VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Joseph Zen published Saturday a blog post accusing the Vatican’s secretary of state of manipulating Pope Francis, and continuing his ongoing criticism of the Holy See’s approach to the Catholic Church in China.
“My personal impression is that [Cardinal Pietro] Parolin manipulates the Pope, at least in things regarding the Church in China,” Cardinal Zen, the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, wrote in a post published on his personal blog.
The post “Supplement to my answer to Cardinal G.B. Re,” was dated March 10, although it was actually published March 21. It seemed to be an addendum to a March 3 open letter Cardinal Zen wrote to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.
Cardinal Zen’s March 21 and March 3 letters came in response to a Feb. 26 letter from Cardinal Re, dean of the Church’s College of Cardinals, to the Church's cardinals, which claimed that that the China-Vatican deal represents the minds of St. John Paul II and of Pope Benedict XVI, and that Cardinal Zen’s opposition to the deal is misguided.
Even before it was signed, Cardinal Zen has been a zealous critic of the Vatican’s 2018 provisional agreement with the People’s Republic of China. He says the agreement, which has not been publicly released, concedes a deliberative role to the Chinese government in the selection of bishops, and puts at risk of persecution many of the Catholics in China.
In his March 3 letter, Cardinal Zen wrote to Cardinal Re that “if you want to prove to me that the recently signed agreement was already approved by Pope Benedict XVI, you just have to show me the text of the agreement, which I am barred from seeing till now, and the archival evidence which you say you could verify.”
Cardinal Zen’s more recent post claimed that while he has been critical of Cardinal Re over the China deal, “The problem is not between me and Cardinal Re. The problem is with Cardinal Parolin.”
“It’s difficult to understand how this man has become so powerful to dominate the whole Roman Curia. He could dismiss the Commission for Church in China without a word and nobody stood up to protest against such impoliteness.”
Cardinal Zen has previously alleged that Parolin closed the Vatican’s commission on the Church in China, which was established under Pope Benedict XVI and included Vatican officials and Church leaders from the region, in order to silence criticism from Cardinal Zen about the Church’s engagement with the Chinese government.
The cardinal’s March 21 post also criticized Cardinal Parolin for assigning Archbishop Savio Hon, formerly the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the only high-ranking Chinese cleric in the curia, to a diplomatic post in Greece.
Those moves, Cardinal Zen has claimed, made it easier for Parolin to execute the 2018 agreement with Beijing.
While Cardinal Zen’s March 21 post criticized that agreement, calling it “immoral” and “against the Catholic conscience,” the cardinal reserved his most stringent criticism for a set of June 2019 “pastoral guidelines” issued by the Vatican, regarding the responsibilities of Chinese priests to the country’s government.
That document, Cardinal Zen said, is “blatantly evil, immoral, because it legitimizes a schismatic Church!”
The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.
Cardinal Zen argued that the 2019 “pastoral guidelines” legitimize the false notion of a specifically “Chinese” Catholic Church “independent” from the oversight of the pope.
“Parolin has repeatedly affirmed that the word ‘independent’ should today no more be understood as “absolutely independent”, because in the Agreement the Pope is recognized as the Head of the Catholic Church (I cannot believe this, until they show me the Chinese text of the agreement),” Cardinal Zen wrote.
After outlining the cardinal’s criticism, Cardinal Zen’s March 21 blog post, expressed that “during the last 20 years, because of the wrong policy of the Holy See in dealing with the Church in China, pursued by a group of people who dared even not to follow the line of the Pope, the underground community was more and more like abandoned, considered inconvenient, almost as an obstacle to unity, while in the community officially recognized by the Government the “opportunists” grow more and more numerous, fearless and defiant because encouraged by people inside and around the Vatican, intoxicated by their illusions of the Ostpolitik.”
“Are we going towards the unity of the Church in China?” Cardinal Zen asked. “What kind of unity? Which kind of Church?”