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Cardinal Joseph Zen preaches a sermon during a mass at the Holy Cross Church on May 24, 2022 in Hong Kong.Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

(LifeSiteNews) — Today, the story broke that Cardinal Joseph Zen, a Chinese prelate who has opposed the oppression of Chinese Communism all his life, has written a letter to the participating bishops of the Synod on Synodality, which started today in Rome, calling upon them to resist the “plan of manipulation.”

Dated September 21, the letter of 91-year old retired bishop of Hong Kong expressed deep concern about a hidden agenda of the entire Synod that is opposed to the Church’s doctrine.

READ: FULL TEXT: Cardinal Zen issues strong appeal to bishops at Synod on Synodality

“They [the organizers of the Synod] begin by saying we must listen to all,” he wrote, according to The Pillar. “Little by little they make us understand that among the ‘all’ are those whom we have ‘excluded.’ Finally, we understand what they mean are people who opt for a sexual morality different from that of Catholic tradition.”

“Often they claim not to have an agenda,” the cardinal added.“This is truly an offense to our intelligence. Anybody can see which conclusions they are aiming at.”

Since The Pillar, who broke the story, did not publish the entire 6-page letter, we are relying here on their own words that reveal Zen’s perception that the organizers are trying to establish a democratic system in the Church, which is against the hierarchical structure of the Church as established by Christ Himself. Writes The Pillar:

In the six-page text, Zen also expressed his ‘even greater confusion and worry’ at what he perceives to be concerted effort to use the synod to establish democracy in place of the Church’s sacramental hierarchy, as the means of establishing doctrine.

The cardinal admitted a ‘malicious suspicion’ that the synodal process, originally announced to conclude after a single session in Rome this October, was extended by an extra year because ‘organizers, not sure to be able to reach during this session their goals, are opting for more time to maneuver.’

It is clear to the Chinese prelate that the results of that Synod are already prepared. The Pillar reports his words as saying that “participants have been invited to ‘expect ‘surprises’ from the Spirit,” and that such language seems to imply a predetermined outcome for the Synod. “Evidently they are already informed which surprises to expect,” were Zen’s own words. Zen believes these small language groups in which the topics of the Synod are being discussed are meant to help with the manipulation of the Synod’s outcome. In his eyes, the synodal secretariat staff is “very efficient at the art of manipulation,” and thus he urged the participants of the Synod “not to obey them” when “they tell you to go and pray, interrupting the sessions of the Synod.”

In this 21 September letter, Zen also pointed out the parallel to the German Synodal Path which presented “a revolutionary change in the constitution of the Church and in the moral teaching about sexuality,” and which the pope himself never stopped.

That is to say, Zen, on the background of his experience with Chinese Communist tactics, sees methods in play that pretend to be democratic, but in reality are manipulative and revolutionary, just as in Communism. The German priest, Father Frank Unterhalt, in his own new analysis of the Synod, called it the “October Revolution of the Catholic Church.” (A full translation of this analysis soon to come on LifeSiteNews.)

This method can be described as “Democratic Centralism”: It looks to the outside as democracy, but is in reality steered by a small group of people, by a sort of “central committee.” If we look at the ongoing Synod on Synodality, that is exactly what is happening: the five-headed group of organizers – the central committee – are composed by people who wish to change the Church’s doctrine on LGBT matters and female “ordinations.” With the support and connivance of the pope himself, they are steering the discussions and results, and those who try to oppose these changes are being silenced or excluded.

As a matter of fact, LifeSite has learned from one source that the draft of the Synod has already been circulating for more than two months.

In light of these developments that are so harmful to the faithful and the Catholic Church, a reflection on “Democratic Centralism in the Catholic Church,” written by my recently deceased husband, Dr. Robert Hickson, would be worthwhile to reprint here. He wrote it in the context of the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family which had already revealed so many methods of manipulation that were being applied back then, with the crucial involvement of the then-Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri. My husband opined: “’Baldissieri’s Papally-Approved Principles and Ambiguously Applied Methods’ certainly remind me of the manipulative changes and equivocations in Praxis of the important and recurrent Concept: the Soviet-and-Chinese Communist Concept and Reality of ‘Democratic Centralism.'”

And he further wondered: “To what extent do we see this deception in the procedures and the consequential breaking of trust now also spreading in and throughout the Neo-Modernist Occupied, updated Catholic Church, especially in the form of a Specious ‘Democratic Centralism’?”

Later on, my husband explains that with this Communist “organizational method, one can have the appearance of a ‘participatory’ democratic procedure while, in reality, the whole process is organized and steered by a small group of people.” This method, he argued, can even be seen back in the French Revolution.

