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Hong Kong cardinal warns of schism in Chinese church

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VATICAN CITY — Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun warned that the Chinese Catholic Church is “on the verge of a schism” between communities cooperating with government structures and those who refuse to register with government authorities, and he called on the Vatican and other Catholics to shun “organisms that are not only foreign but clearly hostile to the church” in China.

Cardinal Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong, made his comments in an article published Feb. 8 by Asia News, a missionary news agency based in Rome.

“The situation of the church in China is particularly unusual because not bishops, but bodies outside the church … are leading our church,” Cardinal Zen wrote, noting the government’s continued supervision of the church through the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

China’s more than 10 million Catholics are divided among communities registered with the communist government and those, sometimes called “underground,” who have refused to register.

In recent years, as many as 85 percent of government-approved bishops have been recognized by the Holy See, a “strategy of compromise” that Cardinal Zen argued has demoralized the unregistered communities.

“We can see that the underground community that once flourished so well now runs the risk of dying of frustration and discouragement, because it seems to be neglected and considered inconvenient by the Holy See,” Cardinal Zen wrote.

Noting the illicit ordinations of three government-approved bishops without the pope’s approval since November 2010, Cardinal Zen wrote that Beijing “still wants absolute control of religion, and in the case of the Catholic Church, China wants to detach the church from obedience to the Holy See.”

A number of validly ordained bishops participated in those illicit ordinations, reportedly under duress. Cardinal Zen criticized the decision by the Sant’Egidio Community, a Vatican-approved international association of the faithful, to invite one of those bishops, Coadjutor Bishop John Baptist Li Suguang of Nanchang, to an international conference in Germany last year.

“Inviting bishops who have compromised themselves in acts which are objectively destructive to the unity of the church to meetings abroad seems very inconvenient,” the cardinal wrote, arguing that such events can be “abused as an endorsement for their actions by the rest of the church.”

“The true good of the church in China is not in continuing to bargain with organisms that are not only foreign, but clearly hostile to the church,” Cardinal Zen wrote, “but in mobilizing bishops and faithful to rid the church of them.”