On the eve of the Chinese Communist Party’s Third Plenum and just as Archbishop Pietro Parolin , finally begins his duties as the new Vatican Secretary of State, after a month’s absence for health related reasons, China’s Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun is asking the Vatican to speak up for Catholics in China.
Particularly members of the so-called “underground Church”, communities who refuse to register with the government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and remain faithful to the Pope.
“The Holy See has to choose between being clear or accepting compromise. There is the shadow of 'Ostpolitik’,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service.
The term "Ostpolitik," in the context of Vatican diplomacy, refers to efforts to foster better relations with Soviet bloc countries during the Cold War, in an effort to improve conditions for Catholics there.
Meanwhile, underground Christians often asked the Vatican to speak out more strongly in their defence. Perhaps it is not such a coincidence that the cardinal mentioned it just now.
The new secretary of State, Mgr. Parolin, is an experienced diplomat who comes from the “Casaroli and Silvestrini School”.
Both these cardinals played key roles in the Vatican’s Ostpolitik and their positions sometimes contrasted with John Paul II’s.
The Chinese cardinal holds that divisions do exist among China’s approximately ten million Catholics, not just between "so-called clandestine community and the community that accepts government control," but also among those who comply with the government's requirement to register with the Catholic Patriotic Association.
The part that submits to the government is not united. There are those who still put up a certain resistance, notwithstanding their submission, and others who tolerate this oppression, this control.
There are also opportunists who have rather cordially accepted collaboration with the government, and look out for their own interests and those of the government rather than for the church,” Cardinal Zen said.
But after praising Benedict XVI’s efforts to bring unity to the Catholic Church in China, the cardinal accused some in the Vatican of being "much more understanding and conciliatory" toward the communist government.
“What we may call the underground community suffers," Cardinal Zen said. "They feel abandoned. The actions by Rome are not in their favor. Especially, for example, many bishops die and no successors are named. In my view, this policy is a mistake," he said, "and as a result the church is getting ever weaker,” he continued.
"The new pope has not yet spoken out. He is evidently a very wise leader. He is listening, he is studying. Let's hope the Lord helps him,” the cardinal concluded.
In the meantime, the persecution of the underground Church continues. AsiaNews, which has a section that focuses exclusively on religious news in China, informed that two priests serving the underground Church were put behind bars at the start of October.
Their “crime” was that of organising catechism classes for adults in the town of Qinyuan, near Baoding in China’s Hebei province. One of the priests arrested was Fr. Tian Dalong, while the identity of the other priest is unknown. Both are aged about 40. After they were arrested, they were held in isolation in some shacks owned by the Baoding police force.
Baoding is a city where the underground Church is especially active. Fur lay faithful who helped priests with their catecheses, were each forced to pay a fine of four thousand Yuan (approximately $656), that is equivalent to over two months salary for a skilled worker.
According to AsiaNews, at least 10 priests representing the underground Church are undergoing this kind of persecution. Some of them have been sentenced to years of work in forced labour camps (laojiao as it is called).
The fact that these arrests have taken place just a few weeks before the opening of the Chinese Communist Party’s Third Plenum is significant. According to official propaganda, many had been expecting unprecedented reforms from this Plenum.