But Zen's op-ed said the distinction between the underground Church and the CCPA has not been eradicated.
He said those who attend the "underground" Church worship in secret and are subject to persecution from the government if they are discovered. Amid a religious crackdown in China, Zen said that priests of the underground church have been encouraging their parishioners to skip Mass for their own safety.
While Pope Francis is "very pastoral," Zen said does not think that he properly understands how Communist China works. In Pope Francis' home country of Argentina, the Communists worked to defend the poor against government oppression, often alongside Jesuits, he said. This could be why the pope "may have a natural sympathy for Communists," as he views them to be persecuted.
It is far different, said Zen, in places where Communists are the ruling party--like China. When they acquire power, the Communists become the persecutors themselves, he said.
After Zen returned to China from studies in Rome in 1974, he said it had become a "whole nation under slavery," and cautioned about society forgetting how oppressive the regime was at that time. And while he concedes that the Chinese government has made significant strides in embracing human rights, "you can never have a truly good agreement with a totalitarian regime."
The current iteration of Church leadership does not properly understand the threat Communist governments pose to Catholics, said Zen. He praised the work of Cardinal Jozef Tomko, who was the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples from 1985 until 2002. Tomko, who is from Slovakia, "understood communism, and he was wise," said Zen.
Under Tomko, the Vatican considered only the underground Church in China as the true Church, and that while there were "many good people" in the state-sponsored church, it was "unlawful." After Tomko's retirement, however, Zen said things a turn for the worse with the appointment of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who Zen described as "a young Italian with no foreign experience."