Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Chinese Cardinals Clash Over Vatican-China Agreement

On January 22, 2017, in an interview with the Spanish daily El País, Pope Francis said, “In China the churches are full.You can practice religion in China.”

It was a statement that raised eyebrows among those who have long followed the history of Christianity under Communist regimes, of which China is certainly no exception. China, in fact, is ranked independently as one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. In 1951, under the leadership of Chinese Communist revolutionary and founder of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, the Chinese government and the Vatican officially severed diplomatic ties. With the officially-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association following a similar line to that of the portions of the French Church that went along with the Revolutionary Government’s “Civil Constitution of the Clergy” in 1790, the formation of an underground — and persecuted — Church in China was inevitable.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Catholic Patriotic Association was “incompatible with Catholic doctrine,” and spoke of their interference with the ordination of bishops as a matter he could not permit if he wanted to. “The authority of the Pope to appoint bishops is given to the church by its founder Jesus Christ.” He said. “It is not the property of the Pope, neither can the Pope give it to others.”

But under Pope Francis, the Vatican has been moving toward what Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, calls a “new Ostpolitik.” From early in his papacy, Francis has been moving toward more positive relations with Beijing, though as the outspoken Zen has warned, signing agreement with Chinese leadership “means delivering the authority to appoint bishops into the hands of an atheist government.” It was only ten years ago that the late Cardinal Kung spoke of the plight of Chinese Catholics who will not participate in the state-sanctioned analog of the Catholic Church:

I believe that most if not all of you who are here today understand that there is no religious freedom in China. Yet you may be shocked to learn that all of the approximately 40 underground bishops in China have been either arrested and are now in jail, or under house arrest, or under strict surveillance, or in hiding, or simply have disappeared.

We know for sure that six bishops are now in jail. … They are all in their 70’s or 80’s. Three of them have disappeared. (HAN, Shi and SU). Out of these three, Bishop Su has disappeared for approximately 10 years, Bishop Han has just disappeared approximately one year ago after being detained approximately 5 years, Bishop SHI has disappeared almost six years. We do not know whether they are dead or alive.


Priests, seminarians, nuns and laypersons face similar harassment. We know for sure that there are approximately 25 of them in jail or in labor camps. This list is by no means complete, because of the difficulties in obtaining details. Many cases are not reported here. My educated guess is that there are hundreds in jail. Sometimes, the government simply removes a priest or bishop and do not place them into the jail system, so that there is no official record of this religious prisoner. This is one of the new methods of persecuting the underground church.

Cardinal John Tong, the Pope Benedict-appointed successor to Carzinal Zen’s see in Hong Kong, is more sanguine about the development:

China and the Vatican have reached consensus on the appointment of bishops, which will lead to the resolution of other outstanding problems, Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong has said.

“From now on, there will be no more the crisis of a division between the open and underground communities in the Church in China,” the cardinal said.

“On the contrary, these two communities will gradually move toward reconciliation and communion on the aspects of law, pastoral care and relationships. The Church in China will work together to preach the gospel of Jesus on the soil of China.”

In a letter published on Thursday, Cardinal Tong noted that China and the Vatican have different interests, so they will prioritise remaining problems differently.


Cardinal Tong said the Sino-Vatican dialogue indicates that China now will “let the Pope play a role in the nomination and ordination of Chinese bishops.” Since, under Church law, the Pope has the final say in the appointment of bishops, this would solve several problems, he said.

“Beijing will also recognise the Pope’s right of veto and that the Pope is the highest and final authority in deciding on candidates for bishops in China,” he said.

The Catholic Patriotic Association advocates the “self-nomination and self-ordination” of bishops, but if the agreement on papal approval of bishops is reached, that principle will become history, he said.

“If the Pope has the final word about the worthiness and suitability of an episcopal candidate, the elections of local churches and the recommendations of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China will simply be a way to express recommendations,” Cardinal Tong said.

