Cardinal Müller criticises Pope for sacrificing Cardinal Zen

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Cardinal Muller to the Pope: ‘Cardinal Zen will be tried by China, the Vatican should not sacrifice him to reasons of state’

Cardinal Müller criticises Pope for sacrificing Cardinal Zen

On the just-concluded Consistory with almost all the world’s cardinals – an event that has not happened since 2014 – the Vatican’s silence on the fate of Hong Kong’s Cardinal Emeritus Joseph Zen ze-Kiun from China, who is absent from Rome because he is under house arrest for raising his voice against Beijing by defending human rights both in Hong Kong and in China, weighed like a boulder. “Next month there will be an unfair trial. No one has raised the very serious issue of our Brother, Cardinal Zen. Not by the Dean, Cardinal Re, nor by the Secretary of State, Parolin, nor by the Pope. There has been no document of solidarity, no prayer initiative for him’. Speaking in an interview with Il Messaggero is Cardinal Gerhard Muller, renowned theologian and former Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, editor of Joseph Ratzinger’s opera omnia.

Do you think that Zen has been abandoned to his fate because he is an unwieldy character, given that he defends Chinese Catholics belonging to the clandestine Church not aligned with the Communist Party, or is there something else going on?

“I hope he will not be abandoned. The extraordinary Consistory would have been an opportunity to declare full solidarity with Zen on behalf of all the Cardinals of the College”.

Instead, what happened?

“Nothing at all. There are obviously political reasons on the part of the Holy See that prevent such initiatives. I refer to the agreement for the renewal of bishops signed recently with the Xi government. I am sorry to say it, but we cannot subject the interests of the Holy See and the Vatican State to the ecclesial dimension and truth”.

In what sense?

“Perhaps the Church should be freer and less bound to the logic of power, worldly, and consequently freer to intervene and, if necessary, to criticise those politicians who end up suppressing human rights. In this case, I wonder why not criticise Beijing. Zen is a symbol and was arrested on a pretext, he did nothing, he is an authoritative, courageous and much feared figure by the government. He is over 80 years old and we left him alone’.

The Vatican has recently renewed its agreement with China for episcopal appointments, perhaps the stakes are a little high and perhaps it is better to use diplomacy

“If necessary the Church should also criticise the powerful of this world. And then the example of Pope Pius XII should have taught us something, one cannot always sacrifice the truth’.

Could Pope Francis do that?

“I hope so. From the silence of this consistory on the Zen case I have fears. A bit like the Putin affair. It is clear that the name of the representative of the Russian Federation is not pronounced in public because there is fear about the effect it might have on the Catholic minority in Russia. A German priest living in Siberia explained this just recently. Putin can expel all Catholics overnight or give them a hard time. The situation is not easy’.

Better then silence and maybe work behind the scenes, don’t you think?

“The truth in the face of persecution should always be emphasised. For Zen, not even a proposal for a collective prayer was made’.

Excuse me, but there were over 200 cardinals at the consistory: couldn’t they have taken the initiative for a common document of solidarity on their own?

“There was no opportunity, it is not part of the tradition and perhaps with this internal climate no one feels like it. There were some exchanges, that yes, but only between some of us. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do anything else because there was the time tied up with the working groups and there was not so much time available. And perhaps they were all too busy singing the praises of an Apostolic Constitution already in force and now unmodifiable, a text that has never been submitted to the College of Cardinals for scrutiny. I say this ironically, with a hint of bitterness. It is as if we were being treated like first semester students, as if we needed to be indoctrinated, but I don’t want to make controversy’.

Back to Zen…

‘The fear of intervening on such a topic that has to do with relations with China is obvious, in my opinion. The situation with Beijing is complex, the information here is partial and, unfortunately, not all good and triumphant. The underground Church is currently persecuted in many areas and is faced with patriotic bishops who are more obedient to the atheistic state of Beijing than to the Pope.  I would not like to see rhe silence about Zen found at the Consistory as indicative of this senior Cardinal being consecrated, sacrificed on the altar of reason of state, in order to defend and advance the diplomatic agreement with Beijing. I see this risk and I feel pain’. 

Could he really be sacrificed?

‘To me, unfortunately, this doubt advances. After all, it is not the first time in the history of the Church that exemplary Christians have been sacrificed. Sometimes the cynicism of politics prevails over the freedom that the Gospel teaches us. Let your talk be yes yes, no no”.

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