Pope Francis

Cardinal thinks Pope will fight graft

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 3:22am

A Hong Kong cardinal criticised former pope Benedict for compromising too much on Sino-Vatican relations, which he says have led to the weakening of mainland Catholic churches.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 81, speaking yesterday at a Baptist University forum, said he was full of hope about the new pope.

He believed Pope Francis would not make too many concessions and would do the right thing with regard to Sino-Vatican ties and in fighting corruption in churches on the mainland.

But he also questioned if Beijing would show sincerity in improving its relationship with the Holy See.

The Vatican is the only European state that maintains diplomatic ties with Taipei instead of Beijing.

Beijing-Vatican ties were strained in recent years when the mainland's officially sanctioned church, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, appointed bishops without papal approval. In 2007, the Holy See denounced the association as incompatible with church doctrine.

While Benedict - now Pope Emeritus after his resignation - was a great and kind man, Zen said, "a few years ago, the Vatican policy became too compromising, it put us in an unfavourable situation and the churches on the mainland were weakened significantly".

He also expressed disappointment that at least two mainland religious figures remained in jail for denouncing the Chinese authorities.

"The Vatican should not be so courteous. I think they should call for their release," he said.

"There was much informal [Sino-Vatican] negotiation in the past; so why are the ecclesiastics still in jail? If I were calling the shots, I would say 'set them free before we start our meeting, otherwise I am going home'."

Zen said he understood that on the mainland, some bishops appointed without papal approval received bribes ranging from 300,000 yuan (HK$373,320) to more than one million yuan. Some bribed officials in exchange for the posts while others accepted the appointments because they had no choice.

"It will take the pope to clear up this difficult mess. It will take heavenly wisdom," he said.