HONG KONG–A Hong Kong cardinal who has spearheaded opposition to the Vatican’s rapprochement with China has called for the Pope’s secretary of state to step down, saying any deal with Beijing on the appointment of bishops would amount to a betrayal of the Catholic faith.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the most senior Catholic cleric on Chinese soil, said he believed the two sides were making a “secret deal,” although he acknowledged he had no connection with the Vatican and was “completely in the dark.”
“They’re giving the flock into the mouths of the wolves. It’s an incredible betrayal,” he said.
The Vatican and China have been in advanced talks this year to forge what would be a historic breakthrough and precursor to a resumption in diplomatic relations after 70 years, with Secretary of State Pietro Parolin among the chief negotiators. Zen described Parolin, the highest-ranking diplomat in the Vatican, as someone who despises heroes of faith.
“He should resign,” Zen told Reuters on Sept. 20 at his home on a wooded hillside on Hong Kong island.
Zen, meanwhile, stopped short of calling on Pope Francis to step down, saying: “I would not come out to fight the Holy Father, that is my bottom line.”
The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Zen’s remarks.
At a time when the Vatican is also under pressure for purportedly covering up a sex-abuse scandal in the United States, with one archbishop even calling for the Pope to resign, Zen suggested this China deal would further add to the church’s vulnerability.
“The consequences will be tragic and long lasting, not only for the church in China, but for the whole church because it damages the credibility.”
The Vatican may send a delegation to China before the end of this month. They could reach an agreement on the appointment of bishops at the meeting, a Chinese state-run newspaper reported earlier this week.
That’s has been a point of contention, as the state-sanctioned, Communist Party-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association appoints Party-controlled bishops. Meanwhile, millions of Catholics belonging to underground churches that swear loyalty to the Vatican are routinely persecuted and harassed by the Chinese regime.
The potential deal has divided communities of Catholics across China, some of whom fear greater suppression if the Vatican cedes greater control to Beijing.
Pope Francis has rejected criticism that the Holy See may be selling out Catholics to Beijing’s communist authorities.
Zen says he believes any deal with atheist China would deal a significant blow to Pope Francis’ credibility.
“It’s a complete surrender. It’s a betrayal (of our faith). I have no other words,” said Zen.
By James Pomfret & Anne Marie Roantree