5 things to know about Cardinal Zen

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA


Cardinal Joseph Zen. / Iris Tong via Wikimedia (Public Domain).

Rome Newsroom, May 11, 2022 / 11:05 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former leader of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, was reportedly released on bail late on Wednesday night.

The news came hours after he was detained by the authorities on May 11 over his connection to a fund which supported pro-democracy protesters.

Zen’s release took place after commentators and human rights activists had decried the 90-year-old cardinal’s arrest, and the Vatican had said it was following the news “with concern.”

Here are five things to know about Hong Kong bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen:

1. Cardinal Zen is a Salesian

Cardinal Zen was ordained a priest on Feb. 11, 1961, for the Society of Don Bosco, better known as the Salesian order.

Before he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong in 1996, he served for six years as the Salesian Provincial Superior for China, where he also taught theology and philosophy in Chinese seminaries.

2. Cardinal Zen appreciates the Traditional Latin Mass

After Pope Francis issued restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in 2021, Zen called it a “blow” to “the hearts of many good people.”

While he said he was not considered “an extremist” on the topic, and he worked to enact the liturgical reform of Vatican II while he was a priest and bishop, he believed that good had come out of an earlier document by Benedict XVI liberalizing its celebration.

Zen also said that he thought many people hurt by the restrictions “have never given the smallest reason to be suspected of not accepting the liturgical reform of the [Second Vatican Council].”

3. Zen is an outspoken supporter of democracy

The cardinal, who was bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 to 2009, has been praised for his long defense of Catholics against communist oppression and human rights violations in mainland China.

He has also been a strong supporter of democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong, especially as Beijing imposed its national security law in June 2020.

After the law went into effect, prominent pro-democracy activists and journalists — many of them Catholics — were arrested.

Zen told CNA in September 2020 that Catholics arrested under the new law’s provisions, such as Jimmy Lai, Agnes Chow, and Martin Lee, were “simply putting into practice the social teaching of the Church.”

“In this moment, democracy means freedom and human rights, human dignity,” Zen said.

He was reportedly arrested in his role as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees.

4. He has criticized the Vatican’s approach to China

In 2020, Zen published a blog post on his personal website commenting critically on the Holy See’s approach to the Catholic Church in China, including its release in 2019 of a set of “pastoral guidelines.”

That document, Zen said, was “blatantly evil, immoral, because it legitimizes a schismatic Church.”

He also accused the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin of manipulating Pope Francis.

“It’s difficult to understand how this man has become so powerful to dominate the whole Roman Curia,” he wrote.

5. The cardinal is a good cook

Friends of the cardinal say he has skills in the kitchen and his most well-known dish is pork.

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