Catholic Church

Former Hong Kong bishop Zen welcomes prospect of Beijing-Vatican deal falling apart

Pro-democracy church leader complains that he and Chinese bishops were sidelined in talks over the appointment of bishops in mainland China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2017, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2017, 10:39pm

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy former bishop, said in a recent interview that he welcomed the prospect that a discussion to reach a deal between Beijing and the Vatican over who has the power to appoint bishops in mainland China was falling apart.

He also complained that he and Chinese bishops were being sidelined in the talks.

This came after Cardinal John Tong Hon, Zen’s successor as bishop of Hong Kong, announced in February that Beijing and the Vatican had reached an initial consensus over the thorny issue, with both sides playing a role in the selection of bishops.

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Tong suggested the pope could retain veto power over the ordination of mainland bishops under the new arrangement.

Last year, the Vatican recognised two mainland bishops ordained without the consent of the Holy See.

But in an interview with the London-based magazine Catholic Herald, Zen said he believed an agreement might not be reached any time soon.

“In this moment it seems that things are not proceeding,” he told the publication. “I guess that the agreement about the selection of bishops is ready but not signed. I think the government [in Beijing] wants the Holy See to grant everything. Not just about the selection of bishops but many other things to control the Church. But these other things aren’t possible. So then the government refuses to sign. So for me that’s good.”

Anthony Liu Bainian, former vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which has been authorised by the mainland instead of the Vatican to appoint bishops, said he did not know anything about a Beijing-Vatican deal.

“I believe all Catholics, no matter from which country, will all wish the relationship between China and the Vatican to improve as soon as possible,” Liu said.

But Zen, in the interview, said “it would be a disaster” if the Vatican accepted the wrong agreement. He said he was not against dialogue between the two parties, but cautioned the Holy See to tread carefully.

Time for Vatican and Beijing to tackle domestic objections

“There is no improvement for Catholic life in China,” Zen said. “Surely it is going backwards, and I cannot allow that to happen.”

Zen said Pope Francis’ advisers seemed to want to “have success at any cost” over a Beijing-Vatican deal, but he said the church should not bow to any government.

Appointed by former pope Benedict to a Vatican commission on China along with 30 others in 2007, Zen said he was upset that he and other Chinese bishops had been left out of the discussions.

He said the commission had “just disappeared” after Pope Francis took over in 2013.

“We are Chinese!” Zen said, reportedly banging his fists on the table. “We have been in China so many years, teaching in the seminaries, spending six months a year there and seeing what’s going on with our own eyes. They don’t believe us. They don’t listen to us. So terrible.”