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Cardinal Joseph ZenClaire Chretien / LifeSiteNews

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HONG KONG, China, March 2, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Chinese cardinal Joseph Zen said he has “evidence” that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, “manipulated” Pope Francis regarding the secret deal between China and the Vatican.

“Given, however, the intelligence of His Eminence [Cardinal Parolin], it is difficult for me to believe he was deceived, and more probable he wanted to deceive others,” Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, wrote in an open letter published on his website.

Zen reacted to a letter written by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who was made dean of the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis in January. His first official communication in his new position was a letter to all cardinals, in which he heavily criticized Zen for his opposition to the deal between China and the Holy See.

According to Re, “the expression ‘independent Church’ cannot be interpreted in an absolute manner, as ‘separation’ from the Pope, as it has been in the past.”

Zen replied that the change of meaning of the word “independence” exists “only in the mind of His Eminence the Secretary of State, caused perhaps by a faulty translation of the Chinese by a young clerk of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.”

This clerk, Zen continued, had some responsibility for at least ten errors in the translation of the letter Pope Benedict XVI had sent to Catholics in China in 2007.

In this context, Zen expressed his suspicion that Cardinal Parolin willfully wanted to deceive Pope Francis. “The facts are these,” he repeated. “I have evidence that Parolin manipulated the Holy Father, who always showed me great affection, but never responded to my questions.”

Cardinal Re also mentioned that Zen had affirmed “several times that no deal would have been better than a ‘bad deal.’”

“The last three Popes did not share such a position and have supported and accompanied the crafting of the Accord which, at the present, appeared to be the only one possible,” Re added.

In his response, Zen pointed to the interview book Last Testament, written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald. Asked about the “Ostpolitik” of Pope John Paul II, Benedict said the plans of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli had failed.

The new direction of the Polish pope resulted from his personal experience and contacts with communist governments, Benedict explained. John Paul thought being conciliatory and accepting compromises was a mistake. Instead, he wanted to oppose communism forcefully.

Benedict confirmed to Seewald that he shared the vision of Pope John Paul II.

Zen further questioned Re’s claim that the deal had been approved by Pope Benedict XVI. “It would have been sufficient to show me the signed text, which even to this day I have not been permitted to see,” as well as the evidence of the archive.

Re said he had seen the draft of the deal in the archive, which he claimed was approved at the time by Benedict.

“It would just be left to explain why it was not signed, then,” Zen added.

Cardinal Zen offered some additional subtle criticism.

“I admire your courage in venturing into issues that you also recognize to be ‘complex,’ jeopardizing the prestige of your newly begun honorable office. But it is known that today there is a vice Pope who manages to encourage all servants of the Holy See,” he wrote at the beginning of his letter.

Zen encouraged Catholics in China “to withdraw to the state of the catacombs, without opposing any injustice; otherwise they would end up losing more.” If Chinese Catholics cannot in good conscience join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the “official church” in China, they should stay underground, he said.

Until recently, the popes had condemned the “official church” in strong terms.

“In recent years, for various reasons, you, my brother bishops, have encountered difficulties, since persons who are not ‘ordained,’ and sometimes not even baptized, control and take decisions concerning important ecclesial questions, including the appointment of bishops, in the name of various State agencies,” Pope Benedict wrote in his 2007 letter.

“Consequently, we have witnessed a demeaning of the Petrine and episcopal ministries by virtue of a vision of the Church according to which the Supreme Pontiff, the bishops and the priests risk becoming de facto persons without office and without power.”

Before Cardinal Zen’s own response to Cardinal Re, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò had already come out in support of the Chinese bishop, calling Re’s letter “ignominious and shameful.“

Like Zen, Viganò is convinced that Pope Benedict did not approve the agreement between China and the Vatican. “We all know of his strenuous resistance and repeated disapproval of the conditions imposed by a persecutory and bloody regime,” Viganò said.

He summarized the actions of the Vatican during the Francis pontificate as delivering “the Chinese Martyr Church into the hands of the Enemy.”

“It did so by signing the Secret Pact; it did so by legitimizing excommunicated ‘bishops’ who are agents of the regime; it did so by the deposition of legitimate bishops; it did so by forcing faithful priests to register with a church that has succumbed to the Communist dictatorship; it does so on a daily basis by keeping silent about the persecutory fury that has gained unprecedented strength, precisely since the signing of that unfortunate Agreement.”

“It is now doing so with this ignoble letter to all the cardinals, which is aimed at accusing you, denigrating you, and isolating you,” Viganò told Zen.

In a video interview last February, Cardinal Zen explained to LifeSiteNews the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association “has always been objectively schismatic” and remains that way, “but with the blessing from the Holy See.”

At the time, he said of Cardinal Parolin, “I’m sorry to say, he is not a man of faith because he despises the heroes of faith.”