China : Newly appointed cardinal kept at arm’s length by Beijing

Source: FSSPX News


Mgr. Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun, bishop of Hong Kong, is among the 15 cardinals created by Benedict XVI at the consistory of March 24 in Rome. Aged 74, Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun was born in Shanghai on January 13, 1932. After the communists came to power in 1949, he took refuge in the British colony of Hong Kong. In February 1961 he was ordained priest in the Salesian order. He was to be elected provincial Superior of the Salesians for Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan from 1978 to 1983. Afterwards he studied in Rome, and in 1986 he returned to China, where he taught in both the official and underground seminaries from 1989 to 1996. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong by John Paul II in September 2002.

 Was he the cardinal in pectore chosen by the Polish pope during his last consistory in October 2003? Some observers have seriously put his name forward. Mgr. Zen is the sixth Chinese cardinal created since the “great consistory” of February 18, 1946, during which Pius XII created the first Chinese cardinal. – In reforming the College of Cardinals sixty years ago, Pius XII created cardinals in countries where hitherto there had been none, as was the case with China.

 Liu Jianchao, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated: “We have noted that Joseph Zen has been made a cardinal by the Vatican and we would advise religious persons not to meddle in politics.”

 Mgr. Zen Ze-kiun explained to the Italian daily La Repubblica, that he would “from time to time, have to make criticisms” of the Chinese government and be kept “at a distance” by the authorities. The new cardinal pointed out to the journal La Liberté: “There was only one Chinese cardinal, Kao-hsiung, in Taiwan, who is 82 and is no longer able to travel. It was logical to appoint a new one, and Hong Kong, with its 250,000 Catholics is the largest Chinese diocese. Affirming that “everything is political with Beijing”, the archbishop of Hong Kong spoke about diplomatic relations with China: “We have never been near an agreement up to the present time. Negotiations had been initiated before 1989, then again at the end of the nineties. On each occasion they were halted. The arrival of a new pope may allow talks to be re-launched. But this will not happen quickly. Although in China everything is unpredictable. Beijing is laying down two conditions: first a break with Taiwan. The Vatican is in agreement. Then the nomination of bishops. Beijing doesn’t want the Holy See’s interference. This is impossible, but the Vatican is ready to negotiate. In fact we are already witnessing compromises.” On the subject of Donald Tsang, the Catholic appointed by Beijing for the direction of the territory of Hong Kong, Mgr. Zen said: “He is a believer. But I doubt if he is aware of the social teaching of the Church. He is too obedient. According to the Constitution, he could make suggestions to Beijing. But he doesn’t. As for me, I cannot – I am considered a rebel.”

 Anthony Liu Bainian, the vice president of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics (Official Church), declared on March 8 that the elevation to the cardinalate of the bishop of Hong Kong “widely known for his opposition to communism,” was a sign of “the Vatican’s hostility towards China.”

 The following day Cardinal Zen published a communiqué, in response to the “somewhat surprising” remarks of Anthony Liu Bainian. The bishop of Hong Kong pointed out that these remarks showed “the anxiety” of an eventual normalization of relations between Beijing and the Vatican. Mgr. Zen said it was “obvious that Catholics did not accept communism on the grounds of its presupposed atheism,” and that one should not conclude from it that criticism of government policies meant defiance of the government as such.

The Chinese cardinal added that there was “nothing more ridiculous” than to accuse him of acting under the influence of foreign powers, wondering if it was “too much to hope that our powerful leaders, may one day distinguish those who truly love their country from those who betray their country’s genuine interests.”

 On March 10, Mgr. Fang Xingyao, the “official” bishop of Linyi, stated that: “Cardinal Zen has a role to play in Sino-Vatican relations,” adding that an invitation for Cardinal Zen to visit mainland China was being studied. Remarks repeated by Mgr. Zhan Silu, himself vice president of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics.