"But does this man of little faith know what true suffering is?" Cardinal Zen asked. "The brothers and sisters of the Chinese mainland are not afraid of being reduced to poverty, of being put in prison, of shedding their blood: their greatest suffering is to see themselves betrayed by 'family'."
The Hong Kong cardinal contended that Cardinal Parolin had manipulated Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics in the interview published Jan. 31 at Vatican Insider.
While Cardinal Parolin cited Benedict XVI's rejection of any solution that involves "an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities," Cardinal Zen said these remarks were "concealing" that the letter immediately continued: "at the same time, though, compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church."
Cardinal Zen also cited Pope Francis' remarks to Asian bishops during his World Youth Day visit to Korea: "the prerequisite of dialogue is consistency with one's own identity."
The cardinal cited the words of a Vatican source who spoke to Reuters about the deal under consideration: "We are like birds in a cage, but the cage can become larger, we are asking for all the room possible."
In Cardinal Zen's view, "the real problem is not whether the cage is small or large, but who is in this cage."
"The clandestine believers are not in it. But now they want to force them as well to enter it, in such a way that they too may be 'reconciled' with those who are already inside!" he said. "Of course, in the cage are persons who find themselves trapped there, but also servile and overbearing persons who find themselves inside quite willingly."
As an aside, Cardinal Zen remarked that he has said in the past "in China there is only one Church and that all believers, both of the official Church and of the clandestine, love the Pope." He then added: "but now I no longer dare to say this."
He said he had discussed his opinions on dialogue to Pope Francis in a private audience three years before.
"When I told him that, objectively speaking, the official Church of the Chinese mainland is schismatic (in that it has an autonomous administration independent of the Holy See and dependent on the government), the Pope replied: 'Of course!'" the cardinal recounted.
Cardinal Zen said the Vatican's Jan. 30 response to his comments prompted some to visit or phone him to comfort him after the response, which he characterized as an "accusation."
(Story continues below)
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"But they misunderstood, because I do not need to be comforted. It would have been better for them to have gone to comfort that spokesman. He is the one who is a bird in a cage, forced to carry out such an embarrassing function (and he was certainly reading what had been written by others)."
The cardinal agreed with a commentator in the South China Morning Post that the Vatican has to "readjust its worldly diplomacy, whatever its spiritual preferences."
Yet the cardinal added: "But they are not only preferences, they are nonnegotiable principles!"