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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Vatican spokesman insists pope, aides are united on approach to China

Catholics who have accused top members of the Roman Curia of making overtures to China’s communist government without the knowledge of Pope Francis are “fostering confusion and controversy,” said the director of the Vatican press office.

The rumours of division between the pope and his top aides made headlines in late January after Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong, met personally with Pope Francis to discuss his opposition to encouraging two bishops to retire so they could be replaced by two bishops approved by the government, but whose status with the Vatican has been troubled.

‘In spite of the danger of being accused of breach of confidentiality,’ Cardinal Zen wrote on a Facebook post on 29th January, he had decided ‘to tell you what His Holiness said: ‘Yes, I told them (his collaborators in the Holy See) not to create another Mindszenty case!’’

The late Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszenty was arrested by communist authorities in 1948 and sentenced to life in prison. He was freed during the 1956 uprising, but when the uprising failed, he took refuge in the US Embassy in Budapest. Although he could not exercise his ministry, the cardinal’s presence in the country was a nuisance to the communist government.

In the interest of helping negotiations, Blessed Paul VI asked the cardinal to leave Hungary, and in 1972 the primate moved to Austria, although he retained his title as archbishop and primate of Hungary. After further negotiations with the government, Blessed Paul declared the See of Esztergom vacant in 1974, opening the way to normalisation of relations between Church and state. Cardinal Mindszenty died the following year.

Cardinal Zen said, ‘I was there in the presence of the Holy Father representing my suffering brothers in China,’ so Pope Francis’ reference to Cardinal Mindszenty ‘should be rightly understood as of consolation and encouragement more for them than for me.’

But Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said any “presumed difference of thought and action between the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Roman Curia on issues relating to China” were erroneous.

Burke did not, however, make any comment regarding the accuracy or inaccuracy of reports about the proposed transfer of bishops in China.

“The pope is in constant contact with his collaborators, in particular in the Secretariat of State, on Chinese issues, and is informed by them faithfully and in detail on the situation of the Catholic Church in China and on the steps in the dialogue in progress between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, which he follows with special attention,” Burke said. “It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy.”

Picture: Pope Francis greets Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong, during his general audience at the Vatican on 10th January. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).