Cardinal Joseph Zen, pictured on the rooftop of his Hong Kong residence, has been a consistent critic of the Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops. (Photo: AFP)
I read the speech given by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of His Holiness, in Milan on Oct. 3. It was sickening. He is in no way stupid or ignorant, but he told a series of lies with open eyes.
The most repugnant thing was the insult to the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI by saying that he had approved the Vatican-China agreement on the appointment of bishops signed two years ago, knowing that our sweetest, most gentle Benedict certainly will not come out to deny it. It was also very ridiculous and humiliating for the innocent Cardinal Giovanni Re to be used once more to support the falsehoods of the most eminent secretary.
Parolin knows he himself is lying. He knows that I know he is a liar. He knows that I will tell everyone that he is a liar. He is not just shameless but also daring. What will he not dare to do now? I think he is not even afraid of his conscience.
I am afraid he does not even have faith. I had this impression when Cardinal Parolin, in a commemorative speech in honor of Cardinal Casaroli, praised his success in establishing the ecclesiastical hierarchy in the communist countries of Europe, saying that “when you look for bishops, you don’t look for ‘gladiators,’ who systematically oppose the government and who like to show themselves off on the political stage.”
I wrote to him, asking if he intended to describe Cardinal Wyszynski, Cardinal Mindszenty and Cardinal Beran. He replied without denying. He only said that if I was displeased with his speech, he apologized. But one who despises the heroes of faith has no faith.
History of the Church in China
Let’s see how Parolin summarized history. The ritual mentioning of Matteo Ricci as the insuperable model in the mission history of the Church in China begins to make me uneasy. Many missionaries who evangelized among the people were no less admirable (there is no denying that I am proud of owing my first education in the faith to the Jesuits in Shanghai).
Parolin traced the attempts of dialogue back to Pope Pius XII. Luckily, he also stated that Pius XII abandoned the attempt, adding that “this created the mutual distrust that marked subsequent history.”
He seems to say that it was the “distrust” that caused the whole history of the following 30 years. Can history be simplified like this? What about the expulsion of the missionaries, all of them, after being subjected to a popular judgment court, condemned as imperialists, oppressors of the Chinese people and even murderers? The pontifical representative was expelled as well, and many bishops were expelled after years in prison.
Having expelled the “imperialist oppressors,” they came to punish the oppressed, the Christians and the Chinese clergy, guilty of not wanting to renounce the religion learned from those oppressors.
Half of the Church ended up in prison and forced labor camps. Think of the young members of the Legion of Mary who entered the prison as teenagers and were almost 40 years old when they were released (except those who died there).
The other half of the Church also ended up in prison, but after torture under the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution. After that there was 10 years of silence.
Some say: Are you not able to forget the sufferings of the past? I have not suffered anything personally (I have been in Hong Kong since 1948), but my family and fellow confreres did.
Purification of memory? To forgive, yes. But to forget the history? History is the teacher of life.
Parolin mentioned Cardinal Echegaray as the one who began a new path “amid ups and downs.” For those who knew him, Cardinal Echegaray was an unrepentant optimist. He loved China immensely. Few know how the communists treated this old friend when he visited them in an unfortunate moment: during the campaign against the canonization of the Chinese martyrs, he was served with an hour of insults and humiliations (a living PIME priest witnessed that).
The path “amid ups and downs” is on a straight direction, never changed. Monsignor Claudio Celli, who was the negotiator before Parolin, complained that the Chinese counterpart did not negotiate, they simply repeated like a gramophone: “Sign the agreement!”
Today Archbishop Celli has only one word for the independent church in China: compassion. But true compassion must be to free the slaves from slavery, not to encourage them to be good slaves.
Ostpolitik of the Holy See
Yes, the dialogue with the communists began long ago. There were already bishops’ representatives from the communist countries in the Second Vatican Council summoned by Pope John XXIII. Then Pope Paul VI sent Monsignor Casaroli on various missions to re-establish the hierarchies in those countries.
It was working in the dark (as said by Casaroli) as he had no way to know the real situation. The established hierarchies? Puppet bishops, more government officials than shepherds of the flock. But in those countries with a long Christian history, they could not behave too badly (two years ago I went to visit Budapest, Bratislava and Prague to learn some of their histories).
The dialogue continued through Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, but what was the result of this policy that is usually called Ostpolitik?
In the book Benedict XVI — Last Testament: In His Own Words, Benedict was asked if he shared and actively supported the Ostpolitik of Pope John Paul II.
