By Lee Yuk Yue and Hoi Man Wu
A court in Hong Kong has adjourned the trial of outspoken Catholic activist Cardinal Joseph Zen and four co-defendants until Oct. 26.
Retired Catholic bishop and Cardinal Joseph Zen and five co-defendants pleaded not guilty at the West Kowloon Magistrates Court to failing to properly register their 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which offered financial, legal and psychological help to people arrested during the 2019 protest movement.
The West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court adjourned the trial after defense attorneys for Zen and his co-defendants, former pro-democracy lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng, scholar Hui Po-keung, jailed former lawmaker Cyd Ho, Cantopop star Denise Ho and former fund secretary Sze Shing-wee, tried to counter police witnesses called by the prosecution.
The prosecution was allowed to fully make its case that the defendants should have registered the fund within one month of starting operation, but when the defense came to cross-examine them, their questions were overruled as irrelevant.
The trial was adjourned before the defense could call witnesses or make its case, after judge Ada Yim ruled that their testimony was already well-established. It had been scheduled to run for five days.
Zen and the other defendants were arrested in May under a draconian national security law for “colluding with foreign forces,” but have yet to be indicted on that charge.
On the first day of the trial on Monday, the prosecution said the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund had raised a total of U.S.$34.4 million and used part of the fund for “political activities and non-charity events” such as donations to protest groups.
The defense argued that the defendants had a right to form an association under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
The Vatican has remained mostly silent on Zen’s trial apart from issuing a statement after the cardinal’s arrest in May expressing “concern” and that it was “following the development of the situation with extreme attention,” the Catholic News Agency reported.
The cardinal’s trial comes as the Holy See and Beijing are determining the terms of the renewal of an agreement on the appointment of bishops in China, it said.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in an Italian television interview on Sept. 2 that a delegation of Vatican diplomats has returned from China and that he believes that the agreement will be renewed by the end of the year, it said.
Zen has been an outspoken critic of the 2018 deal, calling it “an incredible betrayal.”
‘Man of God’
Pope Francis said on Sept. 15 that the Vatican has “chosen the path of dialogue” with China.
However, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, an expert in Chinese affairs, said in a recent article in the bishops’ newspaper Avvenire that Zen “is a man of God; at times intemperate, but submissive to the love of Christ.”
“He is an authentic Chinese. No one among those I have known, can, I say, be truly as loyal as he is,” Filoni wrote.
Zen traveled to Rome last year, in a bid to discuss who will be the next Bishop of Hong Kong, but was denied an audience with the Pope, and returned home empty-handed, he told the National Catholic Register at the time.
As well as criticizing the Vatican’s deal with Beijing, Zen has said he fears that appointing a bishop for Hong Kong who is totally obedient to the CCP would effectively collapse any distinction between the Catholic church in mainland China and that in Hong Kong.
He said such a collapse had been made likely by the imposition by Beijing of the national security law on Hong Kong with effect from July 1, 2020, and that the Vatican had “taken leave” of the church’s principles in signing the deal.
“Everyone in the Chinese Catholic church is now a yes-man for the Chinese government and the underground church has been eliminated,” Zen, who has said he will refuse to be interred alongside CCP-appointed clergy in a Hong Kong cathedral, told RFA in October 2021.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.