Cardinal Zen has also been consistently critical of the Vatican for its failure to denounce, or even acknowledge, the situation in Hong Kong, or the wider human rights crisis on the mainland.
However, a senior Vatican official close to the Secretariat of State told CNA this week that the situation was constantly monitored, especially as discussions continue on the possible extension of the 2018 provisional agreement.
"Despite what [Cardinal] Zen may say, Rome is not deaf or blind," the official said, "and the Church is never silent, but she is not always speaking in a microphone."
The official also conceded that Cardinal Tong's public support for the new laws had made the prospect of appointing a permanent bishop harder.
"There are, of course, concerns about the situation in Hong Kong – bringing the Patriotic Church there by the Communists is the ultimate fear," he said.
"[Cardinal] Tong would not risk being openly hostile to the government, and he shouldn't. But appearing to support a dangerous law – even as the people are suffering under it – just makes divisions deeper."
The official told CNA that the events of June and July meant that an announcement of a new bishop for Hong Kong was "forever delayed."
"There must be agreement, or at least acceptability for both [the Vatican and China]," he said, but "the person has to be acceptable to the people as well."
"We had one name last year, approved by the pope and ready, but then he became the face of protestors and had to be withdrawn."
CNA has previously reported that, in 2019, the Vatican resolved to appoint Hong Kong auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing to lead the diocese. While the appointment was being processed, however, Bishop Ha was publicly seen at the front of pro-democracy demonstrations against a controversial extradition law, and his nomination was reversed before a public announcement could be made.
This week, the senior official told CNA that the new security law and subsequent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations had already led to the dropping of a second choice to lead the diocese.
(Story continues below)
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CNA reported in January that the next choice to lead the diocese was Fr. Peter Choy Wai-man, one of four vicars general in the Hong Kong diocese and dean of the seminary. Known to be close to Cardinal Tong and to have a good working relationship with government figures, both in Hong Kong and the mainland, some in the diocese voiced strong concerns about his closeness to state authorities, with one senior diocesan official describing him as a "pro-Beijing hawk."
This week, CNA was told by senior Church sources in Rome and China that Choy's name had also been withdrawn.
"It is impossible [to announce Choy]," the senior official close to the selection process in Rome told CNA this week. "After the comments of [Cardinal] Tong and the protests, the faithful would never accept it - it would appear an act of support for the laws by the Holy Father."
A senior source close to the Church on the mainland told CNA that Choy would have "made Beijing comfortable," but "done nothing to reassure Catholics of Hong Kong."
The official in Rome told CNA that a third candidate was now under consideration in Rome, but that there was little hope for an announcement soon.
"No one knows [when there will be a bishop]. There is a new name, I am hopeful, but until I read it in the bollitino nothing is sure."