These meetings, Zen said, allowed experts and bishops from different parts of China to offer a report on their situation to the Vatican Secretary of State and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Zen praised Tomko, saying that both his vast experience in the Vatican and his knowledge of life under communism in his home country of Czechoslovakia gave him a good perspective on the situation of China.
Advised by Tomko, he said, the Holy See legitimized several illegitimate bishops who asked for pardon, recognizing that they were "good people" who had been timid and were pressured by the government into accepting illegitimate ordination.
But when Tomko retired, Zen said, his successors moved the discussion around China in a different direction. He accused Vatican officials of manipulating the Chinese translation of a text written by Pope Benedict XVI to the Church in China, and rendering a commission established by Pope Benedict ineffective.
In particular, he named Ivan Dias, who served as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Cardinal Parolin, then-Undersecretary of State, as driving figures in the new approach.
Zen said he no longer had a voice in the Vatican discussions, and felt that the pope was no longer hearing from those on the ground about their situation.
In 2010, he said, rumors began to arise that an agreement between the Vatican and China was in the works. But several years later, no agreement had surfaced.
"I have no evidence, but I believe that it was Pope Benedict who said no," Zen said. "He could not sign that agreement. And I think the one agreement signed now [by Pope Francis] must be exactly that one, which Pope Benedict refused to sign."
Then, in 2013, Pope Francis was elected.
"Now I'm sorry to say that I think you can agree that he has low respect for his predecessors. He is shutting down everything done by John Paul II and by Pope Benedict," Zen said, adding that Vatican officials always describe these actions as being "in continuity" with previous popes, but he considers this description to be "an insult" and obviously false.
While Zen said his personal relationship with Pope Francis is "wonderful," he added that the pope has not addressed the concerns he has repeatedly raised regarding the China Deal that was struck in 2018.
(Story continues below)
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Earlier this year, Zen traveled to Rome, where he requested a meeting with Pope Francis. He said his first request went unanswered, and he sent a second request, which was met with the instruction to speak with Cardinal Parolin. Zen declined, and was subsequently invited to have dinner with both Parolin and Pope Francis.
"I went there to the supper. Very simple, the three of us. I thought supper is not a time to quarrel, so I had to be kind during supper," Zen said. "So I talked all about Hong Kong, and Parolin didn't say a word. So at the end, I said, 'Holy Father, what about my objections to that document?' He said, 'Oh, oh, I'm going to look into the matter.' He saw me off at the door."
Zen said he was left with the distinct impression that Parolin is manipulating Pope Francis. He is concerned that the Pope is "legitimizing the schismatic church in China" and that those who have faced years of persecution as members of the underground Church are now left confused and unsure about what to do.
Priests are being asked to sign a document supporting the government-run church in order to minister openly, he warned.
The Communist Party will not tolerate the Catholic Church unless it feels that it can control the Church, Zen said.
"They need to control everything. Since they know that they cannot destroy, they want to control. Obviously. All the churches. They want to destroy from within."