(CNSNews.com) – Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, said in a video interview with CNSNews.com that the Vatican has kept secret the text of the agreement it made in September with the government of the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of Catholic bishops.

According to the U.S. State Department, the government of China is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, whose members are required to be atheists.

“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority,” says the State Department’s latest report on human rights in China, which was published on April 20, 2018.

“CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practice,” says the State Department’s latest report on religious freedom in China, which was published on May 29, 2018.

That report described the “Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) as “the state-sanctioned organization for all officially recognized Catholic churches” in the PRC.

“The CPA does not recognize the authority of the Holy See to appoint Catholic bishops,” said that report, which was published four months before the Vatican made its agreement with China. “The Regulation on the Election and Consecration of Bishops,” it said, “requires candidate bishops to pledge publicly support for the CCP.”

CNSNews.com asked Zen about the September deal that the Vatican made with the Chinese government on the appointment of Catholic bishops: “What do you know that it actually entails? What does that deal mean?”

“We know nothing precise because it is a secret,” Zen responded. “And I have no more communication with the Vatican. I am marginalized. So, I don’t know the content of the agreement.”

Zen says what is allegedly known about the deal are “conjectures” based on leaks.

“Now, we make our conjectures, we try to guess, because some details leaked out,” he said.

The Press Office of the Holy See did not answer three specific questions CNSNews.com put to it after interviewing Zen. These questions were:

“1) Has the Vatican publicly released the text of the ‘Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the Appointment of Bishops in China’ that was signed by the Holy See in September so that faithful Catholics in China and around the world can see what the Holy See and the People’s Republic have agreed to do about appointing Catholic bishops?

“2) If the Holy See is not going to publicly release the text of the ‘Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the Appointment of Bishops in China’ why will it not do so?

“3) Can you describe in detail how the appointment of Catholic bishops in the People’s Republic of China will work under the terms agreed to in the “Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the Appointment of Bishops in China”

CNSNews.com originally sent these three question to the Papal Nunciature in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 31. The Papal Nunciature responded by email on Feb. 4, stating: “Please direct your inquiry to the Press Office of the Holy See.” It provided a phone number, fax number and email address by which to do so.

CNSNews.com then emailed and faxed its inquiry with the three questions to the Press Office of the Holy See and tried to place phone calls to the press office that were cut off after being automatically put on hold.

On February 7, the Press Office of the Holy See responded with an email. It said: “Good morning, yes, we received you[r] request by fax and only today by mail. Just below we send the link of the interview of Cardinal Filoni published in the newspaper–L’Osservatore Romano.”

Cardinal Fernando Filoni is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. In his interview with L’Osservatore Romano that was published Feb. 2, 2019, Cardinal Filoni defended and discussed the Vatican’s agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops, but he did not release the text of the agreement. He also did not explain in detail how Catholic bishops will be appointed in China under the terms of the deal that the Vatican made with the Chinese government.

After reviewing Cardinal Filoni’s interview with L’Osservatore Romano, CNSNews.com sent a follow-up inquiry to the Press Office of the Holy See noting that Cardinal Filoni’s interview did not answer the three specific questions CNSnews.com had asked—and asking, once again, if the press office could answer those questions. The press office did not respond.


‘For Love of My People’

CNSNews.com also sent a similar inquiry to the email address for the spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. The embassy did not respond.

Notably, “America–The Jesuit Review” published an article about the agreement between the Holy See and the government of China on Sept. 18, 2018. That was four days before the deal was actually signed.

This report was headlined: “Source: China and the Vatican to sign historic agreement by end of September.”

In a sentence that cited no source, America said: “America has learned that the text of the agreement will not be made public, even after the signing.”

Attributing its understanding of this deal to unnamed “informed sources,” America published a detailed description of how bishops in China would allegedly be appointed under it. America reported:

“According to informed sources, the Holy See and Beijing have agreed on a process for the nomination of bishops. Candidates will be chosen at the diocesan level through the ‘democratic election’ system that the Chinese authorities introduced in 1957, whereby the priests of the diocese, together with representatives of women religious and laypeople, vote from among the candidates presented by the authorities that supervise church affairs. The results of these elections will be sent to the Beijing authorities that oversee the church in China, including the bishops’ conference, which will examine them and then submit a name to the Holy See through diplomatic channels. The Holy See will have some months to carry out its own investigation of the candidate and, based on this work, the pope will either approve or exercise his veto. The Holy See will then communicate his decision to Beijing.

“If the pope approves of the candidate, the process will continue. But if he exercises his veto, both sides will engage in a dialogue, and Beijing would eventually be expected to submit the name of another candidate.”

The article in America did attribute the following to the Holy See: “The Holy See, in response to the demands of Beijing, confirmed that Pope Francis would recognize the seven ‘illegitimate’ Chinese bishops—that is, those who were ordained without the pope’s approval over the past decade or more, three of whom had been excommunicated. All seven had previously asked for reconciliation with the pope. This means that for the first time since 1957 (when Beijing began ordaining bishops without papal approval), all the Catholic bishops in mainland China will be in communion with the pope.”

