Cardinal Zen told CNA that, in his view, there is little reason to expect an extension will yield progress toward Parolin's stated aims. The cardinal said that he had little hope a renewed Vatican-China deal would secure the future of Chinese Catholics "unless the regime collapses."
Zen especially criticized Vatican acceptance of the CPCA, which operates under the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party. Many bishops and priests have refused to cooperate with the state-sponsored CPCA, and have said that they are expected by Beijing to sign documents acknowledging Communist teaching and the supremacy of the party over Church affairs - attestations that run counter to Catholic doctrine regarding the primacy of the pope.
While some experts have emphasized that clerics can agree to the deal with certain mental reservations, Zen has said the status quo is not satisfactory.
Expressing his opposition to the Communist Party's requirements for Catholic clerics, Zen offered his assessment of the situation bluntly: "Parolin is calling a united schismatic Church, which he has produced, 'Catholic.'"
Clergy who refuse to submit to Communist oversight continue to be arrested and imprisoned, church buildings are regularly demolished, and government officials have offered bounties of thousands of dollars for people to report underground Christian worshippers.
In Hong Kong, the diocese Zen led until 2009, the mainland government has imposed a sweeping new National Security Law, which criminalizes previously protected civil liberties under the headings of "sedition" and "foreign collusion." Before the law's implementation, many Catholics, including Zen, warned that it could be used to silence the Church in Hong Kong, though the law was defended by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Zen's successor in the diocese, who is currently serving as apostolic administrator.
Since the law came into effect on 1 July, several prominent pro-democracy activists and journalists – many of them Catholics – have been arrested.
Cardinal Zen told CNA that Catholics arrested under the new law's provisions, like Jimmy Lai, Agnes Chow, and Martin Lee, were "simply putting into practice the social teaching of the Church."
"In this moment, democracy means freedom and human rights, human dignity," Zen said.
The cardinal has previously warned that a crackdown on religious liberty in Hong Kong by the mainland government could see the diocese, which has enjoyed relative freedom compared to mainland dioceses since the 1997 handover from the U.K., subject to the same restrictions as Catholics on the mainland.
"We are already in that situation," said Zen.
(Story continues below)
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Recently, Cardinal Tong instructed Catholic schools and clergy to refrain for addressing contentious political issues in classrooms and homilies and instead "foster the correct values on national identity."
Tong also intervened to stop a Catholic group affiliated with the diocese from running a prayer for democratic freedoms in Hong Kong in local newspapers.
Zen told CNA that, while he understood the sensitivity of the situation, "this servile attitude saddens me a lot."
"We are losing dignity and credibility," he said.
"I admit that in this moment it is very difficult to run a school. The way the government school authority is dealing with teachers is utterly disgraceful, humiliating. But we are no more in the position to defend the teachers."
The cardinal lamented division in the Church, saying that unity among all Hong Kongers is necessary if there is to be hope of resistance to creeping Communist repression.