Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen was arrested by Hong Kong’s national security police for violating the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in June 2022 that outlaws “terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession.” The maximum possible punishment is life imprisonment. Police sources stated that they started investigating the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, described as a fund that helped protesters during pro-democracy, anti-CCP protests in 2019. Cardinal Zen was one of four people arrested by authorities. He has since been released on bail.
According to ABC News, Cardinal Zen, age 90, was charged with “colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security.” Cardinal Zen was a trustee of the fund under investigation. ABC News describes Cardinal Zen as a “fierce critic of China,” but in reality Cardinal Zen is a fierce critic of the CCP and one of the greatest champions of the Chinese people. Cardinal Zen has also been vocal in his criticism of the Vatican for its 2018 agreement with the CCP over the nomination of bishops.
Cardinal Zen was born in Yan King-pan in Eastern China, near Shanghai. He was ordained as a priest in 1961. He was appointed bishop of Hong Kong in 2002 and was elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict in 2008. According to the National Catholic Register, when the new CCP national security law was extended to Hong Kong in 2020, Cardinal Zen prophetically said the law would “take away all guarantee of civil rights” and remarked that in Hong Kong “nothing is safe anymore.” Christopher Patten, Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong, described Cardinal Zen as “a real prince of the Church — brave, pastoral, and on the right side of history.”
Cardinal Zen has demonstrated — in both his condemnation of the CCP and his criticism of the Vatican —that, like Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he is unafraid to speak the truth to power. He has followed Christ’s admonition to “Be not afraid.” And he has taken to heart and put into practice Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Cardinal Zen’s unerring commitment to the Catholic faith and its teachings is reminiscent of Bishop Ignatius Kung, who served 30 years in Chinese communist prisons for “treason” by refusing to renounce the faith. Bishop Kung was arrested in 1955 and paroled in 1985. Pope John Paul II in 1979 secretly (“in pectore”) named Kung a Cardinal in order to protect him from further persecution by the CCP.
The importance of Cardinal Zen’s arrest extends beyond human rights in China. The United States is in a struggle with the CCP for preeminence in the world. China’s goal under President Xi Jinping is to replace America as the architect of the global order. In such a global order, China’s national security law and similar affronts to freedom and liberty would be commonplace, internationally accepted, and perhaps glorified by the world’s obedient and submissive lesser nations. Whether Cardinal Zen, like Christopher Patten said, is on the “right side of history” is still, unfortunately, in doubt.