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Pope looks into China bishop reshuffle

Pontiff asks Holy See not to create 'another Mindszenty case' in reference to a persecuted Hungarian cardinal

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

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Pope looks into China bishop reshuffle

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun meets Pope Francis in Rome to speak about the case of the Chinese bishops. (Photo from Cardinal Zen's Facebook page)

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Pope Francis has promised to examine the case of two recognized Chinese bishops who were asked by the Holy See to step down and make way for illicit ones.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong travelled to Rome for a private audience with the pope on Jan. 12 after the case caused uproar in China.

Bishop Zhuang Jianjian, 88, of Shantou of Guangdong province, and Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, 59, of Mindong of Fujian province, were asked to step down. Both are recognized by the Holy See.

Bishop Zhuang was asked to give way to illicit Bishop Huang Bingzhang, 51, of Shantou, who is excommunicated. Bishop Guo was asked to make way for government-sanctioned Bishop Zhan Silu, 57, of Mindong, who was ordained illicitly.

In response to many media enquiries, the retired bishop wrote a blog posted on Jan. 29 in which he recalled the whole story and explained his views.

Cardinal Zen wrote that he went to Rome after a request from Bishop Zhuang "to bring to the Holy Father his answer to the message conveyed to him by the Vatican delegation in Beijing."

The cardinal said he thought he succeeded in conveying to "the Holy Father the worries of his faithful children in China" and asked him to look into the matter.

"His Holiness said: 'Yes, I told them (the Holy See) not to create another Mindszenty case,'" Cardinal Zen wrote.

"I think it was most meaningful and appropriate for the Holy Father to make this historical reference to Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, one of the heroes of our faith."

Mindszenty was cardinal primate of Hungary under communist persecution. After being given a life sentence in 1949, he was freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and granted asylum by the United States embassy in Budapest, where he lived for the next 15 years. Under pressure from the government, he was ordered by the Holy See to leave Hungary in 1971 and immediately a successor was named to the liking of the communist government.

Last October, Bishop Zhuang was contacted by the Holy See and asked Cardinal Zen for help. Cardinal Zen sent the bishop's letter to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, enclosing a copy for the Holy Father.

At that time, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai was still in Rome and brought the two cases in Shantou and Mindong to the knowledge of the Holy Father, who was surprised and promised to look into the matter.

According to Catholic media, Bishop Zhuang was forced to go to Beijing in December 2017 to meet a Vatican delegation led by "a foreign high-ranking prelate." He was asked to resign and give up his episcopate to Bishop Huang.

According to Asia News, Bishop Guo was detained by the government for a month beginning in Holy Week last year and asked to sign a document stating that he was "volunteering" for demotion as a condition for him to be recognized by the government.

Cardinal Zen stressed that "the problem is not the resignation of the legitimate bishops but the request to make way for the illegitimate and even excommunicated ones."

In the Mindong case, the legitimate bishop leads 90 percent of Catholics in the diocese.

The cardinal admitted he was pessimistic about the situation of the church in China but said his pessimism had a foundation in his long direct experience of "the slavery and humiliation to which our brother bishops are subjected" in the country.

He said that "from recent information, there is no reason to change that pessimistic view" since the communist government is making new, harsher regulations limiting religious freedom and "from Feb. 1 attendance to Mass in the underground will no longer be tolerated."

"Can there be anything really 'mutual' with a totalitarian regime?" Cardinal Zen asked. "Can you imagine an agreement between St. Joseph and King Herod?"

An open church Catholic told ucanews.com that the first impression when the news of the bishop reshuffle spread on the internet is that somebody in the Holy See had been corrupted by China and "now what Cardinal Zen writes proves that the pope does not want that to happen."

"At this moment, China churches should make concerted efforts to strive for unity with the universal church, even if China and the Vatican have not yet established diplomatic relations," he said.

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