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Hong Kong Cardinal: Time For Vatican To Take Harder Line With China January 26, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Catholic, World News.

VATICAN CITY (AP)–Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen says he believes the time is ripe for a change in strategy and a more uncompromising line as the Vatican works toward establishing diplomatic ties with China.

Beijing’s ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power in China. Worship is only allowed in government-controlled churches, but as many as 10 million Catholics are estimated to belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.

The Vatican has long indicated that it wants to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, even at the cost of moving its embassy from Taiwan. But it will not compromise on the tradition dictating that only the pope – and not a local church – can appoint bishops.

Last year, China’s state-sanctioned Catholic Church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, unilaterally appointed three bishops.

Zen, an outspoken champion of religious liberty, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he believes it is now time for Holy See to take a harsher stance on other matters as well.

“I think in this moment the most important thing we have to do is to assess the situation, to assess what we have done in many years and realize that we must change strategy,” he said. “Because in so many years we have accepted compromises which in the beginning were good and necessary, but after so many years we can see there is a bad side effect.”

For instance, the Vatican should take a firm line with the government-controlled church when it tries to impose conditions or limitations for running programs in seminaries in China or teaching courses for clergy, Zen said.

“Maybe people don’t like to take a hard line, but I would say clearer lines” are needed, Zen said.

Zen was in Rome to debate the Chinese problem in discussions last week with officials at the Holy See. Pope Benedict XVI did not attend the talks, but was briefed on them, and Zen said he also has been writing letters to the pontiff.

The Hong Kong cardinal could not discuss what was said during the talks and declined to reveal most of what he wrote to Benedict.

However, “one thing I can say is that I’m telling him that the people in China expect from him clear direction,” Zen said.

The last months have seen a series of arrests of priests in China, according to Asia News, a Vatican-affiliated news agency. At least 17 underground bishops have disappeared, been arrested or detained in isolation. Twenty priests have been arrested and at least five, detained on Dec. 27 in Hebei, are still in prison, the agency reported last week.

However, Zen said he believes the upper echelons of China’s government may be readier for change than the state-sanctioned church.

“The foreign office is more interested in establishing diplomatic relations and the higher authority has a more international perspective,” Zen said. “So they must understand that a normalization of relations between Beijing and the Holy See may be conducive to more prestige for the nation.”

Zen, 75, said he has asked the pope to let him step down as Hong Kong’s bishop so he can focus on helping the Vatican establish ties with China.

“It’s impossible to do the two jobs together. So I asked the Holy Father to consider my retirement,” Zen said.

At an audience with the pontiff on Thursday morning, Zen said he asked Benedict if he would allow him to retire. “He said something very evasive, so maybe he’s still not ready to answer. But I hope he is really considering my request.”


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