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Cardinal Zen: Vatican is now backing a ‘new…schismatic Church’ in China

Doug Mainwaring Doug Mainwaring Follow Doug

CHINA, January 30, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – China’s leading prelate, Cardinal Joseph Zen, is sounding the alarm that the Vatican "is selling out the Catholic Church in China​"  and that it is "giving the blessing on the new...schismatic Church" created by the Communists. 

"So, do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months," the 86-year-old retired Bishop of Hong Kong wrote in a Jan. 29 letter addressed to “Friends in the Media,” in which he confirmed a report that the Vatican had asked legitimate Chinese bishops to step down in favor of communist-picked bishops.  

Cardinal Zen outlined how the Vatican's capitulation to China’s communist regime is only making the regime clamp down harder on faithful Catholics.​

"The Communist Government is making new harsher regulations limiting religious freedom. They are now strictly enforcing regulations which up to now were practically only on paper (from the 1st of February 2018 attendance to Mass in the underground will no longer be tolerated)," he wrote. 

The Cardinal's letter comes days after news broke that the Vatican has allegedly asked legitimate bishops to step down from their post in order to make way for the installation of new, illegitimate bishops, hand-picked by the government.

READ: Vatican asks legitimate Chinese bishops to step down in favor of communist-picked bishops: report

The Cardinal related in his letter that when China’s Bishop Zhuang, secretly ordained with Vatican approval in 2006, was asked by the Vatican last fall to step down in order to be replaced by government-approved, excommunicated Bishop Huang Bingzhang, Zhuang reached out to Zen for help.  ​

Uncertain whether or not his own letters ever reach Pope Francis, Cardinal Zen said that he traveled to Rome eariler this month to "make sure that our voice reached the Holy Father."

Cardinal Zen landed in Rome on the morning of January 10, and went straight to the Pope’s Wednesday Public Audience held in Paul VI Hall, hoping to have an opportunity to place his letter in the Pope’s hands.  When he had the chance to greet the Pope, he explained that this was his sole reason for his spur-of-the-moment travel to Rome.

Two days later, Cardinal Zen was invited to Santa Marta where he met privately with Pope Francis.  “I was there in the presence of the Holy Father representing my suffering brothers in China,” recounts Zen in his letter.  Pope Francis promised to look into the matter. 

Zen related that after he outlined his concerns the Pope told him the following words: “Yes, I told them (his collaborators in the Holy See negotiating with China) not to create another Mindszenty case.”

Commented the Cardinal in his letter: 

I think it was most meaningful and appropriate for the Holy Father to make this historical reference to Card. Josef Mindszenty, one of the heroes of our faith. (Card. Josef Mindszenty was the Archbishop of Budapest, Cardinal Primate of Hungary under Communist persecution. He suffered much in several years in prison. During the short-lived revolution of 1956, he was freed from prison by the insurgents and, before the Red Army crashed the revolution, took refuge in the American Embassy. Under the pressure of the Government he was ordered by the Holy See to leave his country and immediately a successor was named to the likings of the Communist Government).​

Cardinal Zen had previously denounced a Vatican agreement with the Chinese atheistic Communist government and had indirectly accused Pope Francis of backing a “fake” church in China.  

“But the whole thing is fake. They [the Vatican] are giving decisive power to the government … how can the initiative of choosing bishops be given to an atheistic government? Incredible. Incredible,” he said at that time. 

While the first part of Cardinal Zen’s letter is a simple narrative about the events surrounding his trip to Rome, the second part reveals his alarming assessment of the events which have transpired between the Vatican, the legitimate Chinese “underground” Catholic Church, and the Chinese communist government. 

Cardinal Zen offers eight points which underscore the urgency of the situation which now exists.  Among these are:

  • "[T]he problem is not the resignation of the legitimate Bishops, but the request to make place for the illegitimate and even excommunicated ones."
  • “I acknowledge myself as a pessimist regarding the present situation of the Church in China, but my pessimism has a foundation in my long direct experience of the Church in China. From 1989 to 1996 I used to spend six months a year teaching in the various Seminaries of the official Catholic community. I had direct experience of the slavery and humiliation to which those our brother Bishops are subjected.”
  • “And from the recent information, there is no reason to change that pessimistic view. The Communist Government is making new harsher regulations limiting religious freedom.”
  • “Some say that all the efforts to reach an agreement is to avoid the ecclesial schism. How ridiculous! The schism is there, in the Independent Church! The Popes avoided using the word “schism” because they knew that many in the official Catholic community were there not by their own free will, but under heavy pressure. The proposed “unification” would force everybody into that community. The Vatican would be giving the blessing on the new strengthened schismatic Church.”
  • Regarding attempts to bridge the long divide between the Vatican and the Chinese government, “can there be anything really “mutual” with a totalitarian regime?”
  • “[C]an you imagine an agreement between St. Joseph and King Herod?
  • “[D]o I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months.”

