Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong says the Vatican’s recent policy in dealing with China has failed and that the Church must now take a tougher stance.
“On certain points we cannot compromise – on the nature of the Church which is established by Jesus Christ,” he told CNA Feb. 10, while visiting Rome.
“So, after a well-intentioned attempt to go the other way, and now we see the failure of going that way. I think it is time we come back to the direction given by the Holy Father.”
China has an estimated eight to twelve million Catholics, with about half of those people worshiping in government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Founded in 1957, it does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.
Pope Benedict XVI set out his policy on China in 2007 in an open letter to Chinese Catholics. He criticized the limits placed by the Chinese government on the Church’s activities, including the right to appoint bishops.
“It cannot be denied that grave limitations remain that touch the heart of the faith and that, to a certain degree, suffocate pastoral activity,” wrote the Pope.
Despite the strongly worded tone of the letter, Cardinal Zen says that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples has instead pursued a policy of “compromise” with the Chinese government.
“After much – I would say excessive – acquiescence by the Holy See, the Chinese government has shown no willingness to respect the essential nature of the Catholic Church, as it is peacefully accepted all over the civilized world,” said Cardinal Zen in an article published in Asia News Feb. 8.
He highlighted that there have been five ordinations without the approval of the Vatican since November 2010. “The Chinese government has thus shown that it has no intention of changing its religious policies,” the cardinal said.
“Faced with such acts of defiance, which have betrayed its sincere desire for dialogue, the Holy See’s only option is to return to its clear stance.”
Cardinal Zen said the Vatican previously took a tough stance with China until the Indian archbishop, Cardinal Ivan Dias, took over at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2006. He retired from the post last year after reaching the age of 75.
Cardinal Dias had previously spent many years at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State where he was responsible for relations with then-Communist Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Cardinal Zen said these years gave Cardinal Dias the “experience of having worked with the Cardinal Casaroli,” who was the Vatican’s Secretary of State from 1979 to 1990.
“Unfortunately this, which could have been his strong point, instead turned out to be a limitation, since he believed that the ‘Ostpolitik’ of the famous Cardinal (Casaroli) had worked miracles in communist countries of Eastern Europe, while it is known that at least Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Wyszynski were not of the same opinion.”
“Ostpolitik” was a diplomatic approach that sought compromise rather than confrontation with the communist Soviet Bloc.
Cardinal Zen believes a similar “strategy of compromise” is now being applied to relations with China, where “resistance to the excessive power of an absolutist government” by the Church is dismissed as “futile.”
But the results have been disastrous, he asserted, saying that “the underground community that once flourished so well, now runs the risk of dying of frustration and discouragement,” due being “neglected and considered inconvenient by the Holy See.”
Meanwhile, this “overly accommodating” policy has “not obtained the desired reciprocation from the Government.”
Therefore, “procrastination” is “no longer an option,” wrote Cardinal Zen, who believes that a “win-win situation” based on compromise is no longer possible, even if that means the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association goes fully into “schism.”
“I think it is time we really faced the main question of what is the Catholic Church?” he said to CNA. “If they’d like to have an independent, national Church let them have one, but let it not be called Catholic.”
Cardinal Zen also criticized the decision by the Italy-based lay movement, the Saint Egidio Community, to invite the Bishop of Nanchang to a conference in Germany last year, despite the fact that the bishop had recently participated in an illicit ordination.
“Inviting bishops who have compromised themselves in acts which are objectively destructive to the unity of the Church to meetings abroad seems very inconvenient.”