ROME (CNS): Too much importance is being given to establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China and not enough is being done to push for greater religious freedom on the mainland, retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said.
Diplomatic relations “alone do not rectify everything. In fact sometimes they can deceive by giving the false impression that religious freedom exists,” he told the Rome-based agency AsiaNews.
“The most important thing is religious freedom,” he said, which diplomatic relations can foster, but in no way guarantee.
“Currently the establishment of diplomatic ties appears to be improbable,” he said.
The cardinal, who retired this year as head of the Hong Kong diocese, made his remarks in a lengthy interview with AsiaNews.
Excerpts were published on the agency’s website on June 16 and the entire interview was to appear in its monthly magazine in August-September.
Cardinal Zen said the Catholic Church in China and the Vatican should stop compromising with the Chinese Government and start implementing the guidelines Pope Benedict XVI set out in his 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics.
The letter established new guidelines to favour co-operation between clandestine Catholic communities and those officially registered with the Government.
The papal letter strongly criticised the limits placed by the Chinese Government on the Church’s activities and insisted that some aspects of the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association “cannot be reconciled with Catholic doctrine”, particularly its claim to be above the individual bishops in guiding the Catholic community and its professed independence from the Vatican.
Cardinal Zen said he was frightened by the reported plan of a Government-sponsored National Congress of Catholic Representatives to convene a meeting later this year to elect new heads for the patriotic association and bishops’ conference.
It would be an insult to the Pope and waste years of effort made toward greater religious freedom if many bishops and priests attended the congress, he said.