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Cdl. Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.Salt and Light Media / YouTube

HONG KONG, October 9, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Joseph Zen is accusing the Vatican’s secretary of state of “lying” in claiming that Pope Benedict XVI approved a draft of the controversial 2018 China-Vatican secret deal that the Holy See is expected to renew next month.

The retired bishop of Hong Kong also accused Cardinal Pietro Parolin of “manipulating” Pope Francis when it comes to the Vatican’s dealings with China’s communist regime.

In an October 7 blog post written in Italian, Zen penned a scathing rebuttal of Parolin’s October 3 talk in Milan on the Church’s missionary activity in China.

Parolin reiterated then that the Vatican is committed to a provisional renewal of the 2018 agreement, which expires on October 22, so that it can bear “more substantial fruit” and alleged that Benedict had approved the deal in draft form, reported the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

“I read the speech given by Cardinal Parolin,” said Zen. “It’s sickening!”

“As [Parolin] is not stupid and ignorant,” he had to conclude that the Vatican official “told a series of lies with eyes open,” added the 88-year-old prelate, one of the fiercest critics of the accord.

“The most repugnant thing is the insult to the venerable Benedict XVI by saying that he approved at the time the agreement signed by the Holy See two years ago, knowing that our sweetest, most gentle Benedict certainly will not come out to deny it,” added Zen.

“Parolin knows he is lying,” emphasized the cardinal.

“He knows that I know he is a liar, he knows that I will tell everyone that he is a liar, so in addition to being cheeky, he is also bold.”

Zen has described the agreement, which gave the Vatican some say with Beijing in appointing bishops in China, as an “incredible betrayal” of China’s Catholics.

The Vatican is portraying the deal as a path to unifying the Chinese underground Church, which remained in communion with Rome for decades despite intense persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the schismatic Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), created by the regime in the late 1950s.

To gain approval for the accord, the Vatican formally recognized and consecrated seven excommunicated bishops the state had appointed to the CPCA.

Pope Francis also requested that Bishop Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou of the underground Church retire and that Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong step aside for a CPCA bishop.

Parolin has produced no proof Benedict approved draft

Parolin backed his October 3 claim that Benedict approved a draft of the agreement by citing Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals and former prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, CNA reported.

According to Parolin, Re said in March that “Pope Benedict XVI [approved] the draft agreement on the appointment of bishops in China, which it was only possible to sign in 2018.”

Zen, however, hotly contested Re’s alleged remarks, calling it “very ridiculous and humiliating” for Re “to be ‘used’ once again to support the falsehoods of the Most Eminent Secretary.”

Moreover, Riccardo Cascioli, founder and editor-in-chief of the Nuova Bussola Quotidiana and the Daily Compass, also strongly disputed Re’s allegation last February, describing it as a “sensational revelation that at this point requires proof” and one that, if “shown to be true,” could only lead to the conclusion that Benedict “had reneged on everything he had publicly written.”

China expert Steve Mosher, another well known critic of the China-Vatican deal, says no proof has as yet materialized.

“Cardinal Zen has repeatedly challenged Parolin to show him the draft that the then-Pope signed or initialled. He has never received satisfaction and strongly asserts that Parolin is lying about receiving Pope Benedict’s consent,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews in an email.

“To justify the Sino-Vatican Agreement, Cardinal Parolin continues to claim that the draft agreement was approved by Pope Benedict some years ago before his resignation,” he added.

“I have always believed Cardinal Zen in these matters. He understands the increasingly dire situation for believers in China, caused in part by the Sino-Vatican Agreement, far better than anyone else in the Church today,” said Mosher.

Church in China “objectively schismatic”: Zen

Parolin insisted in his October 3 address that the secret deal does not touch on political matters, but deals only with the appointment of bishops.

He described the latter as causing the Catholic Church in China “the most suffering” since the communists came to power, expelled Catholic missionaries, and cut ties with Rome.

Now, “for the first time in many decades, today all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome,” said Parolin.

The Vatican has noted that no further illicit consecrations have taken place since the deal was signed in 2018, CNA reported.

Zen, however, blasted this as an illusory achievement.

“All legitimate bishops, but in a Church that is objectively schismatic, is that good? Is it progress? Is this the beginning of what kind of journey?”

The China-Vatican deal gave Beijing a say in the ordination of bishops and allowed for the enforcement of “sinicization” in Church matters, Zen said.

The campaign of “sinicization,” which President Xi Jinping announced in 2015, imposes Chinese and communist identity on religious practice.

Under the policy, CCP officials are forcing churches to replace images of the Ten Commandments, biblical paintings, and crosses with portraits of Xi or sayings of his or Chairman Mao’s. The CCP is also rewriting the Bible to bring it into line with communist ideology.

Parolin told a Chinese state-run publication in 2019 that “sinicization” can be “complementary” to the Catholic missionary practice of “inculturation,” which he said involves proclaiming the Gospel “according to the particular experience of each people and culture,” CNA reported at the time.

Zen denounced this idea in his October 7 critique. The CCP’s “sinicization” of religion “is not what we mean by inculturation, it is the religion of the Communist Party,” where “the first divinity is the country, the party, the party leader,” he said.

“How can the Most Eminent say that all this has nothing to do with the agreement? Can life be cut into pieces?” Zen asked.

Pope “closes eyes” to CCP persecution of Christians

Moreover, “despite the agreement,” Christians in China are increasingly persecuted by CCP authorities, said Zen.

Indeed, a U.S. congressional report released in January linked the secret deal to an “intense” spike in persecution of Christians not seen in China since the Cultural Revolution.

U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently warned the Vatican it will “endanger” its moral authority if it extends its deal with China, and he urged it to “forcefully” denounce Beijing’s crackdown on religious minorities.

Zen reiterated a previous allegation that Parolin is manipulating Pope Francis on the agreement.

“I will be asked: Do you say that Parolin manipulates the Holy Father? Yes, I don’t know why the Pope allows himself to be manipulated, but I have evidence to believe so and this makes it even less painful and repugnant to criticize the Holy See,” he said.

“It seems that in order to save the agreement, the Holy See is closing both eyes on all the injustices that the Communist Party inflicts on the Chinese people,” Zen said.

In a CNA interview last month, Zen criticized Pope Francis for his notable silence on Beijing’s brutal treatment of the mainly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, and warned that “the resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization.”

The Holy Father has also not said a word about the CCP’s persecution of other religious minorities, including Catholics, who number an estimated 10 million of China’s 1.4 billion people.


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