spot_img

What lies behind Cardinal Zen’s arrest?


On May 11th, Hong Kong witnessed the arrest of a number of civil society and opposition figures, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, accused of having violated the China's national security law

On May 11th, Hong Kong witnessed the arrest of a number of civil society and opposition figures, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, former opposition MP Margaret Ng, and pop singer Denise Ho. The accusation against them is the violation of China's national security law, in effect since 2020, namely the collusion with foreign forces, which is one of the crimes punishable by arrest, including life imprisonment. This law marked a significant shift in Hong Kong's autonomy in relation to Beijing. The pro-democracy activists, who have been demonstrating for years to establish their rights, are undoubtedly the most vulnerable ones. However, the fundamental goal of this rule was to put a stop to such demonstrations, in order to avoid the weakening or damage to the Dragon's image.

Regardless of China's current priorities, such as managing the Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing did not waste much time in defending Hong Kong at the first sign of trouble. And so Joseph Zen, a ninety-year-old cardinal and the face of autonomy in Hong Kong and the Catholic Church, was arrested alongside other well-known figures, then released on bail the next day.

Cardinal Zen and the former parliamentarian and pop star are both among the administrators of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was established on June 15th, 2019, to provide financial and humanitarian support (primarily legal, medical, psychological, and financial assistance emergency) to people injured, arrested, attacked, or threatened with violence during the 2019 anti-government protests. Another prominent figure, academician Hui Po Keung, was arrested with the same charges a week before the cardinal's arrest.

The arrest of the cardinal sparked widespread surprise, due to two factors: one of a political nature, which many analysts support, and the other of a religious nature.

Cardinal Zen vs. John Lee

In the first scenario, the emphasis is on timing: it is no coincidence that China went on the offensive just a few days after the election of Hong Kong's new leader, John Lee. Furthermore, Beijing quickly announced that Chinese officials, legal experts, and lawmakers have refuted the conclusions reached by the US, Canada, and the European Union in relation to the Order's most recent activities in Hong Kong, emphasising once again how China's internal affairs are being managed by China without interferences from outside actors. China has also repeatedly emphasised the importance of the rule of law and how no individual or organisation could ever be above it.

Cardinal Zen vs. Pope Francis

However, from a religious standpoint, the implications of such actions on the already tense relations between Beijing and the Holy See cannot be underestimated. First and foremost, it is critical to remember that the Catholic Church in China is divided into two parts: the official Church and the so-called "underground" Church. Beijing approves the official Church, which is in charge of selecting cardinals and bishops without reporting to the Holy See. The "underground" Catholic Church, which is followed by all Christians who do not want to split from the one Church, is made up of bishops and cardinals directly chosen by the Pope.

This division, however, came to an end with Pope Francis in 2018. In fact, in September 2018, the Holy See and the People's Republic of China signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops, under which these decisions will be made in agreement to avoid further divisions within the Church. This agreement was renewed in 2020 in the hope of reaching an agreement with the Chinese government.

What matters in this context is Zen's role as the main and most vocal critic of the agreement in China. Among the various accusations levelled, Zen criticised the Holy See and the Vatican Secretary of State's hypocrisy, as well as criticisms of the Holy See's deteriorating diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

It is no coincidence that Pope Francis avoided meeting the cardinal during his visit to Rome in order to avoid clashes with Beijing (replica of the meeting missed in 2014 with the Dalai Lama for the same reasons). Zen's trip to Rome was specifically intended to provoke a confrontation with Pope Francis in the hope that the latter would recognise the importance of human rights and Hong Kong's autonomy and avoid “selling” itself out to China.

Whether for religious or political reasons, the arrest of Cardinal Zen has raised serious concerns in the Vatican, particularly in light of the meeting scheduled for next October, at which the Chinese and Vatican delegations will have to decide whether or not to renew the aforementioned agreement.

It is difficult to make predictions, but one can imagine the political and religious ramifications of the Beijing government's decisions concerning Hong Kong. If, on the one hand, the new era of Hong Kong, based on the slogans "security" and "stability," could increase pro-democracy revolts and protests (with potentially violent consequences and international media coverage), any diplomatic problems with the Holy See could undermine the protection of the faithful and prelates who do not recognise themselves in the CCP principles.

- Advertisement -spot_img

The power of the media: the focus and credibility of information in today’s world

Media and its influence on our perception of the world