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Cardinal Zen

ROME, January 8, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Joseph Zen, the leading voice for persecuted Catholics in China, has sent a letter to the College of Cardinals imploring them to denounce the recent agreement the Vatican signed with China’s communist government.

Together with the letter, the 87-year-old bishop emeritus of Hong Kong has also shared with his brother cardinals several “dubia” that he gave to Pope Francis in July 2019, following the Vatican’s June release of new guidelines concerning the civil registration of clergy in China. Those dubia were published on LifeSite last July.

In his missive, Cardinal Zen notes the pope’s continued silence despite expressing initial interest in the cardinal’s analysis of the document.

The letter, dated September 27, 2019, was published this morning by Italian journalist Marco Tosatti (in Italian) and Infovaticana (in Spanish) and was picked up by the Vatican aggregator Il Sismografo.

Tosatti notes that Cardinal Zen has decided to make the letter public, likely in view of the escalating persecution of Catholics by Chinese communists following the Vatican-China deal.

Here below is an English translation of the letter and dubia sent by Cardinal Joseph Zen to the cardinals of the Catholic Church.

PETITION: Support Cardinal Zen's plea to stop the “murder of the Church in China” Sign the petition here.

Your Eminence,

Pardon the inconvenience my letter will cause you. It is just that, in conscience, I believe that the problem I present here concerns not only the Church in China, but the whole Church, and we cardinals have the grave responsibility to help the Holy Father in guiding the Church.

From my analysis of the document of the Holy See (June 28, 2019), “Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China,” it is quite clear that it encourages the faithful in China to enter a schismatic church (independent of the pope and under the orders of the Communist Party).

On July 10, I presented my “dubia” to the Pope. His Holiness, on July 3, had promised to take an interest in them, but to this day I have still not heard anything.

Cardinal Parolin says that today when we talk about the independent Church, this independence should no longer be understood as absolute, because the agreement recognizes the role of the pope in the Catholic Church.

First of all, I cannot believe that there is such a statement in the agreement, and I do not see it there. (By the way, why must such an agreement be secret, and why is it not granted even to me, a Chinese cardinal, to see it?) But, even more clearly, the whole reality after the signing of the agreement shows that nothing has changed. Cardinal Parolin quotes a sentence from Pope Benedict’s letter completely out of context — indeed, diametrically opposed to the whole paragraph. This manipulation of the pope emeritus’s thought is gravely disrespectful; indeed, it is a deplorable insult to the person of such a meek pope, who is still alive.

But it also disgusts me that they often declare that what they are doing is in continuity with the thought of the previous pope, while the opposite is true. I have reason to believe (and I hope one day to be able to prove with archival documents) that the agreement signed is the same one that Pope Benedict had, at the time, refused to sign.

Your Eminence, can we passively witness the murder of the Church in China by those who should protect and defend her from her enemies?

Begging on my knees, your brother,

Card. Joseph ZEN, SDB

Dubia of the cardinal regarding “Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China” (updated July 8, 2019):

First of all, it seems strange that such an important document is issued by the “Holy See,” without specifying from which dicastery and with no signature of the responsible authority.

In paragraphs 1 and 2, the document sets out the problem and the general solution.

1. The problem is that the government reneges on its promises to respect Catholic doctrine and in the civil registration of clergy almost always requires one to accept the principle of independence, autonomy, and self-administration of the Church in China (it should be completed with what Pope Benedict XVI’s letter says in paragraph 7, 8 about “adopt[ing] attitudes, mak[ing] gestures and undertak[ing] commitments that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics.”

2. Faced with the complex situation that is not always the same everywhere, the Holy See gives a general line of how to behave:

— on the one hand, it does not intend to force consciences and therefore asks (failing to explicitly say “to the government”) that the Catholic conscience be respected;

— on the other hand, it sets as a general principle that “the experience of clandestinity is not a normal feature of the Church’s life” (Letter of Pope Benedict 8.10) — i.e., it is normal for the Church to come out of it.

With regard to the quotation from Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter in point 8.10, allow me to transcribe here almost the entire paragraph:

(a) “Some of them (bishops), not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration.” 

(b) “The clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church’s life,”

(c) “and history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith,”

(d) “and to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the Church’s life.”

P. Jeroom Heyndrickx and Cardinal Parolin love to mention only part (b); Pope Francis (in his message of Sept. 26, 2018) also adds part (c); but it seems to me that part (a) and (d) are also important.

The paragraph clearly shows that non-normality is not a choice of those who are clandestine; the choice is inevitable. It is the situation that is abnormal! Has this situation perhaps changed today?

