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‘Complete Surrender’: Cardinal Zen warns Vatican over fate of underground Church in China

Cardinal Joseph Zen has once again sounded the alarm over the underground Church in China, warning it is “doomed to disappear” in the face of what he says is a failed Vatican policy of rapprochement with Beijing.

The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong reiterated his long-held stance that Vatican efforts at compromise with Beijing are pointless, as Chinese authorities will accept nothing short of total victory.

“They want complete surrender. That’s communism,” Cardinal Zen told the Catholic News Agency on Feb. 11 during a trip to Washington D.C.

The 88-year-old cardinal further described the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as “persecutors” of the Christian faith. 

“More and more, the Church [is] under persecution … and doomed to disappear,” he said as part of an assessment based on his belief that older bishops loyal to the Vatican are dying and no new bishops are being appointed, resulting in no new priests being ordained.

Cardinal Zen told CNA that mainland Chinese Catholics come to Hong Kong to ask what he can do for the Church in China. “I can do nothing. I have no voice in the Vatican. Simply not,” he said.

“The situation is, humanly speaking, hopeless, for the (Chinese) Catholic Church,” he said.

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The cardinal added that Pope Francis was not responsible for what he believes is an ineffective policy on the part of the Vatican to protect Chinese Christians who remain loyal to the Holy See, arguing “the pope doesn’t know much about China.” 

Instead, the former bishop of Hong Kong once again criticized Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, for what he believes are misguided efforts at rapprochement with Beijing.

“I’m fighting Parolin. Because the bad things come from him,” Cardinal Zen said.

He further criticized the Vatican’s top diplomat for remaining “optimistic” about the so-called “Ostpolitik” or compromise between the the Holy See and Beijing.



Cardinal Parolin is the main architect of the Vatican-Beijing deal signed in September 2018 regarding the ordination of bishops in Chinese dioceses. That agreement allows communist officials a say in the appointment of bishops.

The agreement was intended to help build ties between the Vatican and China’s officially-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which is not recognized by the Holy See. 

The deal was further intended to lay the foundations for the eventual unification of the CCPA and the underground Church, which is loyal to the Vatican.

The agreement, however, has been viewed as a Trojan horse for sinicization — what Italian scholar Massimo Introvigne calls “the submission of religion to socialism and the CCP.”

As persecution against Christians has reportedly ramped up since that agreement, critics have called on Pope Francis to repudiate it.

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