A Chinese Cardinal has urged Pope Francis not to sacrifice underground practitioners of Catholicism in order to make a deal with the communist government.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the highest-ranking Chinese prelate who previously served as Auxiliary Bishop of Hong Kong, expressed concerns about efforts by Pope Francis to establish diplomatic relations with China.

“We are very much worried because it seems that the Vatican is going to make a very bad agreement with China,” Cardinal Zen said in an interview with LifeSiteNews.

Zen suggested Pope Francis “is really naïve” and “doesn’t know the Chinese communists,” and expressed reservations about the people surrounding him.

“The people around him are not good at all. They have very wrong ideas, and I’m afraid that they may sell out our underground Church,” he said.

Pope Francis has regularly indicated his desire for the Vatican to establish formal diplomatic relations with China, which has thus far refused due to the Vatican’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and concerns over the selection process for new bishops.

The deal reportedly under consideration would allow the Chinese government to propose a list of names from which the Pope would use to appoint new bishops.

In China, practitioners of Catholicism who do not affiliate themselves with the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association face repression and imprisonment.

The Chinese government also mandates practitioners of Buddhism, Islam, Protestantism, and Taoism join their respective state-run bodies.

Under Pope Francis, ties between the Vatican and China have steadily improved. The Chinese foreign ministry sent a note of congratulations to Pope Francis upon his election, hoping he would take a “practical and flexible” approach with China.

Pope Francis, for his part, sent a letter congratulating Chinese President Xi Jinping on his selection by the National People’s Congress.

“We are close to China,” Francis said at the time. “I sent a letter to President Xi Jinping when he was elected, three days after me. And he replied.”

Upon his first trip to Asia as Pope, Beijing agreed to let Francis’ Alitalia charter plane fly through its airspace; when Saint John Paul II visited South Korea in 1989, Beijing refused to let him fly through its airspace.

In a clear attempt to placate the communist government, Pope Francis defended religious freedom in China, arguing religion is freely practiced.

“In China the churches are full,” he asserted during an interview with the leftist Spanish daily El País. “You can practice your faith in China.”

Zen argued the communist Chinese government wants nothing more than “total surrender” from the Vatican, and expressed concern over Pope Francis’ willingness to sell out underground Christians who have suffered under brutal repression for decades.

“You cannot go into negotiations with the mentality ‘we want to sign an agreement at any cost,’ then you are surrendering yourself, you are betraying yourself, you are betraying Jesus Christ,” he said.

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