History has already proven that Cardinal Zen’s view on the Beijing-Vatican deal was clear-eyed.
Pope Francis (right) with Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. (Photo: Vatican Media)
Published: January 10, 2023 11:49 AM GMT
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 90, may have had to wait almost three years but he finally gained a private audience with Pope Francis, the day after the Jan. 5 funeral for retired Pope Benedict XVI.
“It was wonderful. He was so very warm,” Zen told Jesuit magazine America after the audience.
Zen said he thanked Francis for giving Hong Kong “a good bishop,” by appointing Jesuit Father Stephen Chow in 2021 over the top of other more conservative, pro-China candidates. He said Francis quipped, “He’s a Jesuit!”
He also told the pope about his decade-long pastoral ministry visiting prisoners in Hong Kong’s jails and that he had baptized a number of prisoners when they requested the sacrament.
“Benedict’s death served to open recent wounds over the deal”
Cardinal Zen had previously traveled to Rome in 2020, seeking an audience with Pope Francis after sending him a letter concerning the Vatican’s controversial deal with the Chinese Communist Party regarding the appointment of bishops but did not manage to see him. Pope Benedict’s death served to open recent wounds over the deal.
The Shanghai-born Salesian cardinal has long been a vocal critic of the deal — still considered provisional — originally struck in September 2018 for two years, and since renewed twice for two years each time, most recently in September 2022.
In 2020, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then newly appointed dean of the College of Cardinals said that Benedict had effectively approved the structure of the deal. Pope Francis has long leaned into the fact that it was Benedict’s 2007 Letter to the Church in China that paved the way for the deal.
“If you want to prove to me that the recently signed agreement was already approved by Benedict XVI, you just have to show me the text of the agreement, which I am barred from seeing till now, and the archival evidence which you say you could verify. Then there remains to be explained why it was not signed at that time,” Cardinal Zen wrote in response to Re.
He then traveled to Rome seeking an audience with Francis on the issue but failed to meet him.
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