He said he would spend more time monitoring Catholic churches in mainland China, according to The Associated Press, which quoted him as saying: “I do not retire to rest. The mainland Chinese church is huge and complicated. Sometimes the pope wants me to give him some advice, so I need more time to research it.”
Zen, who turns 77 next month, had twice before asked to be relieved of his diocesan duties. Pope Benedict XVI, he said Wednesday, approved his latest request to step down.
Zen, who was born in Shanghai and fled to Hong Kong after the Chinese civil war, has led the diocese since 2002. Bishop John Tong Hon, 69, who was born in Hong Kong, has been designated as his likely successor.
The Roman Catholic diocese of Hong Kong has an estimated 250,000 members. Macao, the former Portuguese colony and China’s other semiautonomous territory, has the only other Roman Catholic diocese in China.
Beijing and the Vatican have not had formal relations since Mao Zedong expelled the papal nuncio in 1951, two years after the Communist takeover. The relationship continues to be strained over the Holy See’s recognition of Taiwan.
Mao created the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in 1957 to control the church on the mainland. It now has an estimated 7 million members. Several million more mainland Catholics worship in underground churches, according to religion scholars.