(CNSNews.com) -- In a letter to the 223 cardinals of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, called on his colleagues to defend the church in Communist China, noting that the Vatican is compelling the faithful there "to enter a schismatic church."
He also challenged the cardinals' complacency, stating they are "passively" witnessing "the murder of the Church in China by those who should protect and defend her."
Cardinal Zen further noted that Pope Francis, despite promising in July 2019 that he would look at Zen's questions (dubia) about church registration in the communist regime, the Pope has yet to respond to Zen.
Cardinal Zen sent his letter to the cardinals -- the bishops who can vote for the next pope -- on Sept. 27, 2019. He made the letter public (and with an English translation) on Jan. 8, 2020, according to LifeSiteNews.
In the letter, Zen largely focuses on a June 2019 church document, "Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China."
As the cardinal explains, "it is quite clear" that the document "encourages the faithful in China to enter a schismatic church (independent of the pope and under the orders of the Communist Party."
"Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned 'patriotic religious associations' (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services," according to the U.S. State Department.
Catholics are required to register with the government but thousands of Catholics have not registered over the decades and have attended underground churches that are not affiliated with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
In September 2018, the Vatican signed an agreement with Chinese Communist officials to bring about some sort of union between the underground churches and the Patriotic Catholic Association, and implement new rules on the selection and ordination of priests and bishops.
However, that agreement has not been made public.
Cardinal Zen addresses that secret document in his letter, stating, "(By the way, why must such an agreement be secret, and why is it not granted even to me, a Chinese cardinal, to see it?) But, even more clearly, the whole reality after the signing of the  agreement shows that nothing has changed."
"Cardinal Parolin [the Vatican Secretary of State] quotes a sentence from Pope Benedict’s letter completely out of context — indeed, diametrically opposed to the whole paragraph," states Zen.
"This manipulation of the pope emeritus’s thought is gravely disrespectful," he writes, "indeed, it is a deplorable insult to the person of such a meek pope, who is still alive."
"But it also disgusts me that they [Vatican officials] often declare that what they are doing is in continuity with the thought of the previous pope, while the opposite is true," says Cardinal Zen. "I have reason to believe (and I hope one day to be able to prove with archival documents) that the agreement signed [in 2018] is the same one that Pope Benedict had, at the time, refused to sign."
Zen continued, "Your Eminence, can we passively witness the murder of the Church in China by those who should protect and defend her from her enemies?"
"Begging on my knees, your brother," he wrote and signed, "Card. Joseph ZEN, SDB."
Commenting on the Vatican deal with China, Catholic historian Henry Sire said Pope Francis is "amateurish and incompetent" and has "simply played into the hands of the Chinese dictatorship."
“The boot-licking media are never going to mention this blunder, as they would have done with a fanfare if it had been Benedict XVI," Sire told The National Interest. "But I hope the realities of what is going on in China will break through to enough people in the hierarchy and show them that this is yet another of Francis’s disasters."
The full letter can be read here.