Hong Kong bishop fears destruction of Catholic Church in China

Cardinal Zen flies to Vatican to meet with Pope about new clergy registration guidelines

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Cardinal Joseph Zen (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Hong Kong Bishop Emeritus Joseph Zen (陳日君) has come out in opposition to the recently published pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China (牧靈指導) and has flown to the Vatican to discuss them with the Pope.

For years, Chinese Catholics have been forced underground to practice their religion, as the communist party requires all priests and bishops to register with the government – a policy at odds with the Vatican’s staunch position on church independence and autonomy. Chinese Catholic Church officials are often coerced into joining the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (愛國天主教會), a state-controlled entity.

Under the new pastoral guidelines, bishops and priests are permitted to simply state that the “independence, autonomy and self-management of the Church must be understood without undermining Catholic doctrine” as they register with the Chinese government. Zen, however, has criticized this option on his own website:

A text is signed against the faith and it is stated that the intention is to promote the good of the community, a more suitable evangelisation, and the responsible management of Church assets. This general rule is obviously against all fundament[al] moral theology! If valid, [it] would justify even apostasy!

The 87-year-old Cardinal Zen flew to the Vatican on June 29, a day after finding out about the guidelines, seeking a meeting with Pope Francis, reports Liberty Times. Zen brought with him a list of nine criticisms of the guidelines and eventually met with the Pope and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on July 3.

Cardinal Zen and Pope Francis did not discuss the guidelines in depth during their meeting, said the news agency. Zen mentioned them briefly near the end of their dinner, with Pope Francis replying that he would “pay attention to this matter.”

Zen made a point of bringing up China’s record of oppressing religious groups, noting that while the pastoral guidelines mention that China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, in reality this freedom is not respected. The Cardinal further stated that as a dictatorship, China only looks out for the interest of the ruling communist party.