Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and a long-time leader for human rights and religious freedom in Communist China, said the Vatican's deal to normalize relations with the Marxist regime "means the annihilation of the real Church in China." He added that Pope Francis doesn't seem to understand the situation on the ground and "may have a natural sympathy for Communists."
In September, Vatican and Chinese officials signed a deal whereby Rome would allow the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), run by the Communist Party, to appoint bishops for the Catholic Church in China. In exchange, the Pope would have a final veto against any bishop chosen. The plan is supposed to repair relations between the Vatican and China, which were severed in 1950. It is also designed to help reconcile the CPA members with the Catholic clergy and laity who who worship in the underground church. Cardinal Zen and other Catholics have denounced this plan as a betrayal.
"[T]he deal is a major step toward the annihilation of the real Church in China," said Cardinal Zen in an Oct. 24 commentary published in The New York Times. "I know the Church in China, I know the Communists and I know the Holy See. ... Pope Francis, an Argentine, doesn’t seem to understand the Communists."
"He is very pastoral, and he comes from South America, where historically military governments and the rich got together to oppress poor people," said Cardinal Zen. "And who there would come out to defend the poor? The Communists."
"Francis may have natural sympathy for Communists because for him, they are the persecuted," said the cardinal. "He doesn’t know them as the persecutors they become once in power, like the Communists in China. ... [E]ven today everything is still under the Chinese Communist Party's control."
Pope Francis is "naturally optimistice about communism," said Cardinal Zen, and "he is being encouraged to be optimistic about the Communists in China by cynics around him who know better."
Even though, in the Vatican-China deal, the Pope wil be able to veto bishops if he chooses, "how many times can he do that, really?" said Cardinal Zen. Also, "what good is having the last word when China will have all the words before it?"
"If I were a cartoonist I would draw the Holy Father on his knees offering the keys of the kingdom of heaven to President Xi Jinping and saying, 'Please recognize me as the pope.'" said Cardinal Zen. "The Vatican’s deal, struck in the name of unifying the Church in China, means the annihilation of the real Church in China."
As for the underground church officials and lay people, Cardinal Zen advised, "Go home, and pray with your family. Till the soil. Wait for better times. Go back to the catacombs. Communism isn’t eternal."
There are an estimated 11 million Catholics in Communist China and about 6 million belong to the state-run Catholic Patriotic Association. The other 5 million worship in the underground Catholic Church, which has been loyal to Rome since the Communist takeover in 1949-50.
Since the Communists seized control of China, an estimated 65 million Chinese have been killed for political reasons or died from policies implemented by the Communist Party that caused famines and related persecution.