Cardinal Joseph Zen criticizes Vatican’s ‘unwise’ approach to China relations

Hong Kong, laprensalatina.com:

Hong Kong’s 90-year-old Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, an open critic of what he views as the Vatican’s soft approach to China, criticized the Holy See for being “unwise” despite its “perhaps good intention” on Tuesday, a day when Catholics around the world were encouraged to pray for the church in China.

Zen, one of Asia’s most senior Catholic clerics, spoke his mind during a mass he led on Tuesday evening in a Hong Kong church to mark the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

Coincidentally, just a few hours ago the retired bishop and five others appeared in a Hong Kong court to plead not guilty to charges over an alleged failure to register a fund that supported protesters in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in 2019.

Their court appearance came two weeks after Zen and four of the five defendants were arrested on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces, a more serious offense for which they have not been charged. The arrest of Zen sent shockwaves throughout the Catholic world and drew widespread criticism internationally.

During the 1.5-hour mass at Holy Cross Church in Sai Wan Ho, the soft-spoken cardinal subtly criticized the Roman Catholic Church’s historic 2018 agreement with China, whereby Chinese officials can choose bishops in China for the Pope to approve while China recognizes the Pope as head of the Catholic Church.

He said: “It’s said that all bishops in China are now recognized by the Pope, and the Holy See has signed an agreement [with China], meaning they [China] recognize the Pope.”

“The church has been unwise in certain areas although it may have good intentions. [It is] very impatient. It wants [China’s] open church and underground church to become one. Is there wholehearted faith? Perhaps not.”

In China, some 12 million Catholics are divided between those belonging to a state-sanctioned church and an underground one loyal to Rome. Zen has called the 2018 deal a “sell-out” of underground Catholics in China.

In 2020, he travelled to Rome to urge Pope Francis not to renew the deal, but was denied an audience. Currently, the Vatican is working on renewing the agreement again with Beijing later this year. Following Zen’s arrest two weeks ago, the Vatican said that it was “following the development of the situation with extreme attention.”

During his court appearance Tuesday morning together with five others, including pop singer Denise Ho, former opposition lawmakers Margaret Ng and Cyd Ho and scholar Hui Po-keung, it was heard that they allegedly failed to register the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund as an organization with the police.

Zen, an active pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong, and four of the defendants were trustees of the fund. The sixth defendant Sze Shing-wai was secretary of the organization, which was set up in 2019 to help arrested or injured protesters in need of help.

If convicted, they could face a fine of up to HK$10,000 (about US$1,275). The trial of the case will begin in September.

For the case related to suspicion of collusion with foreign forces, Zen, Denise Ho, Ng and Hui have to report to police in August. Cyd Ho is currently in jail serving a prison sentence. The offense, which comes under a harsh national security recently imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing, carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

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