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Church News

Hong Kong bishop fails to secure an audience with Pope Francis after raising concerns about China deal

by Will Maule

The Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong says he was unable to secure a meeting with Pope Francis after travelling to Rome to express his concerns about the renewal of a secretive agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government. 

Cardinal Joseph Zen, 88, is an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and deeply sceptical when it comes to the warming of relations between the Vatican and Beijing. He says that he travelled to Rome to raise objections about the potential appointment of a pro-China bishop in Hong Kong, insisting that it would "spell disaster for decades to come". 

His trip comes after the Vatican announced it would be extending the 2018 Sino-Vatican deal, which relates to the process by which Catholic bishops are appointed in China. The Holy See has been criticised for entering into the agreement considering both the brutal persecution many believers face in China at the hands of the authorities and the concerns surrounding the extension of the Chinese government's security powers into the territory of Hong Kong. 

"The idea of striking accords with Beijing is insane," Zen told the New Daily Compass, noting that he had not received a response from Pope Francis regarding his meeting request. "It's like trying to make a pact with the devil." 

Details of the deal have been kept confidential - something which Zen said was unfathomable: "This is incredible I am a Chinese Cardinal and I am not allowed to know what the Holy See has decided for the Chinese Church. 

"Communism is not eternal. And when it falls we will discover that the Church has collaborated with this brutal regime. The Church will no longer have any moral authority." 

Speaking to the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Zen said that Hong Kong was desperate for a bishop "who is a good shepherd for the flock", but is concerned that improved Vatican-Beijing relations may result in an appointment which is sympathetic to China's political aims. He suggested that Msgr. Peter Choi may be in the running for the position - an appointment he insisted would be "a catastrophe for the Church in Hong Kong" due to his close ties with Beijing. "You have to understand how things are here, you have to know what the Communists are like," he said. "Good intentions are not enough." 

Zen said he wished to urge the Holy See to "give us a good bishop according to the heart of Jesus; and leaving aside maybe some political consideration...because it’s too important...and I think the people in Hong Kong deserve a good bishop." 

On his failed attempt to attain an audience with Pope Francis to discuss the issue, Zen added: "I handed a letter to his secretary and actually I cannot really expect on so short notice to have been seen, because he must be very busy. But I’m satisfied that my letter has reached the Holy Father himself." 

The position of Bishop of Hong Kong was left vacant after the death of Bishop Michael Yeung in January 2019. Since then, Bishop Yueng’s predecessor, Cardinal John Tong, has been serving as the diocese’s apostolic administrator. 

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