Rumors of an impending deal that could mend ties between the Vatican and the People's Republic of China has drawn ire from a senior Chinese Catholic in Hong Kong, who said that Pope Francis would be " betraying Jesus Christ" in his eagerness to build bridges with Beijing.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was bishop of Hong Kong for over six years, told the Guardian that any deal between Beijing and the Vatican would be a "surrender" on the Holy See's part, as the state controls the appointment of bishops through the China Catholic Patriotic Association.
"Maybe the Pope is a little naive, he doesn’t have the background to know the communists in China," Zen told the Guardian, suggesting that the pontiff might have conflated the "persecuted communists" in his native Latin America and the " persecutors who have killed hundreds of thousands" in China.
The Chinese Communist Party's control over appointments to the clergy is a central point of contention between Beijing and the Vatican. Relations between the two have been tense at best since diplomatic ties were cut in 1951. In 2011 alone, the Chinese government-sanctioned Catholic Church had ordained at least three bishops against the Vatican's wishes.
“You can start a new church, but don’t call it a Catholic church,” Cardinal Zen told TIME in 2011, in reference to Beijing's control over the Chinese Catholic Church.
China is officially atheist and the party strictly controls religious activities. A large network of secret churches, both Catholic and Protestant, exists in parallel with their state-recognized counterparts.