Since the beginning of this year, I have been sharing with you the growing concerns of Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong as regards the Vatican’s increasingly conciliatory stance with the Chinese government, which controls the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, an ersatz replacement for the true Chinese Catholic Church, which has been forced underground, and is regularly persecuted.
In January, Cardinal Zen warned about a new “formula” allegedly under discussion at the time for the appointment of new Chinese bishops:
A recent article “A winter of darkness for religions in China” by Bernardo Cervellera on AsiaNews, says: “From information that has arrived from China it would seem that Beijing’s proposal is…: Vatican approval of the government recognized Council of Bishops,… [and]approval of the competency of this Council (and not the Pope) in the appointment of new candidates to the episcopacy who will be “democratically” elected (in short according to the suggestions of the Patriotic Association). The Holy See must approve the Council’s appointment and has a weak veto only in “severe” cases, which must be justified if used. If the Holy See’s justifications are considered “insufficient”, the Council of Bishops may decide to proceed anyway”.
If this information is accurate, can the Holy See accept the claims of the Chinese counterpart? Does this approach still respect the true authority of the Pope to appoint bishops? Can the Pope sign such an agreement? (Pope Benedict said: “The authority of the Pope to appoint bishops is given to the church by its founder Jesus Christ, it is not the property of the Pope, neither can the Pope give it to others”).
Do our officials in Rome know what an election is in China? Do they know that the so-called Episcopal Conference is not only illegitimate, but simply does not exist? What exists is an organism that is called “One Association and One Conference”, namely the Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference always work together as one body, which is always chaired by government officials (there are pictures to prove it, the Government does not even try more to keep up appearances, it starkly flaunts the fact that they now manage religion!). Signing such an agreement means delivering the authority to appoint bishops into the hands of an atheist government.
In February, Zen condemned the Vatican’s Ostpolitik with Beijing, again hammering the idea that the atheistic, communist Chinese government should have a hand in the selection of Catholic bishops:
What makes me restless is the sight of our Eminent Secretary of State [Cardinal Pietro Parolin] still intoxicated by the miracles of Ostpolitik. In a speech last year, at a Memorial for Card. Casaroli, he praised the success of its predecessor in having secured the existence of the Church hierarchy in the communist countries of Eastern Europe. He says: “In choosing candidates for the episcopate, we choose shepherds and not people who systematically oppose the regime, people who behave like gladiators, people who love to grandstand on the political stage.” I wonder: Who had he in mind while making this description? I fear that he was thinking of a Cardinal Wyszynski, a Cardinal Mindszenty, a Cardinal Beran. But these are the heroes who bravely defended the faith of their people! It terrifies me to realize this mindset and I sincerely hope that I am wrong.
On the day that an agreement is signed with China there will be peace and joy, but do not expect me to participate in the celebrations of the beginning of this new Church. I disappear, I will start a monastic life to pray and do penance. I will ask the forgiveness of Pope Benedict for not being able to do what he was hoping that I could do. I will ask Pope Francis to forgive this old Cardinal from the peripheries for disturbing him with so many inappropriate letters.
The innocent children were killed, the angel told Joseph to take Mary and the Child and flee to safety. But today would our diplomats advise Joseph to go and humbly beg for dialogue with Herod!?
In June, Zen advised that if Pope Francis signed an agreement with Beijing that violates the conscience of the faithful, they should avoid criticizing him, but they need not follow him.
And now, at last, we have it from Vatican expert Sandro Magister that just such an agreement is in the offing:
In Appointing Bishops, the Pope Leans Toward Beijing
He is preparing, that is, to grant the communist authorities the privilege of selecting candidates. And he is exiling to an island in the Pacific the highest ranking Chinese archbishop in the curia, contrary to the agreement. But in China, Cardinal Zen has already taken the lead in the rebellion
The exiled archbishop, in this case, is Zen’s
fellow countryman bishop and friend Savio Hon Taifai – he too a Salesian like the cardinal – called by Benedict XVI from Hong Kong to Rome in 2011 as secretary of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples, but now dispatched by Francis to an island of the Pacific Ocean, as apostolic administrator of Guam, with an unexpected appointment last June 6.
Meanwhile, Magister lays out the scene unfolding between Rome and China:
In China, among the one hundred and nine Catholic bishops there are eight who have been consecrated at the behest of the communist authorities and who have never received the pope’s approval, thereby incurring excommunication, a couple of them with children and lovers.
But for none other than these eight, by the end of this summer or at the latest before the end of the jubilee Francis is ready to perform a spectacular gesture: a pardon.
Francis missed another stunning gesture by just a hair’s breadth last September 26, during his journey to Cuba and the United States.
That day, his touchdown in New York on his way to Philadelphia coincided with the landing of Chinese president Xi Jinping, who was expected at the United Nations. Everything had been calculated for the two to cross paths “accidentally” at the airport and exchange a greeting. Xi was aware of this ardent desire of the pope, but in the end he let it drop and the meeting did not take place.
From that moment on, however, the secret contacts between the Vatican and Beijing underwent an acceleration. In October and then in January a delegation of six representatives of the Holy See went to the Chinese capital. And in April of this year, the two sides set up a joint working group that now seems to have come to an understanding over a point that the Vatican takes very seriously: the appointment of bishops.
Since it has been in power, in fact, the Chinese communist party has wanted to equip itself with a submissive Church separate from Rome, with bishops of its own appointment ordained without the pope’s approval, beholden to a Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association that Benedict XVI called “irreconcilable” with Catholic doctrine.
A Church of the regime, therefore, on the verge of schism with its eight excommunicated bishops, contrasted with an “underground” Church with about thirty bishops earnestly faithful to the pope, which however pays all the costs of clandestinity – oppression, surveillance, arrest, abduction.
And in the middle the vast gray zone of the remaining dozens of bishops who were ordained illegitimately but then were more or less reconciled with Rome, or were ordained with the parallel recognition of Rome and Beijing but must still remain under the iron control of the communist authorities.
The bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, ordained in 2007 with the twofold approval of the pope and the government, has been under house arrest for four years for the simple offense of having resigned from the Patriotic Association. Two months ago he retracted, but he is still deprived of his liberty. The eighty-five-year-old Joseph Zen Zekiun (in the photo), who has more freedom of speech in Hong Kong, has called “inevitable” the suspicion that this retraction was also desired by the Vatican, just to reach an agreement at any price.
That an agreement has already been reached was confirmed in recent days by Zen’s successor in the diocese of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, with an open letter released in Chinese, English, and Italian that bears all the marks of wanting to prepare the faithful to make the best of a bad lot…
For his part, Cardinal Zen has reported — and not for the first time — that he is being kept ignorant of the process. He laments that even as one of only two living cardinals in China and as a member of the Vatican’s advisory committee for China, he is “barred from knowing anything about how [in the secretariat of state] they are negotiating the affair of the Church in China.”
This would be an odd enough situation on its own, but my mind goes back again and again to the following video, in which Pope Francis makes a number of bizarre and troubling statements while meeting with Argentinian socialist and environmentalist Fernando Solanas. Among his strange allusions to the “myth of Shiva” (the Hindi god of destruction), he then pivots to a memorized quote of Zhou Enlai.
I keep coming back to this thought, to Francis various comments favorable toward Marxists and against free markets, to his gracious acceptance of the blasphemous hammer and sickle “crucifix” (and accompanying medal bearing the same image) given to him by the Marxist president of Bolivia last year, and I find myself unable to shake the suspicion that Francis would almost rather deal with the communists in Beijing than the suffering underground Church throughout China.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.