Cardinal Joseph Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong, wrote on Monday that the Vatican seemed to be “selling out the Catholic Church in China.” Vatican officials now expect the pope’s stance in China to provoke more such criticisms from Chinese Catholics who reject government control of the church.

This isn’t the first time Catholics have complained that the pope has abandoned them in pursuit of diplomatic or political ends. But while the outcome of his China initiative remains uncertain, when Pope Francis has seemed to make such trade-offs in the past, the nature of his long-term goals has generally limited the outcry and any damage to his image.

Pope Francis “is a man of extreme realism who calculates very much the effects of what he says or does,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert who writes for Italy’s L’Espresso magazine. “In order to achieve certain results he is quite ready to play down the concern that he otherwise shows for the persecuted and the oppressed.”