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A handful of Catholic leaders and others voice support for Cardinal Zen as his trial begins

null / Screenshot from livestream of Mass

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

As Cardinal Joseph Zen begins his trial in Hong Kong, a number of Catholic leaders and human rights activists have come out with statements of support for the 90-year-old bishop emeritus.

Zen and five others are charged with failing to register properly a fund that provided legal aid to pro-democracy protesters. An outspoken critic of Beijing’s communist regime, Zen served as a trustee of the “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund,” which helped pay legal and medical bills for protesters arrested and hurt during the 2019 demonstrations in Hong Kong.

These are the Catholic leaders, scholars, and human rights activists who have publicly expressed their solidarity with Zen as his trial commences:

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, wrote in support of Zen in Avvenire Sept. 23.

“Cardinal Zen is a ‘man of God’; at times intemperate, but submissive to the love of Christ, who wanted him to be his priest, deeply in love, like Don Bosco, with youth,” Filoni wrote.

He concluded his statement, which he called “a testimony to the truth,” by saying: “Cardinal Zen is not to be condemned. Hong Kong, China, and the Church have a devoted son in him, not to be ashamed of.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, made an appeal for prayers on Twitter on Sept. 19 as Zen’s trial was scheduled to begin (it was postponed because the judge contracted COVID-19):

“Today be sure to remember our brother in faith, 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, who is on trial in China, and also the Church in China, which is regularly attacked and restricted by the government. And pray for Christians everywhere who are being persecuted for their faith,” he wrote.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, wrote on Sept. 18:

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco shared his prayer for Zen on Twitter on Sept. 26:

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan, offered his prayers on Twitter Sept. 26:

On Sept. 1, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, shared his disappointment that Zen was not present at the meeting of the College of Cardinals in August.

“Perhaps the Church should be freer and less bound to power-based, worldly logic, consequently freer to intervene and, if necessary, to criticize those politicians who end up suppressing human rights. In this case, I wonder why not criticize Beijing,” Müeller said.

“Zen is a symbol and he was arrested on a pretext, he did nothing, he is an influential, courageous, and much-feared figure by the government,” he said. “He is over 80 years old and we have left him all alone.”

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), offered his support shortly after Zen’s arrest in May:

In a statement, he wrote: “My brother Cardinal, His Eminence Joseph Zen, was arrested and faces charges simply because he served as a trustee of a fund which provided legal aid to activists facing court cases. In any system where the rule of law exists, providing assistance to help people facing prosecution meet their legal fees is a proper and accepted right. How can it be a crime to help accused persons have legal defense and representation?”

Words of support and criticism of communist Beijing came from scholars, human rights activists and those who have fought for religious freedom around the world. 

Father Benedict Kiely, founder of Nasarean.org, shared his assessment of Zen’s trial with CNA:  

“I would say that Cardinal Zen joins a long list of ‘white martyrs’ — those who suffer for the faith. Often, like Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty in Hungary, they are abandoned by the Church that should be defending them. Cardinal Zen is a fighter for freedom and religious liberty — and a great inspiration for all those who work for religious freedom. I fear the Church in Hong Kong, like in mainland China, is facing a time of deeper struggle and persecution.” 

Human rights advocate David Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, posted on Twitter on Sept. 26: 

“As Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng, and others stand trial in Hong Kong recall how the CCP arrested and imprisoned Shanghai’s Bishop Kung... same old CCP, same old kangaroo courts, hatred of dissent. And the same courage in response.”

Benedict Rogers, the founder of Hong Kong Watch, wrote on Twitter Sept. 26:

And Paul Marshall, the director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team, told CNA that Zen’s trial confirms that Beijing is cracking down on dissent:

“The prosecution and trial of 90-year-old Cardinal Zen for peacefully raising funds shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government will go to crush any vestiges of dissent and free religion in Hong Kong or the mainland. It further undercuts China’s 1997 promise of ‘one country, two systems’ when Hong Kong was returned to its rule and shows the government cannot be trusted to keep its agreements.”