3. The long paragraph 3 seeks to prove that what is suggested in paragraph 5 is justified.

First proof: The Constitution guarantees religious freedom.

I ask: But what does the long history of persecution tell us, despite the Constitution?

Second proof: “Logically,” after the Agreement, independence must no longer be understood as absolute independence, but only relative to the political sphere.

First of all, I say: without seeing the text of the Agreement, I find it hard to believe that they really recognized the “special role of the successor of Peter.”

I then ask: Is there anything logical about totalitarian systems? Their only logic is that, when Deng Xiaoping says it, “a white cat is equal to a black cat” as long as it serves the purposes of the Party.

In the immediate aftermath of the Agreement, nothing has been changed in the religious policy of the Party; everything has been officially reaffirmed, and the facts prove it.

Third proof: The context of “strengthened” dialogue

I ask: But does the document not recognize that the government has reneged on its promises, as stated both in the first paragraph and in paragraph 9 of this document?

Fourth proof: All of the bishops have been made legitimate.

This is evidence only of the infinite generosity of the pope or perhaps the omnipotent pressure of the government, but in the forgiven and “rewarded,” we see no change, no sign of repentance, but clear acts of bold triumph, laughing at others who have bet on the wrong horse.

4. Paragraph 4 says that the reasons above justify a new attitude. Here at least there is honesty in saying that what is proposed is new, and that therefore it is not in continuity with the past, but rejecting the past as already in the past — that is, as no longer valid.

It is also said that the Holy See is trying to agree with the government on a formula (having it both ways).

But we ask ourselves: “A formula”? What the government is asking for is not a statement of theory; it is all a system, in which pastoral freedom will no longer exist, but in everything the Party’s orders will be followed, including the prohibition of minors under 18 years of age from participating in any religious activity.

5. In paragraph 5 there are the true pastoral guidelines. In short: Everything that the government requires should also be signed, possibly with a written clarification that denies what is signed. If the written clarification is not possible, it should be done verbally, with or without a witness. It is sufficient that there is the intention not to have accepted in conscience what you have in fact signed.

You sign a text against the Faith, and you declare that the intention is to promote the good of the community, a more appropriate evangelization, the responsible management of the goods of the Church. This general norm is obviously against any principle of morality. If accepted, it would justify apostasy.

6. In paragraph 6, it is said that the Holy See understands and respects those who in conscience do not accept the above rule. Obviously, this is compassion toward a “stubborn” minority that still cannot understand the new rule. Their attitude is wrong, but the Holy See “provisionally” tolerates them.

7. Paragraph 7 speaks of certain duties of the bishops, citing a document that has nothing to do with our issue.

8. Paragraph 8 says the faithful accept the decision of their pastors. What does this mean? That they do not have the individual freedom to choose? And that their conscience does not have to be respected? To the brethren who ask me what to do, I have always given the answer: respect the choices of others and remain firm in the conviction of one’s own conscience. This is because I have no authority to impose my judgments on others about what is right or wrong.

But does the Holy See not have the authority, and therefore the duty to clarify for the members of the Church what is right and what is wrong? Has it done so with these “Guidelines”? Leaving clandestinity is to be encouraged, remaining clandestinity is to be tolerated? Bishops and priests have the choice, and the faithful do not?

9. In paragraph 9 it is said that the Holy See in the meantime asks (and again omits the word “the government”) that no intimidating pressure be put on the unofficial Catholic communities, as has already happened. (The fact of not mentioning the word “government” is almost like the traditional reverence of not mentioning the name of the emperor.) Lastly, everyone is recommended to discern God’s will with “patience and humility.” But I ask myself: Have we left behind blessing steadfastness in the faith?

Then it says that “the present path is also marked by many hopes, despite the difficulties.” It seems to me, instead, that the facts destroy every foundation of human hope. As for hope in God, it can never be separated from the sincere willingness to suffer according to His will.


This document has radically overturned what is normal and what is abnormal, what is a matter of duty, and what is to be tolerated.

The hope of its editors is perhaps that the pitied minority will die a natural death. By this minority I mean not only the clandestine priests (to whom not only no bishops are given when the elderly ones die, but not even delegates, because the official bishop of the diocese is already legitimate), but also many brethren in the official community who with great tenacity have worked for change, hoping to be supported by the Holy See, but are instead encouraged to accept submission to the government and are mocked by the victorious opportunists.

May the Lord not allow the fulfillment of these desires, of those who desire the death of the true faith in my dear homeland. Lord, have mercy!

HOLY SEE TEXT: “Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China

Translation by Diane Montagna of LifeSiteNews.