Pope Francis does not understand the Chinese Communist Party, Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen has said, amid rumours that the Vatican is on the brink of forming diplomatic ties with China.

The Vatican currently has diplomatic relations with the Taiwanese government. But it has conducted secret negotiations with Beijing in recent years. Last month, Zen mentioned in his blog a potential agreement between the Vatican and Beijing whereby the atheist country will have the final say in the appointment of priests. He said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

During a visit to Canada and the US, Zen, 85, criticised the optimistic attitude that he observed among top Vatican officials.

joseph zen
Cardinal Joseph Zen. File Photo: Stand News.

“The Chinese government has not made any concessions in the negotiations,” he told the Chinese-language World Journal in New York. “There are some things that we cannot make compromises.”

He told the newspaper that Pope Francis was from South America and was sympathetic to communists: “He does not understand the Chinese Communist Party at all.”

The Chinese government has arrested a number of pastors following their opposition to the removal of publicly-displayed crosses in China. While the Vatican maintains the global right to appoint bishops, Beijing has appointed its own through the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association – the country’s party-controlled official church.

Zen said the Vatican was not listening to opposition opinion any more, after Savio Hon Tai-fai, a priest from Hong Kong at the Holy See, was appointed apostolic nuncio in Greece last month.

Savio Hon Joseph Zen
Savio Hon and Joseph Zen. File

Hon was the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, a top position in the church. He had taken a conservative approach in suggesting that the Vatican should not make compromises with China on the issue of ordination of priests.

“Now Savio Hon has been pushed away,” Zen said.

During his visit, Zen had said that he believed it was only a matter of time for the Vatican and Beijing to establish diplomatic ties.

“Taiwanese people should make preparations for ‘being abandoned,’ or losing diplomatic relations,” he said.

Chen Chien-Jen Pope Francis
Taiwanese Vice-President Chen Chien-Jen meeting Pope Francis. Photo: Facebook/Chen Chien-Jen.

Meanwhile, Zen also said pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong should work with each other.

He told World Journal that the biggest weakness of young activists – many of them currently jailed – was: “They think they can do it themselves, and look down upon elderly people [activists].”

But he said Hong Kong people should continue the fight for rights by peaceful means.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.