The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, this week denounced the "false interpretation" of Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics, which has resulted due to the restrictions imposed and maintained on the document by the Chinese communist government.
According to Vatican analyst Sandro Magister, the papal letter has been misunderstood "in favor of the communist authorities, and their plan to subjugate the Church."
Magister reports on the assessment Cardinal Zen has made of the letter in which he says, "The Patriotic Association has prohibited its distribution. A number of priests who distributed it have been arrested. The Chinese websites that posted it have had to remove it. The complete Mandarin language version of it on the Vatican website is still inaccessible in China."
"It was also difficult and complicated to have a follow-up letter, from Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, delivered personally to every bishop in China. In some cases this took months. Nor did this letter - the contents of which were ambivalent, in Cardinal Zen's view - help to bring clarity," Magister writes.
He goes on to the note that in the judgment of Cardinal Zen, "The most serious misunderstanding of the guidelines given by Benedict XVI concerned - again, in Cardinal Zen's view - the question of official recognition on the part of the communist authorities. Many interpreted the Pope's letter as a binding order to the ‘underground’ communities and bishops to come out of hiding and ask for government recognition."
Cardinal Zen maintains that the "fundamental reality is that the government has kept its policy substantially unchanged, a policy that aims at enslaving the whole Church. That is why we have to witness such a painful spectacle: bishops and priests who, thinking they are obeying the Holy Father, make enormous efforts to come to terms with the government; many of these, faced by the unacceptable conditions imposed by the government, draw back."
"The government, on its part, has presented itself as an enthusiastic executor of the will of the Pope, declaring itself the promoter of [Church] unity, evidently a unity under the total control of the government inside the iron-tight structure of an independent Church," Cardinal Zen says.
To head off this collapse, Cardinal Zen fought strenuously in recent months to have Rome issue a "Compendium" of clarifications on Benedict XVI's letter. He called on Chinese Catholics to attentively read the compendium and said it is right to want to operate freely and openly, "but unfortunately," he writes, echoing the Pope's words, "'almost always' it is impossible to do so since conditions are imposed on us which are not compatible with our Catholic conscience."