Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong, a long-time critic of authoritarian rule in China, has criticised the Vatican saying it is betraying Catholics living their faith out clandestinely there.
In an interview with LifeSiteNews Feb. 21, Zen said he has been urged to speak out by Catholics in China who lack the freedom to speak for themselves.
Priests and bishops in the underground church have faced imprisonment for adhering to the Holy See, rather than submitting to the patriotic church approved by the Communist government.
In an earlier interview with Catholic News Agency, Zen expressed serious concerns about a possible agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointing of bishops.
The agreement would essentially allow the government to pick candidates for bishops and put pressure on the Pope to veto them.
"Because how can you allow the initiative of selection of bishops in the hands of an atheistic government and totalitarian government? I want it to start from the Holy See," Cardinal Joseph Zen said in the CNA interview.
Cardinal Zen is Hong Kong and China's highest-ranking prelate and has pleaded with the Vatican not to "sell out" China's Catholics by striking a deal with the Communist government there.
The deal by allowing the Chinese government to nominate bishops for the Pope to accept or reject would essentially mean Vatican acceptance of the government-controlled Church in China.
The Chinese government wants "total surrender" from the Church, Zen told LifeSiteNews, even though such a deal may appear to give the pope some power.
"We are very much worried because it seems that the Vatican is going to make a very bad agreement with China," Zen told LifeSiteNews.
"And I can understand that the Pope is really naive...He doesn't know the Chinese communists. But unfortunately the people around him are not good at all. They have very wrong ideas. And I'm afraid that they may sell out our underground Church. That would be very sad."
Much of the Catholic Church in China operates underground.
The government runs the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which LifeSiteNews described as "a fake church of communist-approved and monitored clerics."
It said bishops of the underground church, which is loyal to the pope and not the communist government, face imprisonment and persecution.
Zen said that a Vatican deal with the Chinese government would damage the Church's credibility. After all, if the Chinese government can appoint bishops, other governments could expect to do so as well.
The current Hong Kong archbishop, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has defended the new proposal, and says the Chinese government must now recognize the Pope as the supreme head of the church. He insists that the final authority on appointing bishops rests with the Pope, said CNA.
"I would prefer the other way around," Cardinal Zen insisted. The government has not shown promise that it would accommodate the Vatican's past concerns, but rather has proven that it wants control over the church in China.