Hong Kong Cardinal says Vatican has ‘sold off the Chinese Church’

Protesters march after a rally against a now suspended extradition law, on June 17, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.
Protesters march after a rally against a now suspended extradition law, on June 17, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. | Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images

Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong has denounced the Vatican for not speaking out on behalf of the persecuted Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China.

In an interview with the French Roman Catholic magazine La Vie earlier this month, Zen lamented the Vatican's silence on the protests in Hong Kong. 

“Not a word has come out of the Holy See since the beginning of this mobilization,” Zen said, according to a translation by Church Militant. “Rome no longer dares to criticize the Chinese government, to which it has sold off the Chinese Church.”

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In contrast to the global denomination, Zen said the Hong Kong diocese has been active in supporting the large protests in the region.

Zen cited the efforts of the diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission as well as the work of Hong Kong Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha.

“Joseph Ha participates in the marches [and] calls [people] to pray for peace against injustice and corruption,” Zen said.

“Many people hope that he will become the next bishop, but it will not be him because he is too critical. … As for me, I am very old, but I continue to express myself because there are not enough voices.”

Last year, the Vatican and the Chinese government signed a “Provisional Agreement” in which the Vatican would recognize as legitimate bishops appointed by the regime. Previously, the Vatican excommunicated bishops appointed by the Chinese government, which did not recognize the authority of the pope. The Catholic Church hopes the agreement will help it to gain influence in the country. 

As a result of the agreement, last month two Chinese Catholic bishops were ordained with the blessing of both Pope Francis and the Chinese government.

The agreement is not without controversy, as many have expressed concern over, among other things, a reported lack of transparency.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a persecution watchdog organization, was among the human rights groups that expressed concern about the agreement.

"CSW is deeply concerned about the timing of this provisional agreement between the Chinese government and the Vatican," said CSW East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers in a statement last year.

"While we understand some of the motivations behind the Vatican's effort toward an agreement, there are significant concerns about the implications for freedom of religion or belief in China."

For the past few months, protests have mounted in Hong Kong over concerns of increased interference from the Chinese government, which has given the region semi-autonomy since 1997.

Reuters reported Thursday that a major demonstration is expected on Saturday at Tamar Park, which is next to the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s headquarters.

Other demonstrations are expected to take place on Sunday as part of “Global Anti-Totalitarianism Day” and Oct. 1, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, according to Reuters.

The protests in Hong Kong were precipitated by the murder of a pregnant teenager by her boyfriend during a vacation to Taiwan. Because the Hong Kong government does not have an extradition treaty with Taiwan, legislation was proposed that would have allowed the extradition of suspects from the city to other countries, including mainland China.

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