Zen Is Now
Convivium, 9 February 2018
At a Cardus-Convivium event five years ago, China’s Cardinal Joseph Zen warned sharply of dangers to the Catholic Church in courting the Communist regime. Fresh events, Father Raymond de Souza notes, show the Cardinal as prescient as he was pointed.
A rather unusual dispute, and unusually public, has erupted in the last weeks about the relationship of the Catholic Church and China. The dispute is not so much between the Church and China, but rather a pitched argument within the Catholic Church about how to relate to the Chinese State. And figures familiar to Convivium readers are at the heart of it.
It’s been nearly 70 years since the People’s Republic of China made the Catholic Church in China illegal, broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and erected the “Patriotic” Church, which permits Catholic practice but under the supervision of the state bureaucracy and independent of the “foreign” influence of the Holy See.
The result is that the Catholic Church in China has lived a twofold reality: that of the “Patriotic” Church, which is acknowledged by the regime, and the underground Church, which is persecuted by the regime.
It’s a complicated tale, especially when it comes to bishops. There are many “patriotic” bishops who profess their bonds with Rome, and are recognized by Holy See as legitimate. There are also some (a minority) who are recognized by the State as legitimate, but not the Church. Finally, there are about a half-dozen who are recognized by Rome, but not Beijing. Sorting all this out has been a decades-long struggle, but recent reports have indicated that an agreement might be in the offing.
Papal biographer George Weigel, who wrote extensively about Vatican relations with the Soviet empire in his work on St. John Paul II, gave a most critical assessment of papal diplomacy in this regard. Convivium readers will recall that we hosted Weigel for a wide-ranging conversation, held in Toronto in March 2015. He argued then, as he has argued elsewhere, that moral witness is the true driver of history, not economics and politics, as important as they are.
But the key figure in this very public argument is Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, who traveled to Rome in January in a highly publicized attempt to persuade Pope Francis to change the course of the negotiations with Beijing.
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