Hong Kong Trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen Stalled by Coronavirus

Joseph Zen

ROME — The trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen for his support of pro-democracy protests in 2019 has been delayed a week after one of the trial judges tested positive for coronavirus.

The trial, which was slated to begin on Monday, will now open on September 26, according to the Pillar Catholic, a U.S.-based news outlet.

The 90-year-old cardinal, who served as bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 to 2009, was arrested last May for alleged “collusion with foreign agents,” a category introduced by the territory’s 2020 National Security law, but charges were subsequently lessened to a failure to properly register the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Fund.

The trial will be conducted in Chinese rather than English, a provision requested by the prosecution in a move thought to weaken the defense, since the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance drew on language from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights regarding free assembly and other similar rights.

While Cardinal Zen has received an outpouring of support from Western governments, fellow prelates, human rights groups, and even the European Parliament, he has been virtually abandoned by the Vatican, which has refused to protest what many see as an egregious violation of religious freedom.

Last week, Pope Francis was asked outright whether he sees Zen’s arrest and trial as an abuse of religious liberty, but the pontiff sidestepped the question and spoke instead of the need for dialogue with China.

The pope denied that China’s Communist regime is “undemocratic,” insisting rather that the matter is too “complex” for such characterizations.

“It is not easy to understand the Chinese mentality, but it should be respected, I always respect this,” he said.

Cardinal Zen has been an outspoken critic of the Vatican’s appeasement policy with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including its secret 2018 agreement sharing authority with Beijing in the naming of Catholic bishops and its reversal of a rule barring clerics from joining the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, set up in 1957 as an alternative structure independent of Vatican authority.

According to many observers, the situation for Catholics and other Christians in China has deteriorated significantly since the inking of the Sino-Vatican accord, rather than improving.


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