CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 March 2019

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Disagreement or disloyalty?

HONG KONG (SE): Human Rights Watch has waded into the discussion over the on-going negotiations between the Vatican and Beijing, cautioning the Vatican not to make any agreement before it sees convincing evidence of religious freedom across the Middle Kingdom.

“Why would the leadership of a major faith opt to relinquish the power to choose its own spiritual representatives to a government that has long imprisoned and punished those who fought for religious freedom?” the China director of the New York-based rights organisation, Sophie Richardson, asks in what UCAN described as a searing report.

Richardson draws attention to Bishop Shi Enxiang, who died in detention last year after enduring decades of deprivation of freedom.

“Has Pope Francis asked the Chinese authorities about these cases,” she queries. “Or those of other persecuted Catholics? Has he inquired about the forced disappearances, prosecutions or humiliations of other religious practitioners in China?”

Richardson cautions that the Vatican should not take any offers of religious freedom from Beijing simply on faith.

Richardson’s voice joins the former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, who told the Wall Street Journal in early November that he fears the government will end up with complete control over the Church in China.

Cardinal Zen worries that Pope Francis may unwittingly surrender important principles. “I’m sorry to say that in his good will he has done many things that are simply ridiculous,” the cardinal said.

He added that he does not believe that the pope has an adequate understanding of Communism in China, as in Argentina he saw Communists as the object of persecution, rather than the persecutors.

Cardinal Zen pointed out that it has been reported that a proposed agreement between Beijing and the Vatican could, in effect, well cede the authority to appoint bishops to the Chinese authorities and allow it the freedom to only recommend priests prepared to play ball with them.

The former bishop of Hong Kong said that this is the equivalent of surrender and is totally unacceptable. 

“With fake bishops you are destroying the Church,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

While he acknowledged that the bishops of the official Church communities in China are, as a group, faithful to the Church, he added that because of the limitations they operate under, they are really puppets of the regime.

“I would prefer no bishops at all,” the former bishop of Hong Kong said.

However, obscure forces have been at work to discredit Cardinal Zen by implicating him in a well-orchestrated campaign from Europe that accuses several people of being anti-Pope Francis and lovers of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

In a rather rambling article published in the Vatican Insider in October, Catholics who are anti-Francis but love Putin, Andrea Tornielli and Giacome Galeazzi maintain that there is a strong geopolitical element in the circles that oppose Pope Francis.

They add that this movement embraces Hong Kong and, by implication, this has been extended to some elements in the Church and Cardinal Zen.

Vatican observer, Robert Moynihan, describes an article by Francesco Colafemmina, an Italian philologist, as criticising Tornielli and Galeazzi for equating traditionalist Catholic with enemy of Bergoglio (Pope Francis) and lover of Putin.

The two journalists name names, saying of them, “They are accusing Bergoglio of not proclaiming the truths of the faith with sufficient vigour, but in reality they are blaming him for not defending the west’s primacy. This opposition has political motivations that are masked by theological and ecclesial questions.”

While some name this as resistance, the article moves towards calling it dissent, adding yet another dimension by saying that they are playing into a European political agenda by criticising the pope’s support of refugees, which some influential politicians claim will obliterate western civilisation.

The article says that China has been implicated through a claim that there is an alliance between Hong Kong circles and right wing sectors in the United States of America and Europe, where the two journalists equate disagreement with the way the pope is carrying out particular policies with disloyalty.

Moynihan says, “Clearly this article seems aimed at dividing the Church into two groups, one pro-Francis and the other anti-Francis.”

But disagreeing with a policy is a far stretch from being anti-pope and given Cardinal Zen’s track record it is grossly unfair to implicate him in this way or question his loyalty because he disagrees with the pope’s approach to China.

When Carlo Cardinal Martini penned his famous disagreements with Pope John Paul II he was not removed from his diocese and nor did the pope consider him to be disloyal.

But why call those who may have reservations about the manner in which Pope Francis goes about his job Putin lovers?

Probably because in some circles he is idolised as a good leader for his stand against homosexuals, Muslims and refugees. But perhaps mostly because it is an eye-catching headline!

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