Cardinal Parolin hopes Cardinal Zen arrest will not complicate Vatican-China dialogue

Cardinal Parolin said Cardinal Zen’s arrest should not be read as “a disavowal” of the agreement with Beijing, which is up for renewal this fall

Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said that he is “very sorry” about Cardinal Joseph Zen’s arrest earlier this week and hopes it will not complicate the Holy See’s dialogue with China.

“I would like to express my closeness to the cardinal who was freed and treated well,” Cardinal Parolin said on May 12, according to Vatican News, the Holy See’s online news portal.

The Vatican Secretary of State, a key architect of the Holy See’s provisional agreement with Chinese authorities on the appointment of bishops, added that Cardinal Zen’s arrest in Hong Kong should not be read as “a disavowal” of the agreement with Beijing, which is up for renewal this fall.

Cardinal Parolin told journalists that his “most concrete hope is that initiatives like this cannot complicate the already complex and not simple path of dialogue between the Holy See and the Church in China.”

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, said in an interview on the same day with an Italian television program, Tg2 Post, that the Vatican’s dialogue with Chinese Communist Party officials was “not always easy” and “the desired results” have not always been seen.

The Russia-Ukraine war

Archbishop Gallagher also spoke about the war in Ukraine, where he is due to travel next week and expected to meet with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv on May 20.

“I believe that great powers like the United States and China, members of the Security Council, have a very important role in this moment, and we must appeal to them to fulfill their responsibilities with a deep sense of morality and urgency,” the 68-year-old English archbishop said.

The Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister said at another point in the interview that “Ukraine has the right to defend itself,” but added that it was essential to avoid an arms race.

Cardinal Parolin, in his comments to journalists on the sidelines of an event at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Pope John Paul I, reiterated his desire “to have some clear parameters to address the issue of weapons in the most just and moderate way possible” in the Ukraine war.

“Eventually they will have to find a solution, because geography forces them to live, not together, but close together; they share a border that is many thousands of kilometers in length,” he said.

“It is a pity,“ he added, “that we still have not understood the lesson that instead of doing all this slaughter and producing all this rubble, solutions could be found sooner — what the Holy See has always hoped for.“

Secretary of State of the Holy See Cardinal Pietro Parolin addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on Sept. 28, 2019. (Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

China-Holy See relations

The cardinal’s comments on China come as the Holy See’s provisional agreement with Beijing is due to expire in October.

It is unclear what impact Cardinal Zen’s arrest will have on the discussions between the Holy See and Chinese authorities about the renewal of the agreement, which was first signed in 2018 and renewed in 2020.

Beijing’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong said this week that the arrest of the cardinal this week was “completely irrelevant to the occupation or religious background of the persons arrested.”

“The persons concerned are suspected of conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security — an act of severe nature,” the government said.

Cardinal Zen, who has been released on bail, was arrested on May 11 with at least four others for his role as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees.

More than 180 people in Hong Kong have been arrested since a sweeping National Security Law came into force in the former British colony, criminalizing previously protected civil liberties under the headings of “sedition“ and “foreign collusion.”

Pope Francis recorded a video message for Hong Kong Catholics in March in which he said: “It takes patience to hope.”

“I wish you to be good citizens and that you are courageous in the face of the challenges of the time,” the pope said.

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