Vatican spokesman insists pope, aides are united on approach to China

| January 31, 2018 | 3 Comments
China

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong, during his general audience at the Vatican Jan. 10. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Catholics who have accused top members of the Roman Curia of making overtures to China’s communist government without the knowledge of Pope Francis are “fostering confusion and controversy,” said the director of the Vatican press office.

The rumors of division between the pope and his top aides made headlines in late January after Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong, met personally with Pope Francis to discuss his opposition to encouraging two bishops to retire so they could be replaced by two bishops approved by the government, but whose status with the Vatican has been troubled.

“In spite of the danger of being accused of breach of confidentiality,” Cardinal Zen wrote on a Facebook post Jan. 29, he had decided “to tell you what His Holiness said: ‘Yes, I told them (his collaborators in the Holy See) not to create another Mindszenty case!'”

The late Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszenty was arrested by communist authorities in 1948 and sentenced to life in prison. He was freed during the 1956 uprising, but when the uprising failed, he took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. Although he could not exercise his ministry, the cardinal’s presence in the country was a nuisance to the communist government.

In the interest of helping negotiations, Blessed Paul VI asked the cardinal to leave Hungary, and in 1972 the primate moved to Austria, although he retained his title as archbishop and primate of Hungary. After further negotiations with the government, Blessed Paul declared the See of Esztergom vacant in 1974, opening the way to normalization of relations between church and state. Cardinal Mindszenty died the following year.

Cardinal Zen said, “I was there in the presence of the Holy Father representing my suffering brothers in China,” so Pope Francis’ reference to Cardinal Mindszenty “should be rightly understood as of consolation and encouragement more for them than for me.”

But Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said any “presumed difference of thought and action between the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Roman Curia on issues relating to China” were erroneous.

Burke did not, however, make any comment regarding the accuracy or inaccuracy of reports about the proposed transfer of bishops in China.

“The pope is in constant contact with his collaborators, in particular in the Secretariat of State, on Chinese issues, and is informed by them faithfully and in detail on the situation of the Catholic Church in China and on the steps in the dialogue in progress between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, which he follows with special attention,” Burke said. “It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the church, thus fostering confusion and controversy.”

Cardinal Zen said he traveled to the Vatican in January to ensure that Pope Francis personally received letters on the situation in China, particularly regarding the case of two “legitimate bishops” — those recognized by the Vatican — “being asked by the ‘Holy See’ to resign and make place for illegitimate, even explicitly excommunicated, ‘bishops.'”

The problem, Cardinal Zen wrote on Facebook, “is not the resignation of the legitimate bishops, but the request to make place for the illegitimate and even excommunicated ones.”

According to ucanews.com, Bishop Zhuang Jianjian, 88, of Shantou and Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, 59, of Mindong were asked to step down. Both are recognized as bishops by the Vatican. Bishop Zhuang was to be succeeded by Bishop Huang Bingzhang, 51, of Shantou, who had been excommunicated. Bishop Guo was to be succeeded by Bishop Zhan Silu, 57, of Mindong, who was ordained illicitly but is recognized by the government.

In the past, Cardinal Zen said, the popes and Vatican have avoided using the word “schism” to describe those who participated in the life of the government-approved Catholic community because they knew many of the people “were not there by their own free will, but under heavy pressure.”

If the move to replace the bishops goes forward, Cardinal Zen said, “the Vatican would be giving the blessing” to “the new strengthened schismatic church.”

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a long letter to Chinese Catholics. Among other things, it established new guidelines to favor cooperation between clandestine Catholic communities and those officially registered with the government, in an effort to promote church unity.

It opened the door to registration with the government by bishops and Catholic communities, as long as this did not compromise principles of the faith and church communion. The “clandestine condition” is not normal or desirable for the church, it said.

For years, the Vatican has worked privately with Chinese church officials, and many bishops who were ordained illicitly secretly reconciled with the Vatican. The 2007 letter asked those bishops to make that fact clear to the faithful.

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  • Charles C.

    Interesting headline, interesting emphasis.

    “Vatican spokesman insists pope, aides united on approach to China.”

    First, can anyone imaging the Pope’s spokesman anouncing “Pope and aides divided over China?” Second, can you imagine any Papal aide publicly announcing that he differed with the Boss? I can hear it now:

    Pope: “So you disagree with me over my approach to any issue whatsoever? I appreciate your honesty. Your special talents shouldn’t be buried in Rome. Your next assignment is to spend five years giving lectures on Amoris Laetitia in the Galapagos Islands. Don’t bother writing, and if you contact the press, we have a chapel in Antarctica waiting.”

    Hard to believe? Pope Francis has done it with Cardinals and Bishops, an aide would not even be an afternoon snack to him.

    The headline as a whole, and large parts of the story, waste time dealing with a trivial issue. What isn’t trivial is reported, true, but perhaps buried is a better word.

    “Cardinal Zen said he traveled to the Vatican in January to ensure that Pope Francis personally received letters on the situation in China, particularly regarding the case of two ‘legitimate bishops’ — those recognized by the Vatican — ‘being asked by the ‘Holy See’ to resign and make place for illegitimate, even explicitly excommunicated,
    ‘bishops.’

    “The problem, Cardinal Zen wrote on Facebook, ‘is not the resignation of the legitimate bishops, but the request to make place for the ‘[Seven] illegitimate and even excommunicated ones.’

    “If the move to replace the bishops goes forward, Cardinal Zen said, ‘the Vatican would be giving the blessing’ to ‘the new strengthened schismatic church. ”

    For more from Cardinal Zen (Neat name, by the way) another article provides:

    “So, do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months,” the 86-year-old retired Bishop of Hong Kong wrote in a Jan. 29 letter addressed to “Friends in the Media,” in which he confirmed a report that the Vatican had asked legitimate Chinese bishops to step down in favor of communist-picked bishops.

    “Cardinal Zen outlined how the Vatican’s capitulation to China’s communist regime is only making the regime clamp down harder on faithful Catholics.?

    ” ‘The Communist Government is making new harsher regulations limiting religious freedom. They are now strictly enforcing regulations which up to now were practically only on paper (from the 1st of February 2018 attendance to Mass in the underground will no longer be tolerated),’ he wrote.”

    You’ll notice that Cardinal Zen’s letter was written two days before this Catholic News Service article is dated. It seems to me that someone has missed the real story and put a “straw man” in it’s place. I pray that it was an accidental oversight.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    “Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”. Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added. He accused US president Donald Trump of being “manipulated” by global oil firms, and said that, as opposed to those who follow “liberal thought”, the Chinese are working for the greater good of the planet. “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.” I can only presume that Pope Francis knows exactly what China is like and exactly how many Christians have been imprisoned and murdered for their beliefs. He must surely know how many women were marched off in handcuffs and then had their unborn children forcibly ripped from their wombs. The one child policy in China doesn’t exactly fit my definition of implementing Catholic social doctrine. At least not the one I was raised with. Relativism has reared its ugly head and is solidly in control of the Vatican. All of this is of the enemy. May the Lord have mercy upon His Church.

  • Ervin Miller

    We Catholics, including myself, have a responsibility to refrain from making statements without knowing the full details of ongoing communications by the Vatican and the Chinese. I believe most of us have read comments by fellow Catholics that are based on conjecture. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves not to judge when we don’t have facts. The Holy Father has highly challenging responsibilities, he desires our heartfelt prayers and support. Praise God for Pope Francis.