The recent agreement between the Vatican and China is a step towards the “annihilation” of the Catholic Church in China, Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong, wrote in a New York Times op-ed published on Wednesday.

The September 22 agreement was designed to unify the underground Church and the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), by approving a formula through which Pope Francis would approve bishops nominated by Beijing.

But Zen’s op-ed said the distinction between the underground Church and the CCPA has not been eradicated.

He said those who attend the “underground” Church worship in secret and are subject to persecution from the government if they are discovered. Amid a religious crackdown in China, Zen said that priests of the underground church have been encouraging their parishioners to skip Mass for their own safety.

While Pope Francis is “very pastoral,” Zen said does not think that he properly understands how Communist China works. In Pope Francis’ home country of Argentina, the Communists worked to defend the poor against government oppression, often alongside Jesuits, he said. This could be why the pope “may have a natural sympathy for Communists,” as he views them to be persecuted.

It is far different, said Zen, in places where Communists are the ruling party–like China. When they acquire power, the Communists become the persecutors themselves, he said.

Zen was also critical of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who he described as caring more about diplomatic success than he does about the Church. Parolin seeks to restore normal relations between the Vatican and China for the first time since 1950.

While the exact terms of the agreement between China and the Vatican were not released, Zen is not optimistic about the future of the underground church. While Pope Francis could still “veto” the nomination of a state-approved bishop, “what good is having the last word when China will have all the words before it?” 

Despite this, Zen warned the clergy of the underground church against starting any kind of “revolution.” Instead, if the government takes away their churches or prohibits them from officiating, they should return to their families, continue praying, and “wait for better times.”

“Communism isn’t eternal.”

Full story at The Catholic Herald. To read the New York Times op-ed, click here.