HONG KONG (SE): The two cardinals in Hong Kong hold divergent opinions on the current discussions taking place between the Vatican and Beijing, with the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, showing great optimism in his outline of a possible scenario for Church-state relations and his predecessor, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, far more wary.
Cardinal Zen points to what is considered the probable process in selecting bishop candidates, where names would be suggested by China to the pope for either approval or disapproval, leaving him with the right of veto only.
Cardinal Zen is among the most vocal of those who believe that even this power of veto would be limited, as the pope would have to justify his decision to the satisfaction of the authorities in China, who would still be free to ignore it.
He told the Catholic News Service on February 21, “How can you allow the initiative of the selection of bishops (to be) in the hands of an atheistic government and totalitarian government? I want it to start from the Holy See.”
The former bishop of Hong Kong said that while the Vatican may approve certain names of candidates, it is no guarantee that it will pay attention to its opinion.
“The Chinese government accepts this compromise instead of having more problems,” he said.
Even though the proposal appears to allow the clergy to elect the candidates, with the pope having the final say, Cardinal Zen believes that the government will inevitably meddle in the election process. “There is no real election in China,” he stressed.
He believes that the pope could end up in the unenviable position of having to veto a string of candidate’s names, which could leave him in a non-viable position.
“I would prefer the other way around,” Cardinal Zen commented, as the government has not shown a willingness to accommodate previous concerns of the Vatican, but rather has proven that it wants to have absolute control over the Church in China.
“We are very much worried because it seems that the Vatican is going to make a very bad agreement with China,” the cardinal told LifeSiteNews. “And I can understand that the pope is really naïve... He doesn’t know the Chinese communists. But unfortunately the people around him are not good at all. They have very wrong ideas. And I’m afraid that they may sell out our underground (unofficial) Church. That would be very sad.”
He pointed out that the unofficial communities have little voice to speak for themselves, whether before the Chinese government or the Vatican, where they are often regarded as trouble-makers.
Cardinal Zen explained, “People who come from China to see me, they all say, ‘please, you must raise your voice. We cannot say anything’ because they have no freedom to talk. So I keep talking, but it seems that they don’t listen. They don’t like to listen.”
He pointed out that he had one chat a couple of years ago with Pope Francis, who listened to him intently, but he is not aware of what happened after that and, even though he has written to him often, he has not had a reply.
Cardinal Zen also lamented that the China Commission that used to meet at the Vatican annually has become moribund with the advent of the current pope, which he described as problematic, as it was one forum where the unofficial communities did have their situation aired.
He cited the case of two bishops in prison in Baoqing, where the unofficial Church is strong, explaining that the auxiliary bishop was released and told that he could act as the bishop, a solution that the Vatican gave assent to.
While Cardinal Zen admitted that the bishop’s years in prison are testament to his strength, he said that he is an extremely simple man, who is in no way equipped to resist the brainwashing that he will receive from government officials.
The cardinal added that this is not the only problem created, as the local priests will not treat him as the bishop, since he is actually the auxiliary, which is another recipe for disaster.
He also pointed to difficulties with the Vatican policy of mixing priests from the official communities into the unofficial, as even with good will they, in effect, force the unofficial priests out of communities.
Cardinal Zen said that the priests registered with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association are the ones with the influence, which from the ground seems to obvious, but he wonders whether this insight has penetrated the far off walls of the Vatican or not.
Cardinal Zen concluded his interview with LifeSiteNews saying that he will accept any deal that the Vatican makes in silence, but until that eventuates, expect him to be as vocal as ever.