A senior Catholic cardinal accused the Vatican on Friday of acting “unfaithfully” in its rapprochement with China, and the dissension escalated on Friday as the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, intensified his criticism of the talks, saying that a reconciliation could result in 12 million Chinese Catholics being effectively put in a Communist-controlled “cage.”
He has accused church bureaucrats of “selling out” Chinese Catholics, and warned, “A church enslaved by the government is no real Catholic Church.”
Cardinal Joseph Zen also said he was highly skeptical of a deal that reportedly would give Pope Francis the final say in the appointment of bishops, the key part of the agreement, Reuters reports.
Cardinal Zen did not attack the pope directly, but called Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope’s second-in-command, “a man of little faith.” Another prelate has mocked one of the pope’s close collaborators as living “in Wonderland” for his depiction of China as a country uniquely in sync with the church’s values.
The public sniping has erupted even though firm details of talks between the Vatican and the Chinese government have not been disclosed — or what Francis might be willing to sacrifice for an agreement that could be a first step toward restoring diplomatic relations and allowing him to become the first pope to visit China.
Nearly 70 years after China and the Vatican severed diplomatic relations, the two sides recently reached a framework accord on the thorny issue of who gets to appoint new Chinese bishops and a historic deal could be signed in a few months.
The 86-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong, recently rebuked by the Vatican after he said it had “sold out” China’s faithful, said sources told him that under the framework agreement the pope would have the final veto power over bishops who are effectively chosen by the Chinese government.
“They (The Chinese government) say the last word belongs to the Holy Father. Sounds wonderful? But it’s fake,” Zen said.
”They are not going to make good choices for the Church … surely they choose the one they prefer, which means the one who always obeys the government. So how (could) the Holy Father approve such a choice?”
“Okay, he can veto. How many times? It takes courage to veto the second time, the third time, five times,” Zen said.
The Vatican and China broke off diplomatic relations in 1951, two years after the Communist takeover.
In 1957, China established the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association to oversee Catholic churches, but the Vatican, despite some recognition of the authority of its priests to administer sacraments, does not fully recognize it. It has secretly named bishops to lead the “underground” church.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both made overtures toward the Chinese government to settle the dispute, but each saw the negotiations stall or founder.
Despite the controversy, the Vatican does not seem to be distracted from a potential deal that would be “a breakthrough that we have been waiting for many years,” said Jeroom Heyndrickx, the acting director of the Belgium-based Ferdinand Verbiest Institute, who sat on a commission that advised Benedict on relations with China. “Finally there would be an agreement over the appointment of bishops in China.”
Cardinal Zen confirmed that the Vatican had already asked one underground bishop to step aside and make way for a state-authorized bishop who is also a member of China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, the National People’s Congress. Francis has also received a request to pardon seven state-authorized Chinese bishops whom the Vatican considered illegitimate, according to the senior Vatican official.