In recent months, retired Hong Kong bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had sought but failed to meet Pope Francis in Rome. The two anti-communist firebrands were turned away for a good reason.

The Vatican correctly predicted that Donald Trump was set to lose the presidential election, and Pompeo would soon be out of a job. As for Zen, the churchman has long retired and represents no one. Even so, he has criticised the pope for not meeting Pompeo. Previously, he had called on the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to resign for reaching a preliminary deal with Beijing on the selection of bishops in China.

It’s ironic that people such as Zen are warning Beijing is trying to interfere with the long-delayed appointment of a Hong Kong bishop following the unexpected death of the local Catholic head, Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, last year. They and Pompeo are the ones trying to exercise unseemly influence on the Vatican.

Many Hong Kong people seem to think of the Vatican only as a church, albeit the ultimate Catholic one. However, in its dealings with other governments, it is a sovereign state and is recognised as such around the world. The Chinese communist government may be officially an atheistic state, but it fully respects the Vatican as a fellow sovereign.

Obviously, Beijing would prefer not to have an anti-communist ideologue such as Zen to head the Hong Kong diocese again. In the same way, the Vatican realises it needs a diplomatic church leader in the city, the most important one in all of China, not to antagonise Beijing. This doesn’t mean Beijing has been interfering with the Vatican the way Zen and Pompeo have been trying to do.

Zen thinks he still speaks for Hong Kong’s Catholics. At most, he represents his comrades from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese.

Established at the time of the 1997 handover, the commission is a thoroughly “yellow” anti-government outfit. In late August, it tried to advertise in Apple Daily for a “prayer” for the Lord to “deliver your people from oppression and slavery”, in a reference to the national security law. But the local church authority vetoed it.

Beijing and the Vatican are on course to reach rapprochement to secure a future for Catholics on the mainland. Ideological dinosaurs like Zen should not stand in the way.