The Vatican was not pleased with Zen's accusations. 

In a move to perhaps gain control of the narrative regarding the shift in Chinese diplomacy under Pope Francis, Holy See Press Office Director Greg Burke issued a statement attempting to reassure Catholics that the Pope and members of the Curia are in close contact and working together on the issue:

“The Pope is in constant contact with his collaborators, in particular in the secretariat of State, on chinese issues, and is informed by them faithfully and in detail on the situation of the Catholic Church in china and on the steps in the dialogue in progress between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, which he follows with special attention.  It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy.”  

A report issued by Catholic News Service notes that the Vatican Press Director’s statement was silent regarding the accuracy or inaccuracy of the proposed transfer of bishops in China.

As such, the most pressing questions raised by Cardinal Zen’s letter remain unanswered. 

Pundits say that the Chinese government is cracking down on the religious liberty of faithful Catholics because they represent an existential threat to the communist regime.  

“The Chinese Communists studied the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the liberation of the nations behind the Iron Curtain thanks to St. John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and many others in the West who kept the pressure on Moscow,” explains The Catholic Thing’s Robert Royal. “They appreciate the power of religion and clearly believe they can prevent Christianity from doing in China what it did in Poland and elsewhere.”

Catholics, though not a huge percentage of the country’s population, total roughly 60 million faithful, notes Royal.  “It’s safe to say that more Christians are in church on a Sunday morning in China than in all of Europe.”

“The Vatican seems to be stumbling in its relations with a regime that we can be sure will not respect the freedom of the Church since it doesn’t respect the freedom and dignity of its own people,” says Royal.  “Vatican negotiators would do well to remember the lessons of the Communist Era in Europe, particularly Solzhenitsyn’s warning that we must fully understand the nature of Communist regimes and not give in to the illusion that the split between us and them ‘may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations.’  Because the split is spiritual, deeply so, not political.” 

Cardinal Zen, at the end of his letter, asks, “Am I the major obstacle in the process of reaching a deal between the Vatican and China? If that is a bad deal, I would be more than happy to be the obstacle.”

***

Cardinal Zen's January 29, 2018 letter to the Media.

Dear Friends in the Media,

Since AsiaNews has revealed some recent facts in the Church in mainland China, of legitimate bishops being asked by the “Holy See” to resign and make place for illegitimate, even explicitly excommunicated, “bishops”, many different versions of the facts and interpretations are creating confusion among the people. Many, knowing of my recent trip to Rome, are asking me for some clarification.

Back in October, when Bishop Zhuang received the first communication from the Holy See and asked me for help, I send someone to bring his letter to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, with, enclosed, a copy for the Holy Father. I don’t know if that enclosed copy reached the desk of the Holy Father. Fortunately, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai was still in Rome and could meet the Pope in a fare-well visit. In that occasion, he brought the two cases of Shantou and Mindong to the knowledge of the Holy Father. The Holy Father was surprised and promised to look into the matter.

Given the words of the Holy Father to Archbishop Savio Hon, the new facts in December were all the more a shocking surprise to me. When the old distressed Bishop Zhuang asked me to bring to the Holy Father his answer to the message conveyed to him by the “Vatican Delegation” in Beijing, I simply could not say “No”. But what could I do to make sure that his letter reach the Holy Father, while not even I can be sure that my own many letters did reach him.

To make sure that our voice reached the Holy Father, I took the sudden decision of going to Rome. I left Hong Kong the night of 9th January, arriving in Rome the early morning of 10th January, just in time (actually, a bit late) to join the Wednesday Public Audience. At the end of the audience, we Cardinals and Bishops are admitted to the “bacia mano” and I had the chance to put into the hands of the Holy Father the envelop, saying that I was coming to Rome for the only purpose of bringing to him a letter of Bishop Zhuang, hoping he can find time to read it (in the envelop there was the original letter of the Bishop in Chinese with my translation into Italian and a letter of mine).

For obvious reasons, I hoped my appearance at the audience would not be too much noticed, but my late arrival in the hall made it particularly noticeable. Anyway, now everybody can see the whole proceeding from the Vatican TV (by the way, the audience was held in Paul VI Hall, not in St. Peter’s Square and I was a little late to the audience, but did not have to “wait in a queue, in a cold weather”, as some media erroneously reported).

When in Rome, I met Fr. Bernard Cervellera of AsiaNews. We exchanged our information, but I told him not to write anything. He complied. Now that someone else broke the news, I can agree to confirm it. Yes, as far as I know, things happened just as they are related in AsiaNews (the AsiaNews report “believes” that the Bishop leading the Vatican Delegation was Msgr. Celli. I do not know in what official capacity he was there, but it is most likely that he was the one there in Beijing).

