The Trials of Cardinal Zen

DON’T bother looking for a weekly editorial lionising Cardinal Joseph Zen or for a deluxe feature in Vogue. Don’t expect to see his episcopal motto (Ipsi cura est) trending on Twitter either. Unlike à la mode money-launderer, Volodymyr Zelensky – who spends his time in the rear with the Zoom gear – the 90 year-old retired Bishop of Hong Kong put his own little body on the line to oppose the Chinese Communist Party. On 11 May, he was arrested and charged with sedition for helping to run the now banned 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund – set up to defray the legal and other costs of those on trial for involvement in the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests. As political activist Alex Chow attests, there is no kindness the Cardinal hasn’t done for victims of Beijing’s violence. The old man once took a city bus to visit Chow in the maximum security Pik Uk prison where he spent an hour encouraging him. Not as newsworthy as Angelina Jolie jetting to Ukraine for a quick photo-op with a fellow actor but memorable for Chow. In 2014, the fearless priest led a walkathon for universal suffrage and said Mass for the martyrs of Tiananmen Square.

With the trial of Zen and his co-accused now underway, another arraignment – this one at the bar of history – begins. In a brutal Wall Street Journal indictment widely discussed last week, William McGurn condemned Pope Francis on Monday as a traitor remaining silent on Zen’s persecution to protect Rome’s secret accord with Beijing on church governance in the communist hellhole. One of several factors making the Cardinal’s situation extra fraught is that the Sino-Vatican agreement is due for renewal in October. A few other things have probably angered a Pope famous for grudges: Zen being a signatory to a 2020 appeal for the protection of the “inalienable rights of citizens and their fundamental freedoms” during the pandemic; backing the Tridentine Mass that Francis fears; and calling Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Cardinal Parolin a liar on China policy. “He says what he feels” despite “limitations,” Francis said of Zen’s prosecution to a reporter on the pontiff’s flight from Kazakhstan last week. For McGurn, this response was a sop with only one precedent in papal history: “All that was missing was a cock crowing in the background.”

That triteness aside, nonchalance is not cowardice – especially when it’s studied. Francis may be a villain but he isn’t necessarily the villain of the piece. For three reasons, discretion is warranted by those inclined to shove him into the Tiber. First, as a member of the WSJ editorial board, McGurn should know better than to make assumptions about a document that he hasn’t read. It isn’t a cock that’s missing; it’s a clue. We cannot be sure secrecy isn’t protecting Chinese concessions on the appointment of bishops and other ecclesiastical matters. Nor, if relevant here – as it probably is – should a pope casually risk the lives of hundreds or thousands of people to satisfy journalists. For good reason, the argument from the Netherlands remains influential. Second, be wary of Stand Up To China grandstanding. Not because the Chinese deserve a break but because baiting enemies has become a distraction contrived by neo-con psychopaths and disaster-prone governments in North America and Europe. Finally, Joseph Zen hasn’t blamed Pope Francis for anything, including the allegedly imprudent entente cordiale with China. He is a man.

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10 Responses to The Trials of Cardinal Zen

  1. rosie says:

    It’s always been my belief that in World War II the Pope remained silent to save lives, and countless lives were saved, as a result.

  2. NoFixedAddress says:

    Finally, Joseph Zen hasn’t blamed Pope Francis for anything, including the allegedly imprudent entente cordiale with China. He is a man.

    An extraordinary man.

  3. Roger W says:

    Come on, Francis is not someone you should be defending. He is a disgrace.
    As one of the comments to the WSJ article said,
    I’m not clear as to what Mr. McGurn would have the Pope do. Should he renounce the things he says he believes in?
    The Pope’s lack of support for Cardinal Zen not only isn’t surprising, it’s actually quite expected. Both Pope Francis and Xi Jinping seek the deterioration and ultimately the destruction of Western civilization. Two peas in a pod.

  4. C.L. says:

    Like McGurn, though Roger, the commenter has no responsibility for other people’s lives. The Pope would also be aware that Zen will likely receive harsher treatment if he makes a racket about the case.

    His discretion is commonly practiced by all state leaders when a compatriot is in jeopardy in a brutal jurisdiction. I am happy to criticise Francis but not on the say-so of war-crazed News Corp.

  5. Francis the Red betrayed both Cardinal Zen, who deserves to be Pope, and the Church itself.

  6. C.L. says:

    There isn’t enough information available to draw that conclusion.
    It’s thought Zen will be fined for failure to register an organisation.

    Would it be preferable to blabbermouth him into a prison sentence?

  7. C.L. says:

    I should note that McGurn segues from his crowing cock comparison to lauding Nancy Pelosi – the excommunicated Jan 6 jailer – as exemplary re Zen.

    This gave McGurn’s game away. He is less interested in principle than he is in showboating.

    Pelosi’s victims have been in solitary confinement for a year without trials.

  8. Lee says:

    Pelosi’s victims have been in solitary confinement for a year without trials.

    Have they even been charged yet?
    Especially compared with 2020 rioters (and worse) treated very leniently, and often released very quickly by Democrat AGs, the treatment handed out to Jan. 6 political prisoners is a national shame and disgrace.

  9. NoFixedAddress says:


    As much as I dislike Francis the Pope I agree with your reasoning.

  10. NoFixedAddress says:

    If nothing else you have to admire a Chinese bloke with the name Zen who becomes a Catholic Cardinal!

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