Cardinal Joseph Zen pleaded not guilty to the charges against him at his first court hearing, held at the West Kowloon courthouse on May 24, 2022, reports the local daily South China Morning Post. Arrested and released on bail on May 11, the former Hong Kong bishop was in court because he is a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, an association that assisted pro-democracy activists in the 2019 riots to defend themselves in court.
The cardinal, four other trustees and the fund’s secretary are all accused of failing to legally declare the fund under local law. They have pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Originally arrested for “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” under the security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020, the six defendants have not yet been charged with that offense.
They are currently facing a small fine – 10,000 Hong Kong dollars, or 1,274 euros – for this lesser offense, which does not fall within the scope of the security law, France 24 reports.
Their trial will begin on September 19, more or less the same time period during which the question of whether or not to renew the pastoral agreement between the Vatican and China signed in September 2018 and renewed in October 2020 will be raised.
Cardinal Zen is one of the strongest opponents of this deal.
The day after the cardinal’s arrest, the Holy See expressed its deep concern and said it was following “very closely the evolution of the situation.”
After the hearing, Cardinal Zen made no comment to the press. He is scheduled to celebrate a Mass this evening for the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, which coincidentally falls today, the feast of Mary, Help of Christians.
On May 22, after the Regina Caeli, Pope Francis recalled this celebration, saying that he is following the situation in China very closely.