Michael Sainsbury and ucanews.com reporters in Hong Kong
Updated: February 14, 2018 09:49 AM GMT
A file image of Hong Kong cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun in St. Peter's square in 2013 at the Vatican. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
Sacked Chinese Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian, who is at the center of the latest storm around the Holy See's controversial talks with China's communist government, has broken his silence on being called in to Beijing by Vatican diplomats.
The confirmation of the Vatican's role in replacing two bishops originally appointed Rome, with two bishops who were appointed by the Communist Party controlled Catholic Patriotic Association — including one who has been excommunicated by Rome — has continued to rock China's so-called underground Catholic Church.
"But these acts, in fact, are scarifying the underground community for the benefit of half the China Church, which is the open community, not the whole," said a researcher who does not want to offend the Vatican.
In a phone call with ucanews.com, 88-year-old Bishop Zhuang of Shantou in Southern Guangdong province admitted that he went to Beijing "in December, where I met with four Vatican officials" but he was reticent to say much more. The Chinese government is well known for its monitoring of the communication devices of its critics or potential critics.
People close to the bishop, not known for his public display of emotions, said he was deeply and visibly upset by the ordeal.
The two-way talks between the Vatican and Beijing, that have now been underway for four years are aimed at ultimately establishing diplomatic relations but at present are solely at the first step focusing on the appointment of bishops in the China Church. The Holy See wants to gain approval of all bishop appointments, at present they are made by the Party and not all are agreed by Rome.
Bishops Zhuang's comment came as the Vatican rebuked Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who travelled to Rome to present Pope Francis with a letter from the sacked prelate and to voice his long held view that the Vatican is wasting its time trying to negotiate with Beijing, in the process upsetting about half its 12 million followers who worship in underground churches.
Cardinal Zen has claimed the Vatican was "selling out" millions of Catholics in China who did not worship at the Party controlled version of the church.
A strongly worded statement, issued by Vatican spokesman Greg Burke's office, said some people in the church were "fostering confusion and controversy."
The statement and a loquacious interview with the Vatican's chief diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin in La Stamp's Vatican Insider appeared to dispute Cardinal Zen's read out of a private meeting with Pope Francis over the issues.
The statement said that it was "surprising and regrettable" that some were promoting "a presumed difference of thought and action" between Pope Francis and his top aides over China strategy.
In his interview, Cardinal Parolin said: "The Holy Father personally follows current contacts with the authorities of the People's Republic of China. All his collaborators act in concert with him. No one takes private initiatives. Frankly, any other kind of reasoning seems to me to be out of place."
He added that the main purpose of the Holy See in the ongoing dialogue is safeguarding communion within the church, in the wake of genuine tradition and constant ecclesiastical discipline.
"You see, in China there are not two churches, but two communities of faithful called to follow a gradual path of reconciliation towards unity," Cardinal Parolin said.
"It is not, therefore, a matter of maintaining a perennial conflict between opposing principles and structures, but of finding realistic pastoral solutions that allow Catholics to live their faith and to continue together the work of evangelization in the specific Chinese context."
In return, Cardinal Zen disputed the No. 2 official, writing in a fresh blog post that the Vatican had shifted the focus on the issue of appointment of bishops to the relations between the pope and his diplomats.
"In fact, my blog never mentions that the pope does not know (what the Vatican diplomats are doing), but the pope really told (Archbishop) Savio Hon Tai-fai: 'Why the group (Vatican diplomats) never discussed with me (about recent appointments)?'
"What the pope told me is true: That his opinions are different to theirs. Therefore, at the end of the 'statement,' they cannot doubt the pope telling a lie, and then assert that I tell a lie," he wrote.
"I say in my blog that they are doing bad things (wrong things) but not say that they are lying, and now, readers are needed to judge either I or they tell a lie," he wrote.
"Of course I know my [first] statement will cause controversy but not confusion. I hope the result of the controversy is that they admit what they are doing is bad (wrong) and should step back from the precipice."
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