Love of the People vs. Art of the Deal
For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent: On the Situation of the Church in China
By Joseph Cardinal Zen
Review Author: Jason M. Morgan
The political landscape of Hong Kong has been the subject of countless news stories. Last year, demonstrations by pro-democracy activists fighting a proposed bill that would have allowed extradition of Hongkongers to mainland China — where there are no legal niceties standing between the solitary citizen and the hulking one-party superstate — metastasized into a slow-burning civil war. Day after day, night after night, ordinary people armed with video cameras and protected by little more than umbrellas, bike helmets, and surgical masks squared off against jackbooted robocops firing rubber bullets, and sometimes real ones, into the crowds. Tear gas, firehoses, sirens, strobe lights, Molotov cocktails — it was the classic David vs. Goliath story, and the worldwide media couldn’t get enough.
But the political fight in East Asia, as important as it is, pales in comparison with a battle that has been raging for the souls of the Chinese people. The mainstream media have largely ignored this battle, but all the same it has consequences far more profound than whether Hong Kong is to remain politically free or succumb to the Marxist-Leninist darkness. What is really at issue in China, when we get down to metaphysical brass tacks, is whether the Chinese faithful will be Catholics or will be sold over, like Christ to the Sanhedrin, as part of a political deal that some in the Vatican wish to strike with the powers of the world. This is the single most important story in East Asia today. Will China be the Church’s, and therefore Christ’s, or will it belong to “patriotic” Catholics, with Church affairs, including the appointment of bishops, taken over by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the organization established by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1957 to dictate terms to the Church in China?
The sixth bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen, has long answered this question in public settings. The Church is God’s, Cardinal Zen proclaims, not China’s. (The same applies to Hong Kong, he would add.) Cardinal Zen, a fearless advocate for the Church’s independence from political oversight, has been on the front lines of the Church-state conflict for the duration of his long career, from seminaries in China and Hong Kong (which are crawling with communist spies) to prominence on the world stage as spiritual father, as it were, of the Hong Kong freedom fighters and as a general thorn in the CCP’s side.
But to set the scene so starkly is to elide the gray that defines the real relationship on the ground. Cardinal Zen speaks for Church autonomy and spiritual freedom, but the Vatican is not necessarily on his side. Under Pope Francis, the Church has shifted into high gear on a new version of Ostpolitik, not with the now-defunct Soviet Union but with the godless communists of the People’s Republic of China. As always, money is the siren calling the sailors toward the rocks. The Vatican is badly in the red, and Francis sees that, realistically, there will be no financial revival from the usual quarters: The Church is dying in Europe, is lukewarm-and-cooling and virtually uncatechized in North America, and is daily losing ground to Pentecostalism in Central and South America. Africa is thriving but is also poor and politically unstable. So the Pope is seeking a new, steady source of revenue, and the obvious candidate is the world’s most populous country, China.
It was not always so bleak, however. As Cardinal Zen outlines in For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent, he worked for years with Pope Benedict XVI to produce documents that would thread the needle of overweening communist state power and allow the Church to maintain her ancient prerogatives in the People’s Republic. Even as Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict had been an ally of Zen’s, working with him on commissions in the Vatican to consider the problem of the Church in China. For Love of My People is, apart from a very short introduction by Italian author and musician Aurelio Porfiri, a series of eight lectures that Cardinal Zen gave in June 2017 on his attempts, under Benedict and then under Francis, to preserve the rights of the Church in China vis-à-vis the Chinese state.
As Cardinal Zen tells it, with great charity and humility, the Vatican betrayed his good-faith efforts at nearly every turn. For example, after working with Pope Benedict on the draft of a letter to the Church in China, published in June 2007, Zen found that, apart from a handful of what could be construed as genuine mistakes, the Chinese translation of the original letter had been deliberately altered, and in some cases key phrases had actually been cut, including parts of quotations from the Gospels that might have offended the Communist Party in Beijing. Zen lays out all this in his third lecture. Whoever translated Pope Benedict’s letter changed the tone of the missive to exude deference and humility toward the Chinese government.
Things got worse under Francis. At first, Cardinal Zen welcomed Bergoglio’s choice of Pietro Cardinal Parolin as the Vatican’s secretary of state. But when Parolin made a speech in honor of his predecessor, the late Agostino Cardinal Casaroli — infamous for signing treaties between the Vatican and brutal communist regimes in Eastern Europe — he slighted Cardinals Stefan Wyszynski of Poland, József Mindszenty of Hungary, and Josef Beran of Poland as “eager to show off on the political stage.” For anyone even remotely familiar with what Wyszynski, Mindszenty, and Beran endured for the faith (they were all imprisoned by the communists), such an insult from the very heart of the Vatican constitutes nothing less than a shocking betrayal — and a signal flare that Rome was ready to bring tribute to the Middle Kingdom’s political center. Francis and Parolin subsequently maneuvered Cardinal Zen, the Vatican’s most prominent advocate for the Chinese Church, out of positions of influence so that a deal could be struck with Beijing.
The deal was done, but only after much additional obsequious flattery by Rome. Surely no instance of this is more well known than the remarks in 2018 by Argentine bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, that, in the world today, “those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.”
Cardinal Zen will have none of it; he sees such odd views of fairness and compassion as “encouraging people to accept slavery instead of getting rid of it.” (Moreover, according to Cardinal Zen, Sánchez Sorondo also “invite[d] a criminal as a guest of honor to an organ transplant symposium, precisely the criminal who is under investigation by international experts for trafficking in organs taken from living people.”)
For Love of My People preserves much of the lecture format of the original texts and so is easy to read. But in another sense, it is not so easy to read. If Cardinal Zen is speaking the truth, and there is no reason to doubt a single word he writes, then the Vatican has sold out millions of suffering faithful for the sake of a deal with communists who have made a habit of “disappearing” Chinese bishops and parishioners who do not toe the party line. All of this is in black and white, in 153 conversational pages. The real-world consequences, though, are written in blood on Chinese streets and on the walls of torture dungeons throughout the People’s Republic. That is the reality of Parolin’s flippancy and Sorondo’s revolting praise. Cardinal Zen cries out on behalf of the untold number of Chinese martyrs toward whom the Vatican, incredibly, has turned its back.
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