12/29/2008, 00.00
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Cardinal Zen to retire next year to work on the Church in China

The prelate hopes to provide the Pope with information on the Chinese Church, excludes playing any role in Sino-vatican diplomatic relations. For him Episcopal ordinations without the Holy See’s seal of approval are a “failure” and a “violation of freedom of conscience.”

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The bishop of Hong Kong, Card Joseph Zen, will retire in mid-2009 to become involved on China Church matters full time. “I need to provide information on the Church in China to the Pope, and I need time to study on it,” he told some journalists.

Cardinal Zen will be 77 next 13 January. He had already made a request to quit as Hong Kong bishop when he was 75.

The prelate said the precise date for his retirement will be announced by the Vatican, adding that when he submitted his request for the third time, Benedict XVI told him that it would be officially announced “soon”.

Born in Shanghai, Cardinal Zen has direct knowledge as a priest of the Chinese Church from years of teaching in Chinese seminaries

After he became bishop he was able to visit the country only once because of his strong criticism of Beijing’s religious policies and his defence of democracy in Hong Kong.

In announcing his retirement he stressed that he would not become involved in the process of normalising Sino-Vatican relations which are a “diplomatic affair”. Instead he would focus on freedom of religion for China’s Church.

This is why he forcefully criticised official ceremonies held in Beijing last 19 December to honour the 50th anniversary of "self-elected, self-ordained" bishops,” (see Beijing, Vatican must break with Taiwan and not interfere in domestic affairs, AsiaNews, 20 December 2008).

In his view “there is no point to celebrate. It is a set back. It is a violation of conscience for those who were forced to be ordained bishop without papal approval,” the prelate said about those ordained without papal approval.

I wish China may have progress in all aspects, not just economic development, and people may enjoy true religious freedom,” the cardinal added.

Mgr John Tong will be Bishop Zen’s successor. He was appointed as the coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong last January.

Monsignor Tong, too, is a veteran expert on China Church issues; at present he is in charge of Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Centre.

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