In this crucial moment and given the confusion in the media, I, knowing directly the situation of Shantou and indirectly that of Mindong, feel duty-bound to share my knowledge of the facts, so that the people sincerely concerned with the good of the Church may know the truth to which they are entitled. I am well aware that in doing so I may talk about things which, technically, are qualified as “confidential”. But my conscience tells me that in this case the “right to truth” should override any such “duty of confidentiality”.

With such conviction, I am going to share with you also the following:

In the afternoon of that day, 10th January, I received a phone-call from Santa Marta telling me that the Holy Father would receive me in private audience in the evening of Friday 12th January (though the report appeared only on 14th January in the Holy See bulletin). That was the last day of my 85 years of life, what a gift from Heaven! (Note that it was the vigil of the Holy Father’s departure for Chile and Peru, so the Holy Father must have been very busy).

On that evening the conversation lasted about half an hour. I was rather disorderly in my talking, but I think I succeeded to convey to the Holy Father the worries of his faithful children in China.

The most important question I put to the Holy Father (which was also in the letter) was whether he had had time “to look into the matter” (as he promised Archbishop Savio Hon). In spite of the danger of being accused of breach of confidentiality, I decide to tell you what His Holiness said: “Yes, I told them (his collaborators in the Holy See) not to create another Mindszenty case”! I was there in the presence of the Holy Father representing my suffering brothers in China. His words should be rightly understood as of consolation and encouragement more for them than for me.

I think it was most meaningful and appropriate for the Holy Father to make this historical reference to Card. Josef Mindszenty, one of the heroes of our faith. (Card. Josef Mindszenty was the Archbishop of Budapest, Cardinal Primate of Hungary under Communist persecution. He suffered much in several years in prison. During the short-lived revolution of 1956, he was freed from prison by the insurgents and, before the Red Army crashed the revolution, took refuge in the American Embassy. Under the pressure of the Government he was ordered by the Holy See to leave his country and immediately a successor was named to the likings of the Communist Government).

With this revelation, I hope I have satisfied the legitimate “right to know” of the media and of my brothers in China.

The important thing for us now is to pray for the Holy Father, very fittingly by singing the traditional song “Oremus”:

Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Francisco, Dominus conservet eum et vivificet eum et beatum faciat eum in terra et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.

————————————-

Some explanations may still be in order.

1. Please, notice that the problem is not the resignation of the legitimate Bishops, but the request to make place for the illegitimate and even excommunicated ones. Many old underground Bishops, though the retirement age law has never been enforced in China, have insistently asked for a successor, but have never received any answer from the Holy See. Some others, who have a successor already named, may be even already in possession of the Bulla signed by the Holy Father, were ordered not to proceed with the ordination for fear of offending the Government.

2. I have talked mainly of the two cases of Shantou and Mindong. I do not have any other information except the copy of a letter written by an outstanding Catholic lady, a retired University professor well-acquainted with affairs of the Church in China, in which she warns Msgr. Celli against pushing for the legitimization of “bishop” Lei Shi Ying in Sichuan.

3. I acknowledge myself as a pessimist regarding the present situation of the Church in China, but my pessimism has a foundation in my long direct experience of the Church in China. From 1989 to 1996 I used to spend six months a year teaching in the various Seminaries of the official Catholic community. I had direct experience of the slavery and humiliation to which those our brother Bishops are subjected.

And from the recent information, there is no reason to change that pessimistic view. The Communist Government is making new harsher regulations limiting religious freedom. They are now strictly enforcing regulations which up to now were practically only on paper (from the 1st of February 2018 attendance to Mass in the underground will no longer be tolerated).

4. Some say that all the efforts to reach an agreement is to avoid the ecclesial schism. How ridiculous! The schism is there, in the Independent Church! The Popes avoided using the word “schism” because they knew that many in the official Catholic community were there not by their own free will, but under heavy pressure. The proposed “unification” would force everybody into that community. The Vatican would be giving the blessing on the new strengthened schismatic Church, taking away the bad conscience from all those who are already willing renegades and those others who would readily join them.

5. Is it not good to try to find mutual ground to bridge the decades-long divide between the Vatican and China? But can there be anything really “mutual” with a totalitarian regime? Either you surrender or you accept persecution, but remaining faithful to yourself (can you imagine an agreement between St. Joseph and King Herod?)

6. So, do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months.

7. Some expert on the Catholic Church in China is saying that it is not logical to suppose a harsher religious policy from Xi Jinping. However, we are not talking about logical thinking, but the obvious and crude reality.

8. Am I the major obstacle in the process of reaching a deal between the Vatican and China? If that is a bad deal, I would be more than happy to be the obstacle.

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