On Sept. 22, 2018, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, announced that the Holy See had signed the deal with the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of bishops. But he did not release the text of that deal or describe in detail how Catholic bishops in China would be appointed under the terms of the deal.

After Cardinal Parolin announced that the deal has signed a number of news organizations reported that the text of the agreement had not been released.

“Neither the Vatican nor Beijing released the full text of the agreement,” USA Today reported on Sept. 22.

“The Vatican did not release the text of the agreement nor provide details about what it entailed,” the Catholic News Service reported on Sept. 22.

“Neither side has made public the full text of the agreement,” the South China Morning Post reported on Sept. 23.

“Speaking to reporters Tuesday, [Pope] Francis acknowledged that both sides lost something in the talks, and said members of the underground Chinese church ‘will suffer’ as a result of the deal, the text of which has not been released,” the Associated Press reported on Sept. 26.

Cardinal Zen has just published a book titled, “For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent–On the Situation of the Church in China.” It is a series of eight lectures on Pope Benedict’s 2007 Letter to the Church in the People’s Republic of China. In this letter, Pope Benedict said that “indeed almost always” Catholics seeking recognition by the civil authorities in China would be obliged to do things “that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics.”

“There would not be any particular difficulties with acceptance of the recognition granted by civil authorities on condition that this does not entail the denial of unrenounceable principles of faith and of ecclesiastical communion,” Pope Benedict wrote. “In not a few particular instances, however, indeed almost always, in the process of recognition the intervention of certain bodies obliges the people involved to adopt attitudes, make gestures and undertake commitments that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics.”


‘A Terrifying Scenario is Unfolding’

The final lecture by Cardinal Zen published in “For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent” was delivered on June 28, 2017. The cardinal worried that a “sellout of our Church” was then unfolding.

“Now I ask, what does the near future have in store for the church in China?” Zen wrote. “Once in a while, a chorus of elated voices tells us that a positive outcome can be expected from the long and arduous dialogue between China and the Vatican.

“They admit that it won’t be perfect, but it will give the church some ‘essential’ freedom,” Zen wrote. “They say the cage will still be there, but we shall be able to have more room in it. They even say that a bad deal is better than no deal. This is absolutely incomprehensible!

“To us,” Cardinal Zen wrote, “a terrifying scenario is unfolding, the selling out of our Church! There is no essential freedom but a semblance of freedom. Not reconstituted unity, but a forced cohabitation in the cage. From the point of view of the faith, we cannot see any gain.”

In his interview with CNSNews.com, Cardinal Zen said that from what can be conjectured about the deal the Vatican made with the PRC, the atheist Chinese government would have ultimate control over who becomes a Catholic bishop in China.

Question: “So, is your understanding, under the deal, this Catholic conference, the bishops’ conference, which is controlled by the government, names the bishops, not the pope?”

Cardinal Zen: “Nope, they say the pope has the last word. He can approve. He can veto.”

Question: “But he can’t take someone who isn’t put up by this group controlled by the China government and put his own bishop up without their—.”

Cardinal Zen: “No. No. No.”

Question: “He has to take who they offer?”

Cardinal Zen: “He is passive. He waits [for] them to make names. He has last word to say yea or no. That is all he can do.”

Question: “So, ultimately, control over who gets to become a bishop is now in the hands of the Chinese government?”

Cardinal Zen: “Exactly. According to our conjecture. We cannot 100 percent conclude. We haven’t seen the text.”

Question: “Because the Vatican won’t release the actual deal. So, but the understanding of it is that’s the way it works?”

Cardinal Zen: “Sorry.

Question: The understanding of it is that’s the way it works–

Cardinal Zen: “Yeah.”

Thomas Farr, who served as the first director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and is now president of the Religious Freedom Institute, also believes the Vatican’s unreleased agreement with the People’s Republic of China, if it is as reported, is “a very bad deal for the Church in China.”

“If I rightly understand what Cardinal Zen is saying, i.e., that we do not have the official text of the agreement, but are operating from press reports that carry some credibility because the Vatican has neither denied nor corrected them, then I agree with him,” Farr told CNSNews.com. “Those reports suggest a procedure that permits the Pope to veto bishop nominees provided by the Communist government, but not to provide candidates of his own.

“My own fear,” Farr said, “is that if the Vatican has indeed agreed to such a procedure, the passive role of the Holy Father in choosing new bishops is dangerous for the Church in China. The Communist government has no incentive whatever to provide nominees that do not protect its interests, which are manifestly not those of the Catholic Church. If the Pope vetoes government nominees, even if he vetoes them over and over again, the see will simply remain vacant. The Chinese government can certainly live with this. Chinese Catholics cannot.

“I earnestly hope that these reports are incorrect,” said Farr. “If they are correct, this is a very bad deal for the Church in China.”

[To see the complete transcript of CNSNews.com interview with Cardinal Joseph Zen click here.]