Cardinal Zen EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW on the State of the Church in China

Published on Nov 24, 2021
Cardinal Zen EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW on the State of the Church in China

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1. Can you briefly explain the history of the controversy concerning the state of the church in China?
The Communist persecution began in steps. The first step was to send away all of the missionaries. Then they went to the local clergy claiming to have freed them from the imperialists. In order for them to be “truly free” however, the Communists pushed for an independent Church that does not depend on foreigners. Most of the clergy were against the idea and were subsequently sent to prison or labor camps. Those who accepted the imposition of the government stayed in the churches. However, in the 60s, the Chinese Cultural Revolution began. At the beginning of those 10 years the Red Guards persecuted those who remained in the churches. When they had completed their sentences those who were sent to prison from the very beginning went underground and those who used to work in the churches under government control went back to the churches. Some contact with Rome was allowed at this point so they asked the Pope to recognize their illegitimate bishops, which he did after some investigation. However, around the year 2000 a new wave of persecution began. Before 2000, Cardinal Tomko succeeded in maintaining good relations with the Secretary of State which led to many good years. Unfortunately, Cardinal Tomko’s successors were not very good; they followed Cardinal Casaroli’s policy of Ostpolitik, and things began to go downhill. Pope Benedict XVI called me to help with the China situation; however, those in the Holy See did not follow suit. The Pope wrote a letter and set up a commission, but they stained much of that work. I have reason to believe that by that time the agreement was ready but was not satisfactory, so Pope Benedict XVI stopped it. Then came Pope Francis. He made Cardinal Parolin Secretary of State and they resumed the policy of Ostpolitik. Both the underground church and the official church have weakened because of the persecution and the compromised policies of the Vatican.
2. Was Cardinal McCarrick sent to China to broker a deal with the Chinese government, as claimed by Archbishop Vigano?
Cardinal McCarrick started doing things much before Pope Francis but he did not have an official role. He made friendship with Chinese officials but was not sent.
3. What are the terms of the deal between Pope Francis and the Chinese government?
Even I, a Chinese Cardinal, do not know what is in the agreement since it has been kept a secret. One can roughly guess that it is about the nomination of bishops but in these two years there has been no new nomination. We do not know the terms of the agreement, but we can see its bad effects. First of all, they legitimized seven excommunicated bishops. Then just last year at the end of June, the Holy See issued a document called “The Pastoral Guidelines for the serial registration of the clergy.” This means that the Holy See was encouraging the clergy to be registering with the government and to sign the document saying that they had now joined the independent church. That is incredible because this church is schismatic! I went immediately to Rome and asked that the Holy Father would be present at a discussion between me and Cardinal Parolin to clarify but it was denied. I was invited to dinner but afterwards when I wanted to start a discussion, the Holy Father simply said that he would look into the matter. I am very disappointed that this was done without consultation. It’s a complete surrender to the Chinese government.
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