Don't surrender to China, Cardinal Zen tells Vatican

Former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen.Reuters

A retired bishop in Hong Kong has said allowing the Chinese government to appoint Catholic bishops would mean "surrender".

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who retired in 2009, made the comment yesterday following an anouncement by the current bishop, John Tong Hon, that the Vatican and the Chinese government are in dialogue over the appointment of bishops.

According to the South China Morning Post, an initial accord has provided for the pope to choose bishops from a list of candidates approved by Chinese bishops and state authorities. The move would be a step forward in China-Vatican relations, where the issue has been a flashpoint for many years.

Tong said: "The Apostolic See has the right to choose from the recommended list the candidates it considers as most suitable and the right to reject the candidates recommended by a bishops' conference of China and the bishops in the provinces under it."

However, Zen told Apple Daily: "To officially let [the Chinese government] manage the church? That would mean surrender." He added: "Once the relationship has been established, what then? When the pope visits China, and the [central government] selects only the obedient people to meet the pope, what then for those belonging to the underground churches?"

The 'underground churches' have been formed by Chinese Catholics in an act of resistance to the state-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. According to the Catholic church, there are currently 110 bishops in China. Up to 30 of them still operate in underground churches which pledge allegiance only to the pope.

Zen said he supported the Vietnamese system under which the Church chose its bishops and the government approved the decision.