Last month, Richard John Neuhaus of First Things took a slap at me for (supposedly) taking a slap at Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Archbishop of Hong Kong, in my profile of Shanghai’s Bishop Jin Luxian in the current issue of the Atlantic (Neuhaus was wrong about this, a point that I make here). In the same column, Neuhaus promised commentary on the Pope’s recent letter to China’s Catholics, and last week the magazine posted an interview of Cardinal Zen himself, conducted by Raphaela Schmid of the the Beckett Institute for Religious Freedom.
It is an interesting dialogue, layered with meanings, and worthy of an annotation (which I have no intention of doing!). For now, I’d like to comment on one passage, in particular.
It is introduced by a quote that Schmid identifies as originating from an “open-Church bishop.” Schmid doesn’t name the source, but I will: it is Jin Luxian of Shanghai, as interviewed and quoted by me in the July/August issue of the Atlantic. I have no idea why Schmid doesn’t identify Jin. Perhaps Schmid, mindful of the fact that Zen and Jin know each other well (dating back to the years that Zen spent teaching at Sheshan while Jin was the seminary rector and bishop), might encourage Zen to speak sympathetically of Jin and his quote when a unsympathetic answer was desired? I raise this unfortunate possibility because – to Schmid’s total discredit – Schmid only supplies half of Jin’s quote, and the half quoted is quoted incorrectly. Here, as printed in the Atlantic, is what Jin said to me:
“You cannot speak out as a bishop in a communist country,” Jin says. “I can’t freely speak like Zen, because I must protect my diocese.”
Now, here is how Schmid phrases the question to Zen:
Schmid: One open-church bishop recently said: “I can’t speak freely like Cardinal Zen because I must protect my diocese.” What do you think of this assessment?
Obviously, without the first half of the quote – the necessary context for it – Jin’s statement could be taken as a weak willingness to appease (Neuhaus himself incorrectly suggested that Jin is “viewed by many Chinese Catholics as having compromised himself by frequent cooperation with the regime’s repression of fellow believers”) But with the first half included, the quote is a statement of fact. To his credit, Zen answers the question as if he had been asked to comment on the complete quote:
Zen: I agree that we are in the very different situation in Hong Kong because of the ‘one country, two systems.’ We are not controlled by anybody like Patriotic Association or by the Religious [Affairs] Bureau. We can speak frankly. But in China, that would not be convenient, because the government would not accept the truth. But now that the letter of the pope is known by everybody, I think that, even in China, the bishops should be able to tell the government whatever is in the letter of the Holy Father.
I have no idea whether Zen has read my article, or if he knows that his old colleague Jin was the source of the quote in question. But his answer demonstrates a much better understanding of the actual situation in the Chinese Church than the one that Schmid appears to prefer, or that Neuhaus incorrectly reported in regard to Jin. Whatever the case, Schmid and First Things are certainly capable of better, and I hope they’ll make an effort to be more honest in their reporting – and their interviews with Church leaders – in the future.