Cardinal Re was an official of the state secretariat from 1989 to 2000.
Because the deal provide for the pope's intervention in bishop appointments in China, the dean said, "the expression 'independent Church' can no longer be interpreted in an absolute manner, as 'separation' from the Pope, as was the case in the past."
"Unfortunately, there is slowness in drawing in loco all the consequences which derive from this epochal change both on the doctrinal and on the practical level and there persist dolorous tensions and situations," Cardinal Re said.
"It is unthinkable, on the other hand, that a partial Accord -- the Accord touching, in fact, only the theme of the nomination of Bishops -- changes things in almost an automatic and immediate way in the other aspects of the life of the Church."
Cardinal Re objected to Cardinal Zen's evaluation of the pope's pastoral guidelines concerning the civil registration of clergy in China, saying that these guidelines "were designed precisely to safeguard the faith" in complicated and difficult situations.
Those guidelines recognize the choice of those who feel that they cannot in good conscience register with the government and accept sinicization. However, reports indicate that those who decline to register are facing harassment and persecution.
Cardinal Zen's intervention, Cardinal Re said, "helps us to comprehend how difficult still is the path of the Church in China and how complex is the mission of pastors and of the Holy Father!"
"We are, therefore, all called to unite ourselves closely to him and to pray intensely for the Holy Spirit to support him and to support the communities of the Catholic Church in China, who despite suffering for a long time demonstrate their loyalty to the Lord, on the path of reconciliation, of unity and of mission at the service of the Gospel."
The Vatican-China deal has been roundly criticized not only by Cardinal Zen, but also by human rights groups and religious freedom advocates in the US, and the Holy See has taken pains to defend and promote it.
Fewer than two weeks before Cardinal Re's letter was sent, the Holy See publicized a meeting held between its Secretary for Relations with States and the Chinese foreign minister, during which the accord on episcopal appointments was discussed.
In March 2019, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said that the accord "will be a very good thing for the Church," and he criticized those who "run the risk of rowing out of sync within the barque of Peter."
And one year ago, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin -- who Cardinal Zen holds to bear primary responsibility for the deal -- said at a conference that the agreement must be implemented.
(Story continues below)
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Cardinal Zen told CNA Feb. 11 that "the situation is very bad" in China, and added that "the bad things come from [Parolin]."
According to Cardinal Zen, Cardinal Parolin is "so optimistic about the so-called 'Ostpolitik', the compromise."
But, Cardinal Zen told CNA, "you cannot compromise" with the Chinese Communist Party, whom he called "persecutors" of the faith.
"They want complete surrender. That's communism."
"More and more, the Church [is] under persecution," Cardinal Zen said, "both the official Church, and the underground."