Former archbishop of Hong Kong denounces new Vatican agreement with China

Former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen (C) takes part in a kick-off ceremony to urge people to vote in an unofficial referendum June 20, 2014. | Reuters/Bobby Yip/File Photo

The former archbishop of Hong Kong has denounced the new agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Chinese Communist Party, saying the Vatican is giving an atheistic government the power to choose bishops.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the first Cardinal from China and a key adviser to Pope Benedict XVI, has contended that the Holy See is "adopting a wrong strategy" by forming an agreement with the Chinese government.

"They are too eager to dialogue, dialogue so they tell everybody not to make noise, to accommodate, to compromise, to obey the government. Now things are going down, down," the 85-year-old Cardinal said in an interview with Polish outlet Polonia Christiana.

The retired bishop suggested that Pope Francis is being naive as he had only experienced communism in Latin America, not a totalitarian form as in China or Poland.

Zen noted that the new agreement appears to suggest that "the authority of the Pope is safe because they say the Pope has the last word."

"But the whole thing is fake. They are giving decisive power to the government ... how can the initiative of choosing bishops be given to an atheistic government? Incredible. Incredible," he said.

The former bishop explained that while the agreement states that the government approves the election at the bishops' conference, he insists that both the "election and the Bishops Conference are fake." He further noted that the pope cannot raise his objections to the suggested bishops.

"I really cannot believe that the Holy See doesn't know that there is no bishops' conference! There is only a name. They never really have a discussion, meetings. They meet when they are called by the government. The government gives instructions. They obey. It's fake," he said.

Zen, who spent seven years frequently teaching in cities across China following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, pointed out that Benedict XVI had previously stated that there are is no legitimate bishops' conference in China. He asserted that there are illegitimate bishops in the conference, while the legitimate underground bishops are not in it.

In an interview with The Guardian in November, Zen complained that the official bishops are preaching obedience to the Chinese government instead of spreading the Gospel.

While Chinese Catholics are allowed to attend mass in government-sanctioned churches, they are forbidden from proselytizing.

Prior to the agreement, the state-controlled China Catholic Patriotic Association, appointed bishops without any input from the Vatican.

The "underground" Catholic church, which has been estimated by some to be larger than the official one, has faced persecution from the Communist government. Protestants also face similar challenges, with the authorities demolishing churches and removing more than 1,200 crosses from buildings in a recent campaign in eastern China.