Cardinal Muller: ‘Vatican Diplomacy will Sacrifice Cardinal Zen to Advance its Agreement with China’

On the just-concluded Consistory with almost all the world’s cardinals – an event that has not happened since 2014 – the Vatican’s silence on the fate of Hong Kong’s Cardinal Emeritus Joseph Zen ze-Kiun from China spoke very loudly.

Newsroom (03/09/2022 10:12 AM Gaudium Press) The Vatican’s silence on the fate of Hong Kong’s Cardinal Emeritus Joseph Zen ze-Kiun from China weighed like a boulder on the recently concluded Consistory, where almost all the world’s cardinals were present – an event that has not happened since 2014. He is absent from Rome because he is under house arrest for raising his voice against Beijing and defending human rights in both Hong Kong and China. 

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, renowned theologian and former prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, editor of Joseph Ratzinger’s opera omnia, in an interview with Il Messaggero noted that “Next month there will be an unfair trial. No one has raised the very serious issue of our Brother Zen. Not by the Dean, Cardinal Re, nor by the Secretary of State, Parolin, nor by the Pope. There has been no document of solidarity, no prayer initiative for him,” Cardinal Müller continued, “I hope he will not be abandoned. The extraordinary Consistory would have been an opportunity to declare full solidarity with Zen on behalf of all the cardinals of the College”

Il Messaggero: What happened instead?

Card. Müller: Nothing at all. There are obviously political reasons on the part of the Holy See that prevent such initiatives. I refer to the agreement for the renewal of bishops signed recently with the Xi government. I am sorry to say this, but we cannot subject the interests of the Holy See and the Vatican State to the ecclesial dimension and truth. 

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IM- In what sense?

CM: Perhaps the Church should be freer and less constrained by the logic of power, worldly, and consequently freer to intervene and, if necessary, to criticize those politicians who end up suppressing human rights. In this case, I wonder why not criticize Beijing. Zen is a symbol and was arrested on a pretext; he did nothing; he is an authoritative, courageous and much-feared figure by the government. He is over 80 years old, and we left him alone.

The Vatican has recently renewed its agreement with China for episcopal appointments, perhaps the stakes are a little high, and perhaps it is better to use diplomacy.

If necessary, the Church should also criticize the power of this world. And then, the example of Pius XII should have taught us something. One cannot always sacrifice the truth.

IM- Could Pope Francis do it?

CM: I hope so. From the silence of this Consistory on the Zen case, I have fears. A bit like the Putin affair. It is clear that the name of the representative of the Russian Federation is not pronounced in public because there is fear about the effect it might have on the Catholic minority in Russia. A German priest living in Siberia explained this just recently. Putin can expel all Catholics overnight or give them a hard time. The situation is not easy.

IM- Better to be silent and maybe work behind the scenes, don’t you think?

CM: The truth in the face of persecution should always be emphasized. For Zen, not even a proposal for a collective prayer was made.

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IM- Excuse me, but there were over 200 cardinals in the Consistory: couldn’t they have taken the initiative for a common document of solidarity on their own?

CM: There was no opportunity, it is not part of the tradition, and perhaps with this internal climate, no one feels like it. There were some exchanges, that yes, but only between some of us. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do anything else because there was the time tied up with the working groups, the time available wasn’t so much. And perhaps they were all too busy singing the praises of an apostolic constitution already in force and now unmodifiable, a text that has never been submitted to the College of Cardinals for scrutiny. I say this ironically, with a hint of bitterness. It’s as if we were being treated like first-semester students as if we needed to be indoctrinated, but I don’t want to make controversy.

IM- Back to Zen…

CM: The fear of intervening on such a topic that has to do with relations with China is obvious, in my opinion. The situation with Beijing is complex, the information here is partial and, unfortunately, not all good and triumphant. The underground Church is currently persecuted in many areas and is faced with patriotic bishops who are more obedient to the atheistic state of Beijing than to the Pope. The silence I would not like to see about Zen found at the Consistory is indicative of this senior cardinal being consecrated, and sacrificed on the altar of the reason of state, in order to defend and advance the diplomatic agreement with Beijing. I see this risk and I feel pain.

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IM- Could he really be sacrificed?

CM: To me, unfortunately, this doubt advances. After all, it is not the first time in the history of the Church that exemplary Christians have been sacrificed. Sometimes the cynicism of politics prevails over the freedom that the Gospel teaches us. Let your talk be ”yes yes, no no.’

– Raju Hasmukh



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