The 90-year-old bishop emeritus of Hong Kong was arrested for his support of an organization that provided legal and material aid to pro-democracy activists.
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Cardinal Joseph Zen’s arrest on Wednesday by Hong Kong national security police, has raised concerns from the United States Catholic bishops and the Vatican.
“The alarming news of the May 11 arrest in Hong Kong of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun due to his past role in administering a humanitarian fund for protestors indicates the downward trend in respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong,” Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice, said in a statement.
The 90-year-old, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, an outspoken critic of Beijing’s Communist regime, was arrested on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces. Zen and three other administrators of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, an NGO that assists Hong Kongers who support the democratic opposition movement to the Chinese Communist Party, were taken into custody and later released on bail.
If convicted, the four could receive maximum sentences of life in prison, according to police.
The pro-democracy organization was disbanded in September of 2021 when investigations were launched into its activities. The NGO provided financial and legal help activists arrested, attacked or threatened with violence.
In his statement Malloy called Zen, a “steadfast pastor and strong supporter of democracy and justice.”
The bishop added that the Vatican shared his concerns, and called for prayer and the pursuit of justice.
“The Vatican’s press office said Wednesday, ‘The Holy See has learned with concern the news of Cardinal Zen’s arrest and is following the evolution of the situation with extreme attention.’ I join with the Holy See in expressing concern for the fate of Cardinal Zen and others who share his current predicament. I invite all those of good will to pray for their safety and that justice may prevail,” said Malloy.
A critic of the Holy See’s policies toward China
Cardinal Zen has been a critic of the Holy See’s policies aimed at normalizing relations between China’s “underground” Catholic Church and the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
He has spoken openly against the 2018 agreement between the Vatican and China in which the Holy See agreed to recognize bishops previously appointed by the Chinese government and excommunicated by the Church. In return, China reportedly agreed to recognize the pope’s authority over the Catholic Church, and his right of a final say over the naming of bishops.