The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Cardinal Zen stands trial in Hong Kong

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, is pictured in a file phot. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Rome Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 02:40 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen and five others stood trial in Hong Kong on Monday for failing to properly register a fund to provide legal aid to pro-democracy protesters.

The 90-year-old cardinal and retired bishop of Hong Kong arrived at the court in West Kowloon on Sept. 26 using a cane to walk. He was arrested in May along with other democracy activists under Hong Kong’s strict national security law.

In addition to Zen, who has been free on bail since early May, several others have been charged for failing to apply for local society registration for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund between 2019 and 2021.

Those accused with Zen are lawyer Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung, activist Sze Ching-wee, and ex-legislator Cyd Ho.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Cyd Ho is already jailed for a different charge. The fund helped pro-democracy protesters pay their legal fees until it dissolved itself in October 2021.

On the first day of the trial, the prosecution said that the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund had raised a total of $34.4 million and used part of the fund for “political activities and non-charity events,” such as donations to protest groups, AFP reported.

The defense argued that this was irrelevant to the charge as to whether the humanitarian fund had registered correctly. The defendants’ lawyers previously said they had the right to associate under Hong Kong’s Basic Law — the legal framework created when Great Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997.

The defendants have not yet been indicted under Hong Kong’s national security law, which broadly criminalizes “sedition” and “collusion with foreign forces,” which would have carried much more severe penalties.

If convicted under the current charge, Zen and the others could face a fine of about $1,200 but no jail time. Zen’s trial, delayed by one week after the presiding judge tested positive for COVID-19, is expected to conclude in November, according to AFP.

Vatican response

The Vatican has remained mostly silent on Zen’s trial apart from issuing a statement after the cardinal’s arrest in May expressing “concern” and that it was “following the development of the situation with extreme attention.”

The cardinal’s trial comes as the Holy See and Beijing are determining the terms of the renewal of an agreement on the appointment of bishops in China. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in an Italian television interview on Sept. 2 that a delegation of Vatican diplomats has returned from China and that he believes that the agreement will be renewed this fall.

Zen has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Vatican’s agreement with China since it was first signed in 2018, calling it “an incredible betrayal.”

Pope Francis did not directly respond to a question about Zen’s trial during an in-flight press conference on Sept. 15.

He said the Vatican had “chosen the path of dialogue” with China.

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller has expressed disappointment that the College of Cardinals has not expressed “full solidarity with Zen.”

Following a meeting of nearly 200 Catholic cardinals at the Vatican last month, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told Il Messaggero on Sept. 1: “From the silence of this consistory on the Zen case, I have fears.”

“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,” Mueller 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 Zen

Zen was born into a Catholic family in Shanghai in 1932 during the years of the Chinese Communist Party insurgency against China’s Nationalist government.

At the age of 16, he fled Shanghai for Hong Kong a year before the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949.

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, many Catholics were arrested for refusing to comply with government campaigns to eliminate foreign influence and nationalize private schools. China severed diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951.

Zen was ordained a Salesian priest in 1961 and later served as the Salesian provincial superior for China, teaching philosophy and theology in seminaries in the country from 1989 to 1996.

John Paul II named him a coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong in 1996, a year before the British handover of the Hong Kong colony to China. Zen became the bishop of the diocese in 2002, a post he held until his retirement in 2009.

As bishop emeritus, Zen has been an outspoken voice as both a strong supporter of democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong and a fierce critic of the Vatican’s provisional agreement with Chinese authorities signed in 2018.

After Beijing imposed its national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020, Zen told CNA that the Catholics arrested under the new law’s provisions were “simply putting into practice the social teaching of the Church.”

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

The cardinal offered Mass after his first court appearance in May after his arrest and said in his homily: “Martyrdom is normal in our Church.”

“We may not have to do that, but we may have to bear some pain and steel ourselves for our loyalty to our faith,” the cardinal said.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Catholic News Agency 9055 Articles
Catholic News Agency (


  1. The Vatican may remain silent, as it has with the arrest and jailing of many Catholic and other religious groups over the years, turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses, even organ harvesting, yet, our Bishops could and should speak out. Many of our dioceses in the U.S. have large Chinese communities, and our bringing attention to the issue, not only in Hong Kong and China, but the role of Big Tech companies, and international hedge funds based here, can have a major influence. In short, as was done with South Africa a generation ago concerning apartheid, we need to pressure financial interests here to divest from a system based on human rights abuses.

  2. The Pope has chosen the ‘path of dialogue’ with China in the matter of their arrest of a 90 year old Cardinal of the Catholic Church.

    Wow – that makes me feel all warm and cuddly inside.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Cardinal Zen stands trial in Hong Kong | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. Walking with Generation Z: Steps Toward Flourishing – Catholic World Report – Catholic World Report |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.