• Bree A. Dail

EXCLUSIVE Cardinal Joseph Zen: Confronting Conflict

VATICAN CITY-- Being no stranger to confronting conflicts, head on, Cardinal Joseph Zen spoke freely addressing what seems to be growing ideological polarization at a time of crisis within the Church. During the two-hour breakfast interview, he waited close to his cell phone, hoping for word on whether or not he would be granted an audience with Pope Francis. No word came.

The conversation over cafe espresso was one filled, at times, with deep sorrow and at others with indignation. The Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, while impassioned in his defense of the Faithful in China, lamented the "strange public conflicts" taking place in certain circles of the Church.


One public division Cardinal Zen referenced took place online this past May. It was reported that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò included Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation on Divine Worship, as the leading signatory for a controversial online petition entitled "An Appeal for the Church and For the World."

One day later, Cardinal Sarah posted a public withdrawal of his name from the petition on his social media accounts.





While Archbishop Vigano protested the very public renouncement in his own public statement, including a detailed report of “recorded” conversations with the Prefect for the Congregation on Divine Worship, details later emerged that it seemed he had only spoken over the phone with Cardinal Sarah, and the Cardinal was not provided the full content of the final document produced.

Similar to Cardinal Sarah's accounting, a second Cardinal signatory distanced himself days later. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, in an interview given to the German magazine Die Ziet stated that while he chose to remain a signatory for the sake of his friend who “had been badly treated and very isolated”, he, too, only agreed to general statements over the phone, and that “not a single line” came from him.

Now, Cardinal Joseph Zen, also named a signatory on Archbishop Vigano's petition, provides readers with a third account of the events, expressing similar concerns to that of his brother Cardinals.


“First of all, I never contacted Vigano but in my heart I have always been on his side. Why? Because I realized early in 2018 that he was providing facts. Now, you can confirm facts, or you can deny them but nobody can contradict facts without providing others. The Vatican should have addressed these, should have answered these. It was a complete disappointment that even Cardinal Oulette—I had the highest respect for Oulette—came out to blame Vigano, but never addressed the facts he presented. At a certain moment, however, Vigano came to my aid because of the Church in China, and this is how I came to know him. He later asked me to join this appeal, and I said to him—“I agree with you, but I will not give you my name because I cannot confirm all these details you have in this very complicated petition. Many of these points, I was not sure of, I question. So, no, please excuse me but I will not sign.” He came back again, and said that this petition was very important, and that “even Cardinal Sarah had given his name”. I considered this carefully, but made it clear that in Hong Kong, we were very nervous about this pandemic as we had faced SARS. I said, “your position is against these rules, this quarantine and forced masks, are opinions and okay—but I cannot say the same thing for us in Hong Kong.” Cardinal Zen continued, “I said to Vigano that, okay, if Cardinal Sarah placed his name on this petition, he is much more informed in these things than I, being in the position he is. But this petition should not be published in Hong Kong or China, in our part of the world as it would be to the detriment.” Archbishop Vigano agreed, saying he would not translate the petition into Chinese. After this, however, I found out that Cardinal Sarah had requested his own name be removed from this petition. These statements were serious, and we should have been given all the details to it before Archbishop Vigano published. As for this conflict? I am very sorry to witness it.”


"I Will Not Stay Silent!"

The Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong continued, addressing a more recent example of division, led in part by Italian historian Roberto de Mattei, on the subject of the Second Vatican Council.

Prof. Roberto de Mattei

When Cardinal Zen answered the Italian professor on certain points of this debate, Professor de Mattei responded in an open letter that “If Cardinal Zen does not concur with the usefulness of this debate it would have been more prudent for him to stay silent.”.


Cardinal Zen admitted being taken aback by a western academic calling for his silence in reference to a Church Council. The Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong responded, “I think everyone knows that here in Hong Kong we are in full battle against the power that wants to dominate us completely, including speech and thought. Blessed are those who can say what they think, without worrying whether the authorities agree.”


When asked why he believed there was an increase of this type of division amongst those seeking to defend the Church, Cardinal Zen wanted to give context to what led to these remarks. “You must understand the context of this is deeper. There is a missionary in Hong Kong, a certain Fr Giovanni Giampietro—a sort of “expert” in liturgy, but a strange proponent, heterodox. He started a series of videos and articles on the Second Vatican Council, you see. I read one of them. He was very young man during the Council, and especially when certain individuals were enthusiastic about a revolution in the Church—claiming the Second Vatican Council was this revolution. Fr Giovanni Giampietro referred to these actions like the fresco of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, with many years of soot and grime from candles and age, the Council was a cleansing of the rubbish of the Tridentine excesses. I said, when I read this, “Come on! This is blasphemy! The Tridentine Council was fantastic! Every Council is Sacroanctum Concilium.” So I came out strongly, and defended the Tridentine Council.

"It was for my defense of the Tridentine Council that Professor de Mattei responded so divisively", Cardinal Zen continued. “We appreciate Cardinal Zen fighting the Vatican for the Church in China, but unfortunately he is so enthusiastic for the Second Vatican Council, he may lose some friends.” I don’t mind losing friends because I am in favor of defending the Second Vatican Council, okay? The Council, like the Tridentine Council, is wonderful—all the mistakes implemented afterwords is not because of this Council. This and other such arguments are just as simplistic, divisive and prideful as this Fr. John Pietro claiming all Councils before the Second Vatican Council were rubbish.


I am happy to have written something in public against this Professor Roberto de Mattei, against this ideology that seems so prideful and the divisions he seems to be inspiring, even among some respected voices. I will not pretend I can convert all these "intellectuals", these professors and “experts”, but I hope that some who saw his reaction—his call for my silence—will consider how productive such examples are in the mission of the Church at this time.

On my part, I must focus on my people, and many in China who suffer persecution. I will not stay silent. I will defend the Church."

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