In a strongly worded statement, issued with reference to news on a “presumed difference of thought and action between the Holy See and his collaborators” in the administrative unit of the Holy See, the Holy See press office said Pope Francis had been in close contact with his collaborators over the Vatican’s handling of China.
“The Pope is in constant contact with his collaborators, in particular in the Secretariat of State, on Chinese issues, and is informed by them faithfully and in detail on the situation of the Catholic Church in China and on the steps in the dialogue in progress between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, which he follows with special attention,” press office director Greg Burke said.
He added: “It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy”.
The statement was issued after retired Hong Kong cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun opened up on his trip to the Vatican, where he delivered a letter to the Pope and subsequently had a 30-minute meeting with the pontiff to express his worries about the Chinese government’s suppression of Catholics.
On his Facebook page, Zen wrote of his concern over the Vatican asking two Chinese bishops, Peter Zhuang Jianjian and Joseph Guo Xijin, to make way for bishops preferred by the Chinese government.
During the meeting, Zen asked the Pope if he had time to “look into the matter” of Bishop Zhuang. He said the pontiff replied: “I told [my colleagues in the Holy See] not to create another Mindszenty case.”
Cardinal Josef Mindszenty was the archbishop of Budapest and cardinal primate of Hungary. He was persecuted for his opposition to fascism and communism in Hungary from the late 1910s to the 1940s and eventually jailed. He was also known for criticising the Vatican’s attempts to deal with the Hungarian communist regime.
Zen did not elaborate on the Pope’s motives for wanting to avoid a similar situation in China.
“I was there in the presence of the Holy Father representing my suffering brothers in China. His words should be rightly understood as of consolation and encouragement more for them than for me,” Zen wrote.
He went on to say: “Am I the major obstacle in the process of reaching a deal between the Vatican and China? If that is a bad deal, I would be more than happy to be the obstacle.”
Beijing broke diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951. Since then, the Communist Party has closed churches and jailed priests. Catholics can legally worship in state-sanctioned churches, which are not overseen by the Vatican, and have bishops appointed by Beijing rather than the Pope. But there is still a network of Catholic churches operating underground in China.