Robert told a priest friend of his in 2021 after sending him this same essay that “applying to the Catholic Church now the concept and reality of Democratic Centralism could still be fruitful of further insights for us.” And I would add that in 2023, it is even more fitting to read and consider.

Please see here the full text of my husband’s essay, which was first published on, and then republished in Italy on Professor Roberto de Mattei’s website Corrispodenza Romana and on our family website,

Below is the full text of Dr. Robert Hickson’s October 10, 2015, article:

Applying democratic centralism to the Catholic Church currently


“Modern democracy depends upon a hidden oligarchy [“oligarchie cachée” or perhaps, in the plural, “oligarchies cachées”?], which is contrary to its principles but indispensable to its functioning.” (François Furet, Penser la Révolution française (1978).


“That is to say, modern democracy is built upon—and depends upon—a deception.” (Arnaud de Lassus)


“You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments [perhaps opportunistic blandishments] in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent.” [e.g., the incited and manipulated “ochlos” so soon to be cheering for Barabbas!] (Evelyn Waugh, Helena (1950)—emphasis added)

Josef Pieper once memorably said to me in a conversation in the library of his home: “You find the most precious truths in unlikely places.” (And he often manifested the implications of that insight, in his attentive receptivity and buoyant expectancy. In his early 90s, he even once said to a group of students and professors in Germany: “May I tell you a love-story?” And he suddenly returned to a gracious nun he had known many years earlier, when he had traveled to Iceland as a young adolescent with two of his friends.)

Such a precious and abiding discovery of truth also came to me suddenly in France in the late 1980s–in the home of another beloved mentor, Arnaud de Lassus. Through my mentor’s generosity, he took a book in French and pointed me to one sentence. It was a sentence from François Furet’s book on the French Revolution, Penser la Révolution française (1978), specifically to be found in his concluding chapter on Augustin Cochin (1876-1916), the admired young Catholic historian who died at the battle of the Somme in World War I. (As a young historical scholar Augustin Cochin had also already written much on the French Revolution and especially on Les Sociétés de Pensée et La Démocratie Moderne, an analysis of influential and well-organized, revolutionary oligarchies which was highly esteemed by Furet, who was himself then (in 1988) a well known leftist-leaning intellectual historian, surprisingly.)

François Furet’s own lapidary sentence candidly said the following: “Modern democracy is dependent upon a hidden oligarchy which is contrary to its principles but indispensable to its functioning.”

As I stood there reflecting on that incisive insight, my beloved mentor, Arnaud de Lassus, then said with his characteristic modesty: “I consider that sentence almost perfect. But, I would place ‘hidden oligarchy’ [‘oligarchie cachée’] in the plural, ‘oligarchies cachées’. For, there are also civil wars within—and among—the revolutionary elites themselves and their own leavens—as Léon de Poncins so well understood.” And then Arnaud de Lassus added his own lucid inference from the perspicacious words of Furet’s own insight: “Modern democracy is built upon—and depends upon—a deception.” That is where we must start! Thus begins the breaking of trust, for the greatest social effect of the lie is that it breaks trust. And we soon discover the rancid fruits of such perfidy and intimately broken trust.

To what extent do we see this deception in the procedures and the consequential breaking of trust now also spreading in and throughout the Neo-Modernist Occupied, updated Catholic Church, especially in the form of a Specious “Democratic Centralism”?

We might now learn a little more to help us illuminate reality, if we better come to understand “The Concept and Reality of Democratic Centralism”—in light of the three Soviet Constitutions and even the 1982 Chinese Communist Constitution, but especially as that Principle and Doctrine might be (or is being) effectively applied today by an apostle of Antonio Gramsci and his grasp of how to achieve a Cultural Hegemony, also through Liberation Theology.[1] (In all of this brief presentation, however, I propose to be—and please allow me to be—suggestive, not comprehensive, much less conclusive.)

Our reflections now should also be guided and prudently disciplined by another profound insight from Arnaud de Lassus, an insight which is also a formidable challenge to us: “How does one resist the corruptions of authority without thereby subverting the principle of authority?” And, he added, “especially in the Catholic Church.”

One test case of the reality of this challenge is the currently applied equivocal methods of the October 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome. I speak especially of the procedures directed and applied by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldissieri—the Secretary General of the Synod—with the acknowledged prior approval of the Pope.

