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Hong Kong

Cardinal Zen targets Vatican silence on China, Hong Kong

Protesters 'are being let down by law enforcement, local authorities — and the Vatican'

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Cardinal Zen targets Vatican silence on China, Hong Kong

Cardinal Joseph Zen has accused the Vatican of appeasing China at any cost. (Photo: AFP)

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Cardinal Joseph Zen has taken aim at the Vatican for its silence on Hong Kong, the Uyghur concentration camps in Xinjiang and growing religious repression in mainland China

The city’s cardinal emeritus, who has been politically active in protests against any encroaching power by Beijing, used international media to take aim at the Holy See over its lack of support for the territory’s democracy protests despite the pope recently speaking out in favor of protesters in Chile and Lebanon.

“But these protesters are not rioters. These are our children, fighting for our democratic rights, who are under attack. And they are being let down by law enforcement, local authorities — and the Vatican,” Cardinal Zen, 87, wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post titled “What’s behind the Vatican’s silence on Hong Kong?”

“How sad it is to see our children beaten, humiliated, arrested and prosecuted. In the face of such injustice, several governments have spoken out despite risks to their economic interests in China. But there has been a corner of resounding silence. In all these months of demonstrations, the Vatican has not uttered a word of criticism toward Beijing.

“This is regrettable — but should not come as a surprise. The line followed by the Vatican in recent years when dealing with the threatening China giant has been appeasement at any cost.”

Cardinal Zen has been a trenchant critic of the Vatican’s September 2018 deal with Beijing on the appointment of bishops and he believes this has silenced Pope Francis on all things China.

He took particular aim at Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who “is the one who has his hands on the Chinese dossier. He clearly believes that such a position is necessary to open a new way for evangelization of the immense Chinese nation. I have strong doubts.”

Cardinal Zen attended an 800,000-strong street march in central Hong Kong on Dec. 8, International Human Rights Day, that was marred by arson attacks on the city’s Court of Appeal and High Court building.

“We hope that everything will be carried out peacefully, we hope that everything can be done peacefully, and small things will be done,” he had written on his Facebook site on Dec. 8.

“Don't get excited, don't be nervous and tolerate each other. Pray for God, the virgin gives us wisdom. We are in a city where God is caring and loving. The people around us are brothers and sisters on the left or right.”

Overwhelming election victory

The protest movement marked its six-month anniversary with a show of numbers not seen since the early months.

Two weeks earlier, anti-government parties won an overwhelming victory in council elections, taking the Hong Kong government and Beijing by surprise and underscoring widespread support for the protesters.

Police had given permission for the Dec. 8 march, changing tack from a more aggressive position that had seen protests turn increasingly violent.

“The government looks forward to working with the whole of society to curb violence, defend the rule of law and rebuild social order, and to find a way out of Hong Kong’s deep problems through dialogue,” a Hong Kong government spokesman said.

“During today’s march, violence and illegal acts still occurred, especially the attack and arson against the Court of Final Appeal and the High Court. In a society with the rule of law, everyone must respect courts, judges and their decisions."

Cardinal Zen's critique came only a week after the president of the Communist Party-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Bishop Fang Xingyao, said that "love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church,” adding that the "law of the country is above canon law."

Despite silence from the Vatican on Hong Kong, the city’s diocese has supported protesters. Cardinal John Tong Hon, 80, who was brought out of retirement by the pope on the death of Bishop Michael Yeung in January, has supported protesters and many of their demands, while Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has been regularly visible in his support of protesters, including those barricaded by police inside universities in recent months.

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