Vatican got it wrong on China agreement, Chris Patten says
The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, says the Vatican “got it badly wrong about China” in its secret agreement with the Communist Party in 2018.
Lord Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford University told the liberal British religious magazine, The Tablet, that the timing of the deal, which gave the government of Xi Jinping power over the appointment of bishops in China, was “bizarre’’. It coincided with the government going backwards on human rights.
“How can you have a rapprochement on religious issues with China when there are a million or more Uighur Muslims locked up in Xinjiang,” Lord Patten said.
“I find myself sympathising hugely with Cardinal Zen.’’
Cardinal Zen, 88, of Hong Kong fought hard against the agreement, travelling to Rome to appeal to Pope Francis not to cave in to rising religious persecution in China. The Communist Party, Cardinal Zen argued, had inflicted decades of “slavery and humiliation’’ on Christians and had meted out harsher persecutions, including long jail terms for Christian pastors, in recent years.
Lord Patten said the official appointed by China to head the Hong Kong-Macau office in charge of dealing with Hong Kong, Xia Baolong, had cut his teeth tearing down churches and removing more than 1200 crosses in Zhejiang province on China’s coast, one of the nation’s more heavily Christian regions.
Mr Xia, he said, was a close associate of Mr Xi, serving under the president when Mr Xi was in charge of Zhejiang province.
Lord Patten spoke out as Bitter Winter, a Turin-based think tank which monitors human rights and religious freedom through a network of hundreds of Chinese correspondents, reported that China had stepped up religious persecutions while dealing with the spread of the Coronavirus.
On Sunday, Bitter Winter reported that Chinese Catholics from the underground church, who were refusing to join the state-sanctioned and controlled Patriotic Catholic Association, were gathering to pray outside at least 15 churches which had been closed earlier in the year, with their water and power supplies cut off.
Surveillance cameras had been installed in churches and religious symbols replaced with portraits of Communist Party chiefs, including Mr Xi.
A vicious new row about the Chinese agreement has also erupted in the Vatican. In a letter to all cardinals written on February 26, the new Dean of the College of Cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, launched a personal attack on Cardinal Zen and described his efforts as an obstacle for the Church in China.
The letter was leaked to Italian online newspaper The New Daily Compass,
In response to Cardinal Re’s unprecedented attack on his elderly brother cardinal, the controversial former Vatican ambassador to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, jumped to Cardinal Zen’s defence. In a letter of support to the Hong Kong prelate, Archbishop Vigano, said “the tragic situation of the Martyr Church in China’’ had been “culpably aggravated through the treacherous and wicked secret Agreement signed by Holy See with the Chinese Communist Government …
“I read this morning the ignominious and shameful letter that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re has addressed to all the cardinals against you. I am deeply saddened and indignant, and I wish to express to you all my affection, prayer and fraternal solidarity.’’
The Secret Pact between China and the Vatican, Archbishop Vigano said, had legitimatized excommunicated “bishops” in China who were agents of the Communist Party regime and led to the deposing of legitimate bishops.