Thus far, Cardinal Zen has not spoken out on the most recent developments in Sino-Vatican relations. But in November of last year, he made clear, once again, his opposition to any such agreement, calling it “absolutely unacceptable”:

Rome would commit to recognize as bishops only those clerics who first win nomination from the Patriotic Association’s bishops conference. This would make the church “totally subservient to an atheist government,” says Cardinal Zen, and may require the Vatican to cut ties to the true church underground.

Though he says state-backed bishops are generally “wonderful men” and “very faithful to the church,” Cardinal Zen laments that all are nonetheless “slaves” and “puppets.” Only someone ignorant of communism, he says, could think the nominations the government sends to Rome wouldn’t be coerced. Having taught in Chinese seminaries from 1989 to 1996, he recalls that state bishops couldn’t meet or even place international calls without government bosses present.

Cardinal Zen slams Vatican diplomats who say that embracing the Patriotic Association is needed to preserve the church’s hierarchy and sacraments. “I would prefer no bishops,” he says. “With fake bishops you are destroying the church.”

That’s what nearly happened in Hungary and other Soviet satellites in the 1970s after Rome embraced an Ostpolitik (“Eastern Policy”) of cooperation with Communist authorities. “The Churches in those countries have not been saved through the Vatican diplomacy,” he wrote recently, “but thanks to the unswerving faith of the simple faithful!”

He believes the same would happen in China if the Vatican refused to bow to Beijing. “The underground church is evangelizing very well,” he notes, even as authorities have destroyed 1,000 church crosses since 2013 and kept underground bishop James Su Zhimin in secret detention for two decades. “Also in the official church there are so many good people. . . . They are not afraid. Why should you surrender?”

“Pope Francis has no real knowledge of communism,” the cardinal laments. He blames Francis’ experience in Argentina, where military dictators and rich elites did evil while actual or accused communists suffered trying to help the downtrodden. “So the Holy Father knew the persecuted communists, not the communist persecutors. He knew the communists killed by the government, not the communist governments who killed thousands and hundreds of thousands of people.” (In China it was tens of millions.)

“I’m sorry to say that in his goodwill he has done many things which are simply ridiculous,” the cardinal says of the pope. These include his approaches to both China and Cuba, the other communist state he has courted at the apparent expense of human rights. But still he’s the pope, so even if he signs a bad deal Cardinal Zen says he won’t protest once it’s done.

His message to the faithful in that case: You’re never obligated to act against conscience. “You are not bound to join the Patriotic Association. You can pray at home if you lose your churches.” An underground priest who loses his flock can go home and till the soil. “You’re still a priest anyway,” he says. “So wait for better times. But don’t rebel against the pope.”

The Cardinal’s concerns may fall on deaf ears in Rome, but his warnings will be taken to heart by Catholics around the world. “You’re never obligated to act against conscience.” “You can pray at home if you lose your churches.” As it appears more and more likely that Catholics outside of China will be facing similar choices, wisdom like this from one of the Church’s true apostles is a precious grace indeed.


24 thoughts on “Chinese Cardinals Clash Over Vatican-China Agreement”

  1. If the Pope has veto power and the final say, it is no different than what has been done in Vietnam and other places for years, including some places in the high middle ages in Europe. Of course it’s not ideal, but isn’t it better than schism and no valid confessions and no licit Eucharist for the faithful there?

  2. Unfortunately, due to all of Pope Francis’ negative effects on the Church many may not realize how horrible the situation truly is in China with this policy. It is the equivalent of Rome granting the U.S. Democrats the right to nominate the Bishop’s for the United States that the Pope chooses from (wait a minute, considering the men PF has put in place, maybe Rome made a similar agreement with the Democrats?)

    • He shows his real face as an evil, masonic, communistic agent whose ultimate goal is to destroy Christ’s Church. Thanks God for revealing his satanic, NWO identity.

    • Father, I can’t point to one action of Pope Francis’s that emboldens the faithful, or causes the faithful to embrace Church teaching with joy, or defends the faith, or explains it so that it can be defended….I’m just saying it seems as if he is trying to make it look like what he wants rather than what Tradition and scripture says it is. The choice of the bishop belongs to the Church, the Pope, alone, in appearance and realness. Once again, these are things we don’t compromise on as our Church is a Divine institution, not a political one. Whosoever treats it as so brings peril on themselves, no exceptions.

