two that might be recognised as bishops in this particular arrangement, wrote to the Vatican recently seeking restoration to full communion with Rome.
Speaking to Raymond Arroyo on EWTN’s “The World Over”, Zen said the Vatican should be wary of the illicitly ordained bishops and their letter should not necessarily be believed.
“All those bishops are in the hands of the Government. How can you believe in their real repentance?” he asked. While the Church might be ready to absolve their excommunication, there were other problems. “How can you recognise them to be bishops? To be shepherds of the flock? To form the people to obey, to respect, these people, how can you do that?” the cardinal asked. The move being considered would make it appear these bishops were forgiven because of government pressure, not because the Holy See believed in their sincere repentance.
“They are arrogant, they defy the Holy See. And the Holy See keeps quiet,” he said. “The Holy See is always encouraging the people ‘underground’ and also the good people ‘above ground’ to surrender, to compromise. They are weakening our Church. It is a kind of suicide.”
“I think what is going to happen is a tragedy, a real tragedy,” he said, calling the proposed agreement a “betrayal of the faith.”
About 60 Chinese bishops are recognised by both the Vatican and the Chinese Government, while another 30 bishops are recognised only by the Catholic Church.
Reports coming out of the negotiations regarding future episcopal appointments allude to a proposed arrangement allowing Beijing to put forward three candidates for the Vatican’s approval. Zen pointed out that this is the reverse the more usual, and certainly more desirable, pattern of the Vatican proposing three candidates from which the Government may choose one.
If the Holy See were to accept an inversion along the lines being considered, Zen suggested, then it would be underplaying its hand. “They say the authority of the Pope would be safe because the last word would still belong to the Pope. The problem is what [does this] last word [amount to]?” Cardinal Zen asked.
He suggested that no agreement at all was better than such a deal. In the absence of any agreement, the Government feels pressure to compromise and pay attention to the choices of the Vatican, he said. “But when you give them such power in their hands, they use it fully.”
The Pope does not need the Chinese Government to acknowledge him officially as the head of the Church, Zen pointed out, implying that Beijing needed the Pope’s recognition more than he needed theirs.
While it was also claimed that the 30 legitimate, Vatican- recognised bishops who are not recognised by Beijing would be recognised as part of the deal, Cardinal Zen questioned how this process would work in practice.
“They will be allowed to function like underground bishops?” he asked. “Surely not. They are bringing them into the cage! That’s terrible. They are going to annihilate the underground Church.”
He also claimed that the “many good bishops in the official Church” who are “suffering and fighting”, must at the moment be tolerated by the Government. “But now with this arrangement they [would] lose every hope for a better future!” he claimed.
Asked whether he was really pushing people to be martyrs, Zen replied: “If God wants us to give such a witness to faith, it is a grace, and he will give us the strength.”
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