“We talked about it. It was clear that the politics of Casaroli … although it was implemented with the best of intentions, had failed. The new direction pursued by John Paul II was the fruit of his personal experience, of his contacts with those powers,” Benedict said.
“Naturally, then, one could not hope that that regime would soon collapse, but it was evident that, instead of being conciliatory and accepting compromises, it was necessary to oppose it with force. This was the basic vision of John Paul II, which I shared.”
Application of Ostpolitik in China
In a 2007 letter, Pope Benedict made clear the principle that must guide every dialogue: one could not want to reach a result at any cost, a good result depends on the will of the two parties.
“The solution of existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities; at the same time, though, compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church.”
Pope Francis, too, is clear on the principle that must guide the dialogue. In Korea, on the occasion of Asian Youth Day, he told the Asian bishops gathered there: there are two principles for dialogue, first of all fidelity to one’s own identity (one cannot renounce one’s ecclesiology and fundamental disciplines), then it is necessary to open the heart and listen.
In practice, there was no continuity between Benedict and Francis but only the continuity of Cardinal Parolin.
In my book For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent, I told the story of how a power group in the Vatican did not follow Pope Benedict’s line in solving the problems with the Beijing government.
The question arises: Would a pope so well known for his toughness (they even gave him the nickname “God’s Rottweiler”) tolerate this? Yes, Pope Benedict, who is the mildest and most shy man in the world, has great reluctance in exercising his authority.
One day I, a great sinner, pouted at him and said: “You tell me to help you with the Church in China. These other people don’t follow your line and you don’t intervene. What am I going to do? Bertone doesn’t help me either, why?” He replied: “Sometimes you don’t want to offend someone.”
He meant Cardinal Dias, then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He and the Holy See negotiator with Beijing, Monsignor Parolin, were both enthusiastic about the Ostpolitik policy.
One might say that I am revealing things said in private conversation and I may cause embarrassment to the person concerned. Yes, but I think this is much better than letting him take responsibility for approving a bad deal.
During the time of Cardinal Tomko as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the negotiator informed the members of those periodic secret meetings on the progress of the (unofficial) negotiations. When Pope Benedict established a respectable Commission for the Church in China, it was instead left in the dark.
In 2010 there were rumors that an agreement was ready. But at some point everything fell silent. Parolin was sent to Venezuela and Ballestrero entered. Savio Hon came to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples even before Dias retired. From all this it can be construed that Pope Benedict has, in extremis, rejected the draft agreement and given a completely new turn to things.
When Pope Francis called Parolin from Venezuela and made him his secretary of state, one of the first things Parolin did was to make the Commission for the Church in China disappear silently and soon the Ostpolitik towards China had the way open. Dialogue with the enemy, yes, but not between us. Pope Francis obviously has put China completely in the hands of his secretary of state.
There is no continuity between Benedict, who said no to Ostpolitik, and Francis, who said yes to Ostpolitik. There is the continuity of Parolin’s Ostpolitik: before he did not follow Benedict and now Francis follows him.
I will be asked: Do you say that Parolin manipulates the Holy Father? Yes, I don’t know why the pope allows himself to be manipulated but I have evidence to believe so and this makes it even less painful and repugnant for me to criticize the Holy See.
When in the process of legitimizing the seven excommunicated bishops and two legitimate bishops of the clandestine community being asked to resign, in an audience granted to Archbishop Savio Hon, the pope said three things: “this is not good,” “why they did not discuss with me?” and “I’ll look into the matter.”
Later, in an audience granted to me, I asked Pope Francis: Did you have the opportunity to take an interest in that problem? He promptly replied: “Yes, I told them not to create another Mindszenty case.” It couldn’t be clearer and more precise. (Unfortunately, things went exactly as what happened to Cardinal Mindszenty. The two bishops were forced to give their office to two unworthy men.)
Things that came out of the Vatican came from Parolin (obviously with the pope’s consent).
The effect of the agreement
But how would you say that the agreement is bad? Not having read the text, especially the one in Chinese, I could not give any judgment. But the Most Eminent Parolin himself and his henchmen often stated that a bad agreement is better than no agreement. I cannot understand this despite being a teacher of morality. I always teach that evil cannot be done even with good intention.
People say the agreement is good and the Chinese communists have finally recognized the pope as the supreme authority of the Catholic Church. If I don’t see the text, I don’t believe it.
