— The highest ranking Chinese Catholic has stated that if Pope Francis allows Communist China to have a hand in the selection of the nation’s Catholic bishops it would be “betraying Jesus Christ.”
“You cannot go into negotiations with the mentality ‘we want to sign an agreement at any cost,’ then you are surrendering yourself, you are betraying yourself, you are betraying Jesus Christ,” Cardinal Joseph Zen told The Guardian this week.
The 84-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong has firmly opposed a potential deal between the Vatican and the Chinese government that would add legitimacy to the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. He says the move would alienate authentic Catholics who worship in the ‘underground Church’ from the one true Church headed by Christ and his representative, the Pope. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that in such a deal, “Rome would commit to recognize as bishops only those clerics who first win nomination from the Patriotic Association’s bishops conference,” thus allowing the government, not the Church, to decide who is bishop.
Cardinal Zen said earlier this month that such a deal would simply lend Vatican credibility to “fake bishops” who, as “puppets” completely controlled by the government, would not seek the good of the Church but her destruction.
According to the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Bishops (1965), the right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs “properly, peculiarly, and per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority.”
“Therefore, for the purpose of duly protecting the freedom of the Church and of promoting more conveniently and efficiently the welfare of the faithful, this holy council desires that in future no more rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be granted to civil authorities,” the council stated at that time.
Canon Law (Canon 377 § 5) states that “no rights and privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation of bishops are granted to civil authorities.”
Canon Lawyer Edward Peters said the Vatican, when dealing with China, should remember history and the lesson that the “greater the role played by secular power in ecclesiastical appointments, the greater the chances of abuse are.”
“Such a concession to China, if that is what is actually being proposed, would surely be demanded by other totalitarian states, re-creating the messy entanglements of Church and State that marked and sometimes marred much of Church history,” he wrote on his blog.
Zen told The Guardian in the interview that any proposed deal would create merely a “fake freedom” for a fake institution.
“But it’s only the impression of freedom, it’s not real freedom, the people sooner or later will see the bishops are puppets of the government and not really the shepherds of the flock,” he said.
Zen would like to see the Vatican leave the deal.
“If you cannot get a good deal, an acceptable deal, then the Vatican should walk away and maybe try again later. Could the Church negotiate with Hitler? Could it negotiate with Stalin? No,” he said.
Zen suggested that the Vatican’s recognition of the government-run church by confirming bishops appointments would only “poison” the real Catholic Church in China, where it is estimated that some seven million people attend secretly.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians,” he said. “If that blood is poisoned, how long will those new Christians last?”