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Sam BrownbackGage Skidmore /

HONG KONG, March 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — U.S. ambassador Sam Brownback said on Friday that China’s persecution of Catholic citizens continues despite a deal Pope Francis reached with the communist government.

“Since this provisional deal was announced last year the Chinese government’s abuse of members of the Catholic community has continued. We see no signs that will change in the near future,” he said, speaking in Hong Kong as U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom.

In China, there has long been an underground persecuted Church loyal to the papacy and an ecclesial organization that is officially recognized by the Chinese government.

In September, Pope Francis responded to concerns over the agreement. He gave assurances to persecuted Catholics and asked them to trust his decision to overlap the government-approved organization with the Catholic Church. He said China represents a “land of great opportunities” for the Church. He said the secret deal will “heal wounds of the past.”

In his speech on Friday, Brownback called on China to recognize the free exercises of religion. “The Chinese Communist Party must hear the cries of its own people for religious freedom and act to correct its wrongs,” he said. Saying the communist government is waging a “war with faith,” Brownback said it is a “war they will not win.”

At the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club, Brownback referred to negotiations engaged by Vatican diplomats with China over the status of the invalidly consecrated bishops of the so-called Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is approved by the communist government but does not recognize the authority of the Vatican. The language of the provisional agreement between the two parties remains confidential. However, one effect was that the Holy See recognized seven illicitly consecrated Chinese bishops and gave them authority over Chinese dioceses.

Currently, all Catholic bishops of China are recognized by China’s government and the Holy See. However, since the deal was concluded, no new bishops have been appointed to China. Brownback, a Catholic, said the Vatican deal has not led to increased freedom for Catholics in China.

The 86-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong has been vocally critical of Pope Francis and the deal with China. In November, Zen said priests of the underground Church have “cried” to him since the deal was inked. In late 2018, he went to Rome to deliver a lengthy letter to Pope Francis, asking him to pay closer attention to the crisis within the underground Catholic Church in China. He said, “They said officials have forced them to become open, to join the (schismatic) Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and to obtain a priest’s certificate with the reason that the pope has signed the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.” In a strongly worded opinion piece for the New York Times, Cardinal Zen suggested that the pope’s deal with China “invited the annihilation of the real Church in China.”

On Tuesday, Cardinal Zen responded to statements made by Cardinal Fernando Filoni. During a tour of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, Cardinal Filoni told a local news agency in Macau that the agreement signed by the Holy See and China “will be a very good thing for the Church in the future, and also for China.”

“One wonders: from which planet did our leaders in Rome descend?” said Cardinal Zen on his blog.