HK cardinal says Pope would be manipulated if he visits China

Cardinal Zen

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun of Hong Kong has asked Pope Francis not to visit China, saying the Pontiff would be “manipulated”.

Cardinal Zen told an Italian newspaper that this is the message he would give the Pope.

Improving relations between Beijing and the Vatican has resulted in speculation that the Pope could reach out to China, possibly alongside a visit to Korea next month.

But Cardinal Zen claimed the Chinese Communist Party would only show the Pope illegitimate bishops, including three who are excommunicated.

Beijing would prevent the Pope meeting Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome, the cardinal continued.

China has an estimated 12 million Catholics, divided between members of the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the “’technically” illegal Catholics who recognise Pope Francis’s pontificate.

In an interview in March, Pope Francis said: “We are close to China”.

“I sent a letter to President Xi Jinping when he was elected, three days after me. And he replied,” the Pope reportedly said.

The Vatican and China have not had formal talks since Beijing severed ties 63 years ago over allegations of espionage.

Informal talks were last known to be held in 2010.

Beijing’s unsanctioned ordination of bishops in 2010 and the house arrest of Thaddeus Ma Daqin, the outspoken auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, two years later have soured ties.

In his interview, Cardinal Zen said he did not see signs of dialogue happening between the Catholic Church and China.

“Even if under these conditions Beijing was to extend a hand, it would be a trick under these circumstances,” he said.

“Our poor bishops are slaves, the Communist Party denies them respect, tries to take away their dignity.”

A close Western observer of the Vatican’s ties with China said he was convinced Pope Francis was eager to visit China.

For many years, the Vatican has wanted to move its nunciature from Taiwan to the mainland, the Jesuit scholar said, speaking to the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity.

He cautioned, however, that Beijing might be hesitant to receive the current Pope.

“Given that Francis has also been outspoken on issues of corruption and the treatment of the poor, one could see China being very wary of allowing him a microphone,” he said.


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