[SCMP, Hong Kong] Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Hong Kong’s outspoken former bishop, has asked Pope Francis not to visit China, saying the pontiff would be “manipulated”.
Improving ties between the Vatican and Beijing has given rise to speculation the pope could reach out to China.
But Zen told the Corriere della Sera, an Italian newspaper, in an interview: “I would tell him now: ‘Don’t come, you would be manipulated.’”
“The few courageous [Catholics] could not meet [the Pope], and the Communist Party would show him the illegitimate bishops, including the three excommunicated ones,” the 82-year-old said in the interview.
The comments come as ties between the Vatican and China have improved in the early days of the pontificate of Francis. When he rose to the helm of the Catholic Church last year, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs congratulated Francis on his election.
Pope Francis conducts a mass after presenting archbishops with their palliums in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 29, 2014. Photo: Reuters
In an interview in March, also with the Corriere, the pope said he had exchanged letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We are close to China,” Francis reportedly said at the time. “I sent a letter to President Xi Jinping when he was elected, three days after me. And he replied.”
The Vatican and China have not had formal talks since Beijing severed ties 63 ago over allegations of espionage. Informal talks were last known to be held in 2010.
Yet Beijing’s unsanctioned ordination of bishops in 2010 and the house arrest of Thaddeus Ma Daqin, the outspoken auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, two years later have soured ties.
Ma, who gained widespread popularity by publicly resigning from the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, has since been under de-facto house arrest at the Sheshan Seminary in the city’s Shanghai’s outskirts. Only one public appearance has been reported, in October 2013.
Since January, authorities in Zhejiang province have demanded Christian communities to take down crosses from their churches or else these would be demolished.
Hundreds of churches or crosses have so far been torn down in the province under the campaign, which local officials say only targets structures that violate building codes.