China: The Prospect of an Agreement between Rome and the Chinese Government?
On November 13, 2016, during a meeting organized by the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, spoke of the on-going negotiations between China and the Holy See, expressing his deep distrust. His statements were reported in the Sunday Examiner, Hong Kong’s diocesan weekly, on November 26.
The cardinal is particularly worried about the optimism of the media, that predicts an imminent equitable agreement between Beijing and the Holy See, and claims that it is currently “impossible to have a good agreement” on the nomination of bishops. The Vatican could not repeatedly refuse a candidate put forward by Beijing, he points out. Worried at the passive attitude of the Holy See, whose only desire is to appease Beijing, Cardinal Zen warned the Vatican diplomats not to get trapped in what he calls evil agreements, and denounced the prelates’ “political weakness”. He quoted the letter sent to the Chinese government by Pope Benedict XVI calling for more religious freedom, especially for the ‘unofficial’ communities, and pointed out that the text was significantly watered down when it was translated into Chinese. Certain Vatican officials had adopted an appeasement policy, he explained. The cardinal added that he has voiced his reservations and worries to Pope Francis, but doubts whether the pope will give him an ear, because the top Vatican officials around him, including the secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, seem to support the appeasement theory. Yet the cardinal believes that without an agreement, the Church still has room to move, because of the sizeable number of Catholics in China, but her diplomats have only one plan: compromise. “Compromises destroy everything,” he declared.
The press has been announcing an agreement between the Holy See and the Chinese government for the past few months; last May, Cardinal Zen voiced his deep concern on the matter in an interview with Famille Chrétienne and Eglises d’Asie (EDA). “It is easy to understand why China has no reason to compromise,” the cardinal declared. “They dominate the ‘official’ part of the Church and now they want the other part, the ‘underground’ part, to merge with the ‘official’ part. And they want the Holy See to give its blessing to the Patriotic Association!” In answer to a question from Régis Anouil, editor-in-chief of EDA, on the convening of the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives in Beijing in December 2016, Cardinal Zen declared point blank that it would be “the most glaring sign of a schismatic Church. I hope the Holy Father has no illusions, but in Rome, the negotiators do not understand the Chinese Communists. It is just like Ostpolitik,” he continued, but “I must recall that Ostpolitik was a failure.”
And he explained: “How could the Roman Curia think they will obtain an agreement in favor of Chinese Catholics, when the other religions remain under government control? It is an illusion.” Paradoxically, continued the cardinal, when there is no dialogue, “you can tolerate many things. Thus in past years there have been episcopal ordinations for bishops that were accepted by both sides, Rome and Beijing. Each party gave its approval while pretending to ignore what the other party did or said.” This sort of vagueness will no longer be possible once “things are settled in a document that is the fruit of a negotiation… And there is no sign that Beijing is going to change.”
Cardinal Zen added: “It is hard to imagine today China granting the Catholic Church a true independence, since they refuse to grant this independence to any other religion present in China or to the civil society in general. On April 22 and 23, President Xi Jinping presided at a meeting on religious politics, and repeated oneof the Chinese Communists’ old refrains: the country ‘must resolutely remain on guard against any foreign infiltration through religion’. Behind this doublespeak, he clearly meant the Church, with her relation to Rome.”
The Chinese government sees Christianity, with its 90 million Catholics and Protestants, as a serious threat, explained Willy Lam Wo-lap, professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; for this reason, it is unlikely that they will loosen their vise on the Catholic Church, or on any other religious organization in China.
The episcopal ordinations in Chengdu on November 30 and in Xichang on December 2 in presence of an ‘official’ bishop imposed by the police are a “slap in the face” for the sovereign pontiff, wrote Cardinal Zen on his website on December 12, quoted by Asianews. Declaring once again that the Ostpolitik conducted by the Vatican under Cardinal Casaroli and currently being conducted with China “is a failure”, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong asked the Holy See to condemn the upcoming Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives. “We have under our eyes an act that undermines the Petrine and episcopal ministers” (see Benedict XVI, letter May 27, 2007, §8)! (…) And I repeat the words of Jesus that we hear in the liturgy these days, when He speaks of St. John the Baptist: “…What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind?... the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.” (Matt. 11:7, 12)
“Before we contemplate the Child Jesus, let us contemplate the glorious Lord dividing the sheep from the goats. It is cruel to encourage our brethren to establish their own slavery, and true charity to move them to free themselves. The Holy Spirit will grant them strength. Ostpolitik was a failure. Let us at least try this other strategy, the Gospel, before it is too late.”
(Sources: cath-info/imedia/sudnayexaminer/eda/famillechretienne/Asianews – DICI no. 347 Dec. 23, 2016)
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