Vatican under pressure over China moves

Hong Kong's outspoken cardinal Joseph Zen has slammed the Holy See's negotiations with Beijing.
Hong Kong's outspoken cardinal Joseph Zen has slammed the Holy See's negotiations with Beijing.

An unholy war of words has broken out among Vatican and Catholic officials over the Holy See's rapprochement with Communist China.

The exchanges came as the Vatican and China moved closer to an accord on the appointment of bishops in what would be an historic breakthrough and a precursor to a resumption in diplomatic relations after 70 years.

Any deal was bound to be controversial because of concessions the Vatican would have to make to a government that has kept religion under its thumb.

But the accusations have become exceptionally shrill as diplomacy has collided with passion.

Father Bernardo Cervellera, head of the AsiaNews agency, accused Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, of being "naive".

In an interview this week, Sanchez Sorondo praised China, saying that Chinese today were those who are perhaps best implementing Church teachings on social issues.

"We can understand that in the heat of desire for relations between China and the Vatican one can be doting and exalt Chinese culture ... but adulating China is an ideological affirmation that makes a laughing stock of the Church," Cervellera wrote in an editorial headlined "Sanchez Sorondo in Wonderland".

Meanwhile, the Vatican has rebuked Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, former bishop of Hong Kong, after he accused it of "selling out" China's underground Catholics to the communists.

But Zen, known for his feistiness, accused the Vatican's chief diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, of speaking "nonsense," after Parolin said in an interview that the aim of dialogue was the greater good and that the Vatican understood the "pain" of Chinese catholics.

Zen retorted in his blog on Monday: "Oh! This man who lacks faith, how would he understand what is real pain?!"

A Vatican source has said the deal could be signed in the next few months.