Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong and connoisseur of the Middle Kingdom, sent his colleagues in the cardinalate a letter to alert them of the “murder” in progress in the Church of China, perpetrated “by the very people who should protect it.”
The high prelate’s letter is dated September 27, 2019, but it was not until January 8, 2020 that it was made public.
Cardinal Zen's was aimed “in conscience” at the 223 cardinals then forming the Sacred College: “I believe that the problem I present here concerns not only the Church in China, but the whole Church, and we cardinals have the grave responsibility to help the Holy Father in guiding the Church.”
Joseph Zen drew the attention of the porporati to a document from the Vatican published in June 2019, entitled “Pastoral Guidelines of the Holy See Concerning the Civil Registration of the Clergy in China.” These instructions run the risk of creating a schismatic church in his country. “From my analysis of the [guidelines] it is quite clear that it encourages the faithful in China to enter a schismatic Church, independent of the Pope and under the orders of the Communist Party,” he explains.
It would be unfair to criticize Cardinal Zen for short-circuiting authority by speaking directly to the College of Cardinals. Indeed, he specifies, “On July 10, 2019, I presented my ‘dubia’ to the pope. His Holiness, on July 3, had promised to take an interest in them, but to this day I have still not heard anything."
The Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong points out, in his letter, the role played by the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Piero Parolin, principal architect of the agreements made with China by Xi Jinping, in September 2018. Certainly, he laments, “Cardinal Parolin says that today when we talk about the independent Church, this independence should no longer be understood as absolute, because the agreement recognizes the role of the pope in the Catholic Church… But, even more clearly, the whole reality after the signing of the agreement shows that nothing has changed.”
The Chinese cardinal does not hesitate to reproach Cardinal Parolin for manipulating “the pope emeritus’s thought” by making believe that the agreement signed under Francis is exactly what his predecessor wanted: “it also disgusts me that they often declare that what they are doing is in continuity with the thought of the previous pope, while the opposite is true. I have reason to believe, and I hope one day to be able to prove with archival documents, that the agreement signed is the same one that Pope Benedict had, at the time, refused to sign.”
The Cardinal’s letter ends with an address leaving little room for ambiguity: “Your eminence, can we passively witness the murder of the Church in China by those who should protect and defend her from her enemies?”
This approach, unusual, to say the least, coming from a member of the Sacred College, reveals the still growing uneasiness in the Church under the current pontificate. But will the members of the Sacred College know how to respond in time given the urgency of the situation for Chinese Catholics?