“Baldissieri’s Papally-Approved Principles and Ambiguously Applied Methods” certainly remind me of the manipulative changes and equivocations in Praxis of the important and recurrent Concept: the Soviet-and-Chinese Communist Concept and Reality of “Democratic Centralism,” as specifically defined in the texts of all three Soviet Communist Constitutions (1924, 1936, and 1977); and also still in the later, “post-Mao” 4 December 1982 Chinese Communist “Constitution of the People’s Republic [sic] of China (Chapter I, Article 3). The three Soviet Constitutions are sometimes sequentially called by shorthand: “the Lenin Constitution” (1924), “the Stalin Constitution” (1936), and “the Brezhnev Constitution” (1977).

Moreover, fair-minded scholars still discuss “the balance” or “changing proportions” of the composite elements of “Democracy” and of “Centralization” in the “dialectically evolving” meaning and application of “Democratic Centralism” as a concept and as an exquisitely fitting “organizational method” to allow–purportedly– “freedom of discussion” and “sternly disciplined unity of action.”

With this specious organizational method, one can have the appearance of a “participatory” democratic procedure while, in reality, the whole process is organized and steered by a small group of people. It is as if one would say about the desired outcome “these are the conclusions on which I base my facts—and thus the factoids I shall now rearrange to fit my artifice.” A recent example of this tendency might help us to grasp these maneuvers—even some subtle and indirect Gramscian maneuvers—more adequately.

In his candid report from Rome on 12 October 2015, entitled “Thirteen Cardinals Have Written to the Pope: Here Is the Letter,” Sandro Magister has revealed some important facts and maneuvers concerning the ongoing Synod of Bishops on the Family. A portion of this report is pertinent to our own suspicious consideration of “Democracy,” as such, wherever we hear the word; and also to the evidence confirming an entirely expected Centralized Oligarchic Manipulation of the putatively “Open Synodal Process.” For example, as Sandro Magister says:

On the afternoon of the same Monday, October 5, during the first discussion in the [plenary synodal] assembly, Cardinal Pell [from Australia] and other synod fathers referred to some of the questions presented in the letter [to the pope, personally and privately by more than ten cardinals]. Pope Francis was there and listening. And the next morning, on Tuesday, October 6, he spoke. The text of these unscheduled remarks has not been made public, but only summarized verbally by Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. and in writing by L’ Osservatore Romano….To this account from L’ Osservatore Romano, Fr. Lombardi added that “the decisions of method were also shared and approved by the pope, and therefore cannot be brought back into discussion.” [Franciscus Locutus, Causa Finita?] From this it can be gathered that Francis has rejected the [Cardinals’] letter en bloc, apart from the marginal recommendation not to reduce the discussion only to “communion for the divorced.” And he has not rejected them [the requests of the Cardinals] without a polemical jab, as afterward made known—in a tweet that has not been disowned—by the director [editor] of La Civiltà Cattolica, [Fr.] Antonio Spadaro, S.J., also present [with the pope] in the hall, according to whom the pope told the [synod] fathers “not to give in to the conspiracy hermeneutic, which is socially weak and spiritually unhelpful.” All this at the beginning of the synod….On Friday, October 9, Cardinal Luis G. Tagle, archbishop of Manilla and president delegate of the synod, said out of the blue that, with regard to the final relation [the official Relatio Finalis], “we await the decision of the pope.” And the next day, Father Lombardi, S.J. clarified that “we do not yet have certainty on how the conclusion of the synod will take place, meaning if there will or will not be a final document. We will see if the [capricious? centralizing? arbitrary?] pope gives precise [sic] indications [commands?].” Incredible but true. With the synod in full swing, a question mark has suddenly been raised over the very existence of that “Relatio finalis” which figured in the programs [procedures, methods] as the goal towards which all the work of the synod was finalized….“Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched,” Pope Francis pledged [sic] in referring to the entire conduct of the synod from 2014 to today [now in mid-October 2015], in response to the “concerns” of the thirteen cardinals of the letter [the official personal, private letter to the reigning pontiff]. But Cardinal Tagle, a prominent representative of the innovators, also said at the press conference on October 9, with visible satisfaction: “The new method adopted by the synod has definitely caused a bit [sic] of confusion, but it is good to be confused once in a while. If things are always clear, then we might not be in real life anymore.”

Does not this entire set of Magister’s selected reports and modest insights also suggest the presence and permeation of manipulative Democratic Centralism? At least we should now be convinced that the Directorate of the Synod is “not playing with a full deck.” This kind of “praxis” must not be considered an honorable Pastoral Method, much less an Example of the genuine Mercy.


1 See Humberto Belli, Nicaragua: Christians Under Fire (1984) about the hidden underground influence of Gramsci and the use of “symbolic subversion” learned by the Sandinistas from the Cubans to undermine Pope John Paul’s March 1983 visit to Nicaragua.
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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.