19 May 2022, The Tablet

View from Rome

View from Rome

The arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and critic of the Vatican’s deal with Beijing over the appointment of bishops, ratchets up the pressure on the Holy See in its attempt to rebuild diplomatic relations with China.

A two-pronged strategy by the global Church appears to be in play. First, we saw the Vatican’s cautious reaction to news of Zen’s arrest. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, expressed both concern for the 90-year-old cardinal and hope that the discussions with Beijing, however complex, would continue. The wary tone of Parolin’s response reflects the fact that he will soon be entering into discussions with Communist Party officials to review the agreement first signed in 2018 and renewed in 2020 – the details of which remain unpublished – on the appointment of bishops, which will be up for renewal again later this year. Although the Vatican has always stressed that this deal is simply a pastoral measure to safeguard Catholics and bring unity to the Church in China, Zen has long been a vocal critic, even accusing Parolin of manipulating the Pope.

To complicate things further, Catholics in Hong Kong are sharply divided over the democracy protests, with Bishop Stephen Chow, a Jesuit, trying to maintain a fragile unity among his flock. The new chief executive of Hong Kong, John Lee, is a Catholic, as was his predecessor, Carrie Lam.

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