If the acceptance of a hammer/sickle crucifix was not enough to convince people that Pope Francis has a soft place in his heart for communists, then perhaps his recent deal with the Chinese government will.
In a recent move seen by many as a capitulation, the Vatican under Pope Francis gave the communist, anti-Christian Chinese government a prominent role in selecting bishops, even though only the Pope can select bishops. The move hearkens back to the late-Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where political figures in certain countries played prominent roles in the selection of the Church hierarchy. At least then, however, the motives were nationalistic and not all appointees complied with the state (see St. Thomas Becket); in China, the motives are purely for political control.
Writing in The New York Times, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong says flatly that “The Pope Doesn’t Understand China” and that he capitulates to the oppressive government due to a “natural sympathy” for communists because he views them as a persecuted class.
“Francis may have natural sympathy for Communists because for him, they are the persecuted,” Zen writes. “He doesn’t know them as the persecutors they become once in power, like the Communists in China.”
Zen makes no concessions to the deal inked by Pope Francis and declares it a colossal misstep. Given Pope Francis’ track record of showing sympathy toward communist priests (he celebrated one in Bolivia) while dishing out flippant statements like “the communists stole our flag,” Cardinal Zen makes a fair point when he accuses the Holy Father of “not understanding communism.”
“I went back to China in 1974 during the Cultural Revolution; the situation was terrible beyond imagination. A whole nation under slavery. We forget these things too easily,” Zen recalls of communist treatment of Christians in China. “We also forget that you can never have a truly good agreement with a totalitarian regime.”
Zen goes on to lament how Vatican relations with China have increasingly become more naive and optimistic without any evidence to support that attitude since 2002, when a “young Italian with no foreign experience” began the work of “legitimizing official Chinese bishops too quickly, too easily, creating the impression that now the Vatican would automatically second Beijing’s selection.”
“Today, we have Pope Francis,” Zen decries. “Naturally optimistic about communism, he is being encouraged to be optimistic about the Communists in China by cynics around him who know better.”
“I was among those who applauded Francis’s decision to appoint Pietro Parolin as secretary of state in 2013,” Zen continues. “But I now think that Cardinal Parolin cares less about the Church than about diplomatic success. His ultimate goal is the restoration of formal relations between the Vatican and Beijing.”
Indeed, the fix was in China’s favor from the very outset. Earlier this year, when China and the Vatican began entering negotiations, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo of Argentina (where Pope Francis hails from) visited the country and gleefully declared the oppressive regime a bright, shining example of the Catholic social doctrine.
“You do not have shantytowns,” Sorondo gleefully stated. “You do not have drugs, young people do not have drugs. There is a positive national consciousness. They want to show that they have changed, they already accept private property.”
Defenders of the deal say it will bridge a gap between the underground Church and the communist Church, but detractors say it will likely demoralize the faithful while emboldening the government to suppress authentic faith. Zen agrees with the latter and believes the deal is a “major step toward the annihilation of the real Church in China.”
“The Vatican’s deal, struck in the name of unifying the Church in China, means the annihilation of the real Church in China,” he says, adding that he would “draw the Holy Father on his knees offering the keys of the kingdom of heaven to President Xi Jinping and saying, ‘Please recognize me as the pope.’”
Zen concludes his piece by advising the good bishops in China to stay true to the faith and not let the darkness destroy them.
“Go home, and pray with your family,” he says. “Till the soil. Wait for better times. Go back to the catacombs. Communism isn’t eternal.”
Pope Leo XIII declared in his encyclical Rerum Novarum that “no one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true socialist.” Since the Pope’s declaration in 1891, the Catholic Church has consistently and emphatically denounced both socialism and communism as evil economic ideologies that deprive individuals of private property and the just fruits of their labor.