They say the pope will have the right to veto. If I don’t see the text, I don’t believe it. Even assuming he has it, how many times can he use it without embarrassment?
They say the agreement means there will be no more illegitimate bishops. Can the word of a totalitarian regime be trusted? Don’t you remember the pact with Napoleon, the concordat with the Nazi government?
If the Vatican is as compliant as it is, the legitimate bishops will not necessarily be worthy bishops. The independent church in China is now full of “opportunistic” bishops, people who sell themselves to the government to make a career of power and wealth.
If, by the way, the seven legitimated excommunicants are the sample of what is to come, may the Lord free us. Did they change their conduct? Have they shown any sign of repentance? Gratitude for the forgiveness granted by the pope? A public promise to respect church doctrine and discipline? Instead, what you see is that they go around singing triumph: we made the smart choice by staying with the government.
Particularly disgusting was the treatment of the two legitimate bishops who were forced to give way to the excommunicated. Huang Bingzhang, the now legitimated bishop of Shantou, after his “victory” organized a large celebration with the deposed bishop Zhuang Jianjian in Zhuang’s church. His clergy and many faithful came by coaches, but the clergy and faithful of the deposed were not admitted (the police kept order). They wanted the deposed to come to concelebrate and thus humiliate him. But the elderly bishop still has a clear mind. He said: “When you get married, you celebrate. But I was forced to divorce my diocese, what is there to celebrate?” He withdrew.
Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong, who leads the non-official community with many more members than that of his contender, obeyed the Vatican by giving up his position to the excommunicated one and becoming his auxiliary. But everyone has seen how they made his life impossible, so all he could do is to resign (news in these days).
Is the Church in China finally united? Rapprochement between the two church communities? The normalization of church life, just because the pope gives his blessing to this miserable situation, to this victory of the enemy?
Is it good to have all bishops legitimate but in a church that is objectively schismatic? Is it progress? What kind of journey is it beginning?
His Eminence Parolin seems very humble to say that the result of the agreement was not particularly exciting, but this is obviously an understatement. I would say it was simply disastrous.
The last act: Everyone in a schismatic church
More disastrous and cruel was the last act of this tragedy: the document at the end of June last year. The “Pastoral Guidelines of the Holy See Concerning the Civil Registration of the Clergy in China” was issued by the Holy See, without specification of the department and without signatures (but it is known that it is Parolin’s creation). Everyone is invited to join the Patriotic Association, that is, the independent church. It is the coup de grace.
Some of the “clandestine” communities, headed by bishops and priests, are happy to be able finally, tuta conscientia, to remove the burden of being “illegal.” But as they enter the birds’ cage, they are mocked by the old tenants: “We have always said …” But many who have resisted the regime all through their lives and persevered in the true faith (with many martyrs in their families) are now invited by the same Holy See to surrender. Bewilderment, disappointment and (no one should be scandalized) even resentment for being betrayed.
It is true that the document says that the Holy See “respects” their conscience if they do not feel like doing that act. But the practical effect will be the same: they will no longer have their churches, they will no longer be able to say Masses for the faithful in private homes, they will no longer be given bishops. It remains for them to live the faith only in the catacombs, waiting for better days.
The general situation
Many things have happened in this period, I do not say “because of the agreement” but certainly “in spite of the agreement”: a notable hardening of persecution, persistence in making the unofficial communities disappear, strict execution of once relaxed rules, such as the prohibition of minors under 18 from entering churches and participating in religious activities. “Sinicization” is not what we mean by inculturation. It is the religion of the Communist Party: the first divinity is the country, the party, the party leader.
How can the Most Eminent say that all this has nothing to do with the agreement? Can life be cut into pieces?
In fact, His Eminence also connects the agreement with international peace and with resolving tensions. But it seems that in order to save the agreement the Holy See is closing both eyes on all the injustices that the Communist Party inflicts on the Chinese people.
Hong Kong too, with the introduction of the national security law, has become a city under a totalitarian regime. Citizens have lost all rights, including freedom of expression, and are threatened by incredible police brutality.
If they do not explicitly deny the autonomous status of Hong Kong, the agreement would not concern Hong Kong. But we hear that to be the bishop of Hong Kong, one must have the blessing of Beijing.
Lord save us from our mighty enemies. May Our Lady of the Holy Rosary protect us from every danger.
This is the full text of Cardinal Zen’s blog post published on Oct. 9. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.