    • If the leaked e-mails are to be believed, Francis has made a deal with the Democrats. George Soros too. Catholic Spring anyone? I appreciate Cardinal Zen’s advice: “You’re never obligated to act against conscience.” and “You can pray at home if you lose your churches.” We here in America will soon be following that same advice. If is painful to watch what Francis does as a layperson. I can only imagine the suffering he is causing to the faithful clergy, in China and around the world.

  3. Pope Francis can quote Chou en Lai off by heart, from the time in the sixties when he was seen as a socialist sage. Mao’s PM was the deputy to the slaughter of 30 million plus. Pope Francis is a Marxist, so likely will want agreement with Red China.

    • PF is a big liar that he wants Chinese Catholics surrender to the commie government who has persecuted and massacred them in almost 70 years. What an evil Francis is.? God, please stop him immediately and rescue faithful, underground Chinese Catholics.

  4. Pope Francis the mercifullest and tenderest throws millions of the downtrodden faithful under the bus, so that they ENCOUNTER abandonment, persecution and death, as he is basking in the glow of perfect harmony and unity with the devil. Well done, Vatican traitors, well done. Surely, you can’t possibly believe in a just God, surely you laugh at the prospect of the final judgement (a silly silly myth appealing only to the dumb and comfy in their rigidity) but what if it is truth? Eh?

    • If this post, and the link to the heroic Chinese Catholics, the Underground Church, cannot convince you beyond all doubts, that since considerable time the Church was on the wrong track and continue to be even more, nothing would. It is terrible. So sad. Thank you for posting it LMC!

  5. This is so very sad and very cruel on the part of PF…. but then, liberals generally
    are without genuine concern for the sacrifices of others.

  6. Some years ago I worked for the FSSP. This was during the time when Ignatius Cardinal Kung was released from isolation, pain and suffering under which he had been held for so many years because of his refusal to cooperate with the Communist regime. I cannot say this anecdote is true, but I have good reason to believe it is, given who told me of it: Asked, after he came to the U.S. upon his release, what he liked most of his freedom here, he said with a twinkle in his eye, “hot showers.” The cause for canonization of the good Cardinal is being petitioned in Rome now. Of this man then Bishop Fulton Sheen said: “The West has its Mindszenty, but the East has its Kung. God is glorified in His saints.” During the initial persecutions in 1954, Cardinal Kung himself said “If we renounce our faith, we will disappear and there will not be a resurrection. If we are faithful, we will still disappear, but there will be a resurrection.” You can learn more of this saintly and strong man, who never wavered in his love of his people and his fidelity to the true Church at Read his biography. If you don’t get chills, you aren’t human.

  7. In his official statement Cardinal Tong declared, “The choices in front of us are either to embrace the essential freedom now and become an imperfect, but true Church, then struggle for complete freedom in the hope of moving toward a perfect Church, or we give up essential freedom and have nothing at all, and then wait for complete freedom – but no one knows when this will ever happen. In fact, the moral principle of the Church teaches us to choose the lesser of two evils. Therefore, under the teaching of the principle of healthy realism that Pope Francis teaches us, it is clear which path the Catholic Church in China ought to take.”

    I’m confused. Since when could Catholics choose the lesser of two evils? Choosing the lesser evil is still choosing evil, right?

  8. When this holy prelate says don’t rebel against the pope, this need qualification. Catholics are not in any way bound to bow cow to the personal and “ridiculous” ideas and much publicised thoughts of this pope.
    His agenda is so clear and it is not of God. So where pope Francis insists on Our Lords words and commands we are duty bound to trust, support and follow his leadership. However, when he promulgates confusion and spreads error, then we must defend Our Lord’s Truth against this infestation of lies, half truths and obfuscation.
    The wolves are in the Temple, we have the duty of the faith to get rid of them.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...