Cardinal Zen Calls China-Vatican Deal ‘Suicide’


By Elise Harris

In a recent blog post Cardinal Joseph Zen has issued another harsh critique of the rumored Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, calling it an act of “suicide” and a “shameless surrender” to the communist government.

However, he said the problem isn’t necessarily the Pope, who “is optimistic and full of love, and is eager to visit China.”

Rather, he faulted the Pope’s advisors for what he said is a “bad deal,” saying they are “obsessed” with an “Ostpolitik” solution to the issue of episcopal appointments which “compromises without limits,” yet gains little in return.

Pope Francis, he said, “has never had direct knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party and, moreover, is poorly informed by the people around him.”

Specifically, Zen pointed the finger at Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who he said was in the “diplomatic school” of his predecessor Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, who served as Vatican Secretary of State from 1979-1990.

Zen said Casaroli was “obsessed with Ostpolitik,” and called it “a sort of political compromise.”

He also said the late Cardinal Ivan Dias, formerly Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had also been influenced by Casaroli. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples oversees the administration of the Church in areas designated ‘mission territories’ around the world.

Dias, who died last summer, had a “marvelous curriculum,” having been Archbishop of Bombay for nearly a decade and was familiar with the situation in Asia as a whole, Zen said.

However, the problem is that both Dias and Parolin “were perfectly in tune with the application of Ostpolitik in China, and [played] a double game against the instructions of Benedict XVI.”

Ostpolitik was the name given to the political process of pursuing the normalization of relations between the fractured German government in the late 1960s. Specifically, it aimed to patch the division between the Federal Republic of Germany of West Germany, and the German Democratic Republic of East Germany, which were split after the end of World War II in 1945.

Since then, the term Ostpolitik has also been used to describe the efforts made by Pope Paul VI to engage, through dialogue, compromise, or agreements, with Eastern European countries run by communist regimes.

Although Dias retired at the age of 75 and Parolin was named as nuncio to Venezuela in 2009, Cardinal Zen said that ever since Parolin’s re-entry into the Vatican scene as Pope Francis’ Secretary of State in 2013, he has continued to promote Casaroli’s political approach to China.

Parolin, he said, is kind and is “gifted with an extraordinary diplomatic art,” but nonetheless continues “to be obsessed with Ostpolitik…[he] willingly offers his collaboration, giving the desired information and sparing the worrying parts.”

In his view, Zen said those who back the deal want “compromise without limits, they are already willing to completely surrender.”

Based on what Pope Francis has told him and Archbishop Savio Hon, who was born in British Hong Kong and is currently apostolic nuncio to Greece, Zen said it’s clear that the Pope “didn’t know the details” of the planned deal.

“We all know that the indications of the Roman Curia are necessarily approved by the Pope,” he said, adding that faithful from the Chinese continent “do not complain about the Pope due to certain misunderstandings.”

“If he signs any deal they want, we can only accept it, without protest,” he said. “But before the eventual signing, it is our right to make the truth about things known, because this can change the direction and avoid serious dangers for the Church.”

Cardinal Zen’s latest critique was published in Chinese on his blog Feb. 24, and was translated and published in Italian on the blog of veteran Vatican analyst Sandro Magister.

The post centers on a conversation Zen had with a priest from continental China, Fr. Geng Zhanhe, responding to different points Geng apparently made in support of the deal.

Rumors of the proposed agreement have been gaining steam in recent weeks, with sources close the situation saying the accord is “imminent” and could come as early as this spring. If the deal is reached, the Vatican is expected to officially recognize seven bishops who are out of communion with Rome, including 2-3 whose excommunications have been explicitly declared by the Vatican.

Most notably, the new deal would also apparently outline government and Vatican roles in future episcopal selection. The details of the deal would reportedly be similar to the Vatican’s agreement with Vietnam, in which the Holy See would propose three names, and the Chinese government would choose the one to be appointed bishop.

Currently every bishop recognized by Beijing must be a member of the patriotic association, and many bishops appointed by the Vatican who are not recognized or approved by the Chinese government have faced government persecution.

In his blog post, Cardinal Zen criticized the fact that as one of two Chinese cardinals, he has not been made aware of the contents of the agreement. “Certainly they can’t make public all the contents of the negotiation,” he said, but as one of the two cardinals for China, “would I not have the right to know the contents?”

Yet even if the contents of the deal were commonly known, “should we just wait and hold hands and make critiques only once it’s been accomplished?”

Zen said the “democratic election” of new bishops in China by the “illegitimate episcopal conference” would mean that it is really the government who elects the prelates, so the “final word” of the Pope “cannot save his function; the formality of maintaining pontifical authority will hide the fact that the real authority to name bishops will be placed in the hands of an atheist government.”

If Francis were to sign the agreement tomorrow, Zen said he “could not criticize it,” even if he doesn’t understand the decision. But until then, “I have the duty to speak with a loud voice according to my conscience, I have the right to reiterate that this is a bad agreement!”

He noted that China is increasingly tightening its grip on religious activity in general, and pointed to a new crackdown put into place Feb. 1 which, among other things, bans anyone under 18 from attending religious services. It’s also forbidden to hold any sort of youth group activity or summer camp, even if it’s not held at a church.

Asking why the Chinese government is suddenly becoming so strict with the clandestine Church after looking the other way for many years, Zen said this is because “the Holy See is helping the authorities of the government to do this.”

Responding to the argument that if a deal is not reached the Chinese government would increasingly appoint illegitimate bishops, eventually leading to schism, Zen said having the government control the Church in China independently of the Holy See is already schismatic.

“Will it be [schismatic] with only an increased number of illegitimate bishops?” he asked. “Would it not still be worse if the Pope were to bless the bishops chosen by the government and the Church is controlled by the government?”

Zen then referred to a comment made by Fr. Geng reflecting that while it might seem unjust to ask legitimate bishops to step down in favor of those who are illegitimate, which the Vatican has done in at least two cases, it was also unjust for God the Father to ask his only Son to die on the cross.

“It’s true that the Father sacrificed the Son, but it was man who crucified him,” Zen said, and pointed to the verse in scripture when Jesus told Pilate that “those who handed me over have the greater sin.”

“All those who made him die sinned,” Zen said. “Certainly Christ could forgive them, but they didn’t become apostles.”

“Don Geng,” he said, referring to the priest and his acceptance of the deal, “does not know how to distinguish between abject sale and suffering oppression, voluntary suicide and the wound suffered, shameless surrender and unhappy failure. How sad!”



The Catholic News Agency (CNA) has been, since 2004, one of the fastest growing Catholic news providers to the English speaking world. The Catholic News Agency takes much of its mission from its sister agency, ACI Prensa, which was founded in Lima, Peru, in 1980 by Fr. Adalbert Marie Mohm (†1986).

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