Compromise unlikely in Pope's letter, says Zen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 March, 2007, 12:00am

Vatican has to protect traditional rights, says HK cardinal

Pope Benedict's forthcoming letter to Chinese Catholics will clear up pastoral issues troubling the mainland church while spelling out the Vatican's bottom line on diplomatic negotiations, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said.

But although conciliatory wording would be used to show the Vatican was sincere in continuing the dialogue, Beijing's hope for major compromises could be dashed because the church had to protect its traditional rights, he said.

In an interview on the eve of the first anniversary of his elevation to cardinal, the head of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese said the Pope was still finalising the letter to be delivered after Easter.

'Pastoral issues, rather than diplomacy, will be the focus because the letter is not addressed to the Beijing government but to the faithful in China. The Pope's concern is not diplomacy, but the propagation of faith,' Cardinal Zen said.

'Rather than creating problems, the letter will solve problems. But if Beijing believes the Holy See will make a big compromise, I am afraid they will be disappointed.'

The Vatican announced the Pope's decision to address personally issues in the mainland church after a high-level China policy meeting in January. At the meeting, Vatican officials reiterated their desire to continue a sincere dialogue with Beijing on resuming diplomatic ties despite the repeated 'ordination' of bishops without Vatican approval.

The Pope has sought advice from those who took part in the meeting, including Cardinal Zen, over the draft of the letter, which will be published in Chinese, English and Italian next month.

Cardinal Zen expected the Pope would reiterate that it was his prerogative to appoint bishops anywhere in the world and China should be no exception.

'I believe he will mention that although discussions on bishop candidates would be carried out with the Chinese government, the Pope has the ultimate right to appoint bishops. Beijing needs to understand that the church has a bottom line. It is a religious matter which would not hurt Chinese people's pride,' Cardinal Zen said.

The so-called 'Vietnam model', by which the Vatican proposes several candidates for the government to choose from before the Pope gives his final approval, is not expected to be discussed, although the principle of mutual consent would be touched on. The Pope also would give 'clear directions to clear up issues troubling mainland Catholics', Cardinal Zen said.

Many mainland Catholics are confused by the present relationship between the 'underground' community loyal to Rome, and the state-sanctioned church, with the gradual move by the Vatican to recognise most of the bishops in the mainland.

Despite hoping the Pope's letter would bring reconciliation, mainland church leaders fear that insisting on the Vatican's right to appoint bishops could anger Beijing.