Of Vatican cages

Among the more difficult acts for a contemporary Catholic is to pray for the betrayers of the Church, in places like Rome. Cardinal Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong — one of my living heroes, for his honesty and steadfastness — put this well in a statement about Cardinal Pietro Palorin, the Vatican secretary of state; and the papal press spokesman, Greg Burke. Both had glibly “spun” Cardinal Zen’s powerful words against the accommodation the Vatican is now making with the regime in Peking — in the course of which they defamed him.

“Yesterday not a few individuals came to see me or telephoned me to offer me some comfort, following the accusation made against me by the spokesman for the Vatican. But they have misunderstood, because I do not need to be comforted. It would have been better for them to have gone to comfort that spokesman. He is the one who is a caged bird, forced to perform such an embarrassing rôle.”

The Vatican is currently betraying its own faithful bishops of the clandestine Church in China. In order to improve relations with the Communist dictatorship, they are being publicly “retired” and replaced by appointees of the regime, who had been excommunicated under previous popes. Now, those faithful are instructed to bow before these sell-outs. This, in my view, is an obscenity. The excuse from Rome is that it will make life for Catholics in China more comfortable. True, they must live in a cage; but the cage will be larger.

Cardinal Zen asks: Who is in the cage? Is it the man who speaks the truth, and worships in freedom, at risk of arrest? Or the man who parrots sophistries, from a position of luxurious safety? (Zen called Parolin directly, “A man of little faith.”) Those who have never endured real suffering in this world, pretend that they are doing the persecuted a favour, when it is their own convenience they are serving.

It is not the sort of favour Christ ever did. He expected persecution, and told us to endure. “Before they hated you, they hated me.” He promised that the Comforter will come, in our hour of need: “Even the Spirit of Truth.”

From Rome, we must also listen to Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who after a quick mainland tour as guest of the Chinese politburo, has praised the regime for implementing the social doctrine of the encyclical Laudato Si’, and supporting the Paris Climate Accord — drawing invidious comparisons to the USA where there are shantytowns, the young are on drugs, and President Trump is manipulated by multinational oil companies. One can only wonder if this comical stooge is on drugs himself.

Here is the Christian paradox: that real comfort comes from a clean conscience, and discomfort from a dirty one. And the greatest comfort, for a life well-lived, is to part it without the burden of grave sin. We pray to be relieved, ourselves, from temptation — something profound that is lost on the faithless. We do not pray to get away with sin, or be “accompanied” by priests in our wrongdoing.

And so it makes sense to pray for our enemies, particularly those within the Church. They need help which only Christ can give. Our condemnation of them is little use to the self-condemned. Pray rather, that they wake to their peril.