(CNSNews.com) -- Coming to the aid of his church colleague Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has been harshly criticized by the Vatican for his defense of faithful Catholics in Communist China, Archbishop Carlo Vigano released a letter on March 1 praising Zen's courage and honesty.
The archbishop also denounced church officials at the "highest levels" for surrendering the Catholic Church to "heresy and apostasy, by following the Prince of this world, who is a liar and murderer from the beginning."
On Sept. 22, 2018, the Vatican signed an agreement with Chinese officials to settle a 68-year stalemate over the selection of bishops in that country and to try to unify the underground Catholic Church with the state-supervised Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The agreement was not made public, so neither clergy nor lay people know what it says.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has criticized the outcome, noting that persecution of Catholics continues in China and that the new bishops and priests have to follow the party line and support contraception, abortion, and other practices contrary to the faith. In September 2019, Cardinal Zen said we are witnessing the "murder of the Church in China by those who should protect" her.
Because of Cardinal Zen's criticism of the 2018 agreement, the Dean of the College of Cardinals at the Vatican, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, released a letter to all the cardinals in the church on Feb. 26, essentially denouncing Cardinal Zen and isolating him.
In response, Archbishop Vigano, the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States -- and a staunch critic of Pope Francis -- wrote a letter to Cardinal Zen, defending his colleague and chastising Vatican officials for apparently lying about the agreement with China and for corrupting the church.
"I have followed deeply — sharing in prayer your suffering — your many heartfelt appeals to Pope Bergoglio [Francis] concerning the tragic situation of the Martyr Church in China, which he himself has culpably aggravated through the treacherous and wicked secret Agreement signed by Holy See with the Chinese Communist Government," states Vigano in his letter to Zen.
"Your heartfelt appeals, dear Brother in Christ, have systematically been unheeded and even mocked in a hypocritical and perverse way," he writes. "As for Cardinal Parolin [Vatican Secretary of State], he has acted as a mere reckless executor of an evil order from above."
"I read this morning the ignominious and shameful letter that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re has addressed to all the cardinals against you," says Vigano. "I am deeply saddened and indignant, and I wish to express to you all my affection, prayer and fraternal solidarity in the episcopate."
"You are a courageous Confessor of the Faith and you have all my esteem and veneration!" says the archbishop.
"Unfortunately, in the Vatican lying has been set into the system, truth has been totally overturned, and the most perverse deception is shamelessly practiced even by the most unexpected figures, who have now given themselves over to acting as accomplices of the Adversary," writes Vigano.
The Adversary is a reference to Satan, the great deceiver.
Vigano continues, "The Vatican has done everything and more to deliver the Chinese Martyr Church into the hands of the Enemy: it did so by signing the Secret Pact; it did so by legitimizing excommunicated 'bishops' who are agents of the regime; it did so by the deposition of legitimate bishops; it did so by forcing faithful priests to register with a church that has succumbed to the Communist dictatorship; it does so on a daily basis by keeping silent about the persecutory fury that has gained unprecedented strength, precisely since the signing of that unfortunate Agreement.
"It is now doing so with this ignoble letter to all the cardinals, which is aimed at accusing you, denigrating you, and isolating you.
"... Your example, dear Cardinal, and the very high price you are paying to defend the Cause of God and His Church, gives us a salutary jolt, it rips us from the inertia and habituation with which we are passively witnessing the surrender of the Catholic Church, at its highest levels and in its hierarchy, to heresy and apostasy, by following the Prince of this world, who is a liar and murderer from the beginning (cf. Jn 8:44)."
In August 2018, Archbishop Vigano released a lengthy "testimony" that, among other claims, alleged that Pope Francis knew about the homosexual abuse of teen boys and seminarians by then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick but stayed silent; Pope Francis even allowed McCarrick to carry out diplomatic and fundraising missions for the church.
Because of the Pope's apparent malfeasance, Vigano called on him and several other senior officials in the church to resign.
For his part, Cardinal Zen has challenged Cardinal Re to release the 2018 agreement crafted between the Vatican and Communist Chinese officials.
"If you want to prove to me that the recently signed agreement was already approved by Benedict XVI, you just have to show me the text of the agreement, which I am barred from seeing till now, and the archival evidence which you say you could verify," says Cardinal Zen in a March 2 letter.
"Then there remains to be explained why it was not signed at that time [by Pope Benedict XVI]," states Zen.
In concluding his letter, Cardinal Zen quoted from the Gospel of Matthew (4:8-10): "Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, 'All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.' At this, Jesus said to him, 'Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”