2 Years After Papal Letter: Cardinal Zen Reflects

Says Compendium Cleared Up Misinterpretation

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HONG KONG, JULY 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The retired bishop of Hong Kong says the Compendium of Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter to the Church in China has served to clarify certain misinterpretations.

Cardinal Joseph Zen asserted this in a letter dated June 29 and marking the two-year anniversary of the Pope’s statement to Chinese Catholics.

The cardinal particularly highlighted confusion over what the Holy Father encouraged regarding unity between the underground and official Church.

Since the Chinese government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association, there is a difference in China between the «national» or «official» Church, and the faithful who oppose such control and who wish to obey the Pope directly, who are referred to as the «underground» Church.

Cardinal Zen said question seven of the Compendium illustrated the Holy Father’s «appreciation for and encouragement to all those who have suffered and are still suffering for the Catholic faith.»

He further asserted that footnotes two and five of the Compendium clarify the Holy See’s position on the search for unity among Chinese Catholics.

The cardinal explained: «Footnote No. 2 makes an important distinction between ‘a spiritual reconciliation of hearts and a structural merger into one system.’ The Pope encourages the former, which should be pursued with utmost commitment and urgency, while the realization of the latter may be beyond our unilateral good will.

«Footnote No. 5 says clearly that the Pope ‘neither excludes the possibility of accepting or seeking government recognition, nor encourages doing so.’ Everyone would like to act in the open freely, but unfortunately very often, ‘indeed almost always,’ it is impossible to do so since conditions are imposed on us which are not compatible with our Catholic conscience.»

Impatient optimism

Cardinal Zen said that shortly after publication, this point of the letter «received a tendentious interpretation that went beyond what the Holy Father had said.»

«The interpretation stated that, according to the Holy Father, there was no longer any reason to remain in the situation of clandestinity and that the Holy Father wanted all underground communities to request the recognition of the government,» he explained. «The error of such a view consists in that it chooses to overlook the long strides that must be taken and considers that one can reach the goal immediately. We may call it a sin of impatient optimism.»

The retired prelate lamented that «in the last two years this interpretation has had disastrous consequences all over the Church in China.»

Rather, he noted that there has been little change to a government policy «that aims at enslaving the whole Church.»

«That,» the cardinal said, «is why we have to witness such a painful spectacle: Bishops and priests who, thinking they are obeying the Holy Father, make enormous efforts to come to terms with the government. Many of these, faced by the unacceptable conditions imposed by the government, draw back, but in the process the clergy is no longer as united as before.

«Others, thinking that to draw back would be to disobey the will of the Holy Father, have tried to remain in that situation of compromise, while striving hard to keep their peace of conscience, a contradictory state that brings deep suffering not only on the bishops directly involved, but also their priests who are no longer able to understand their bishop.»

Meanwhile, Cardinal Zen observed, the government «has presented itself as an enthusiastic executor of the will of the Pope, declaring itself the promoter of unity — evidently a unity under the total control of the government inside the iron-tight structure of an independent Church.»

The cardinal expressed gratitude to God that with the Compendium, «the Holy See has given its own authoritative interpretation on this point. We hope that the Compendium may be able to resolve the painful contradiction in so many faithful hearts and to make it possible for the clandestine community to rebuild its faithful unity in suffering.»

«Obviously,» he added, «on the level of reconciliation and communion of hearts between the two Church communities, there is much to be attempted and to be done as soon as possible, overcoming every negative feeling caused by historical situations not willed by us, but imposed on us from the outside.»

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On the Net:

Full text of the cardinal’s letter: www.catholic.org.hk/v2/en/message_bishop/y2009_pope.html

Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20070527_china_en.html

Compendium: http://www.vatican.va/chinese/pdf/7Compendium_en.pdf

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