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NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - China's top Catholic prelate is ramping up warnings to the Vatican over a proposed compromise with Communist China.
On Ash Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal published new statements by Cdl. Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong. "You're putting wolves before your flock, and they are going to make a massacre," he warned the Holy See.
China expert Steven Mosher, head of the Population Research Institute, agrees. "The officially atheistic Chinese Communist Party ... wants to stamp out all religious belief and all religious behavior in China," he told Church Militant in an interview Friday.
"They want to end all that — their goal is the imposition of atheism on everyone in China," Mosher added. "That's why on February 1st they put in new regulations preventing Catholics or Christians from bringing their own children 18 years old and younger to Catholic Mass or to home church meetings. They want to stamp out religion by preventing it from being transmitted to the next generation."
Cardinal Zen's concerns revolve around a Vatican plan to reocgnize seven government-appointed bishops as part of a diplomatic push to settle a decades-old rift between Rome and Beijing.
The Catholic Church in China went underground after Communist leader Mao Zedong seized control of the country in 1949.
In 1957, the Communists established the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), a government-sponsored "Catholic" church. The schismatic CPCA appoints its own bishops, unapproved by Rome; one faithful Chinese Catholic recently described it as "a tree with no roots."
Vatican officials pushing the deal suggest it will benefit the Church in China. Mosher disagrees:
Now we have the Vatican trying to impose a solution, working with the Chinese Communist Party that involves sacrificing that Church and forcing the underground Church out of the catacombs, out of the shadows, into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, forcing them to register, forcing them to come out of hiding, forcing them to expose themselves to agents of the government who, in some cases, will immediately arrest them. And those arrests are followed by, in some cases, torture. Catholic priests and bishops have been killed in Chinese prisons. Why would you do that? I simply don't understand what the Vatican hopes to achieve here.
Cardinal Zen is of the same mindset; he stresses the policy of the Communist regime continues to be one of "total control of religion." Its henchmen, he warned Wednesday, "are appointing bad people to be the shepherds of the flocks."
The "Communists want to enslave the Church" in China, he added. Giving more power to the government will only increase persecution — the equivalent of "rewarding traitors" and "castigating the faithful."
The noose has been tighthening around the necks of Chinese Catholics for some time.
According to a Freedom House report issued last year, since Xi Jinping took command of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012, "authorities have intensified many of their restrictions, resulting in an overall increase in religious persecution."
At that time, Zen admonished optimists hoping for a diplomatic thaw. "To dialogue means to compromise," he said, "but the Communists are not ready to give anything; they don't need anything and they have full control of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. ..."
Officials in Rome, he said Wednesday, are telling China's faithful Catholics, "You are stupid for being loyal for so many years. Now surrender."
But, he noted, "[The] underground Church is evangelizing very well. Also in the official Church there are so many good people. They are not afraid. Why should you surrender?"
Faithful Catholics may suffer "the creation of a schismatic church" by Vatican officials," he lamented, "but we cannot assist in its creation."
Mosher warns Chinese Catholics will pay a great price for the Vatican's apparent naïveté. "There are some people in the Vatican ... who think that any agreement is better than no agreement. But that's not true," he told Church Militant. "An agreement under these circumstances, which would in effect deliver the underground Church into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, it seems to me, is worse than no agreement at all."
Similarly, Zen maintains it would be better to pray alone than to join churches backed by Beijing. "You are not bound to join the Patriotic Association. You can pray at home if you lose your churches," he said in an interview last year. "An underground priest who loses his flock can go home and till the soil. You're still a priest anyway. So wait for better times."
The cardinal vows to stand firm on his position: Chinese Catholics must follow Christ, not Marx.