Arrest of Cardinal Zen send chills through Hong Kong’s Catholic church

Even earlier than the arrest this week of its former high cleric, Hong Kong’s Catholic church had been worrying concerning the impact of the Chinese language territory’s sweeping nationwide safety legislation.

Native Catholic leaders just lately determined to cancel annual commemorations of China’s bloody crushing of protests in Tiananmen Sq. in 1989 for worry of violating the legislation imposed by Beijing two years in the past, in line with church insiders.

The cancellation of this 12 months’s commemorative plenty on June 4 underscores the chilling impact that Hong Kong’s intensifying political crackdown has already had even inside non secular communities.

However the arrest on Wednesday of Cardinal Joseph Zen has despatched new shockwaves by means of the town simply days after hardliner and former safety chief John Lee, himself a Catholic, was confirmed as its subsequent chief.

Additionally it is prone to gasoline divisions throughout the Catholic church about how to answer growing political repression in Hong Kong.

Police have accused Zen of colluding with overseas forces, an offence underneath the 2020 safety legislation. The 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong is an outspoken human rights campaigner and was arrested together with 4 different trustees of a fund set as much as assist pay the authorized and medical charges of individuals in citywide pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019.

Clergymen and senior lay folks within the Hong Kong church stated that the concentrating on of the cardinal, who was launched on bail on Wednesday evening, had deeply saddened Catholics within the metropolis.

“When he was arrested I was really shocked . . . I think there will be more suppression of the church in Hong Kong in the future,” stated one, who like different church insiders declined to be recognized for worry of repercussions from metropolis authorities.

The Hong Kong church has for greater than 20 years commemorated the crushing by Chinese language troops of student-led protests centred on Tiananmen Sq. on June 4 1989. However final 12 months Hong Kong law enforcement officials had been seen standing outdoors church doorways holding video cameras.

“It’s not a safe time for us to hold the mass in public,” stated one individual concerned in cancelling this 12 months’s commemorations. “We have security concerns, because the political situation is getting tense.”

One priest stated that this 12 months “we will not mention June 4. But it will be in our hearts”.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s outgoing chief govt, is a Catholic, and her successor Lee stated final week that he nonetheless believed within the teachings he obtained as a toddler at a Jesuit faculty in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

However requested by the Monetary Occasions about Zen’s arrest, which was condemned by human rights teams and governments together with the US, Canada and UK, Lee made clear that Catholic credentials can be no safety for these accused of violating the safety legislation. “Action will be taken accordingly regardless of the person’s background,” Lee stated.

It was Lee who oversaw the introduction of the legislation in a earlier function as safety secretary. The Beijing-backed former policeman was formally confirmed as Hong Kong’s subsequent chief on Sunday and will probably be sworn in on July 1.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s chief executive-elect, with Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief govt, in Hong Kong on Monday © Bertha Wang/Bloomberg

“[Zen’s arrest] has also sent out a warning that even religious leaders . . . cannot be exempted from penalties under the law just because of their status,” stated Lau Siu-kai, from the Chinese language Affiliation of Hong Kong and Macau Research, a Beijing-based think-tank.

The Hong Kong church stated it was “extremely concerned”. “We urge the Hong Kong police and the judicial authorities to handle Cardinal Zen’s case in accordance with justice,” the town diocese stated. “We have always upheld the rule of law. We trust that in the future we will continue enjoying religious freedom in Hong Kong.”

Present bishop of Hong Kong Stephen Chow, who was appointed final 12 months, has not taken any public stance on the safety legislation.

Nonetheless, the cardinal’s arrest is prone to widen divisions within the Hong Kong church between pro-democracy campaigners equivalent to Zen and others who both supported the federal government or believed that the church shouldn’t be concerned in politics.

Professional-democracy activists have accused the church of siding with the latter camp, with many citing a diplomatic deal in 2018 during which the Vatican agreed that Beijing ought to have a say within the appointment of bishops in China.

Within the newest incident, a diocesan administrator tendered their resignation over a posting on the “Catholic Way” Fb web page on April 27. The put up, which was rapidly deleted, summarised a tv interview during which a neighborhood priest accused China of making an attempt to manage faith in Hong Kong. The diocese stated the administrator had resigned of their very own accord.

The police investigation of the 612 Humanitarian Aid Fund, of which Zen was a trustee and which supported pro-democracy protesters, may even have implications for Hong Kong’s authorized system.

Police stated on Thursday that they’d complained to the Bar Affiliation and Regulation Society about alleged misconduct by unnamed attorneys who took on the fund’s circumstances.

“Criminal investigation also revealed that a number of solicitors and barristers were suspected of professional misconduct when providing legal services,” police stated.

“It’s obvious [the authorities] have commenced targeting lawyers who are providing support to political prisoners in Hong Kong,” stated Eric Yan-ho Lai of the Georgetown Heart for Asian Regulation. “Legal representatives should not be intimidated for who they represent.”

One Hong Kong priest stated that no space of life within the metropolis would escape the tightening of political controls.

“If you ask whether [local] priests are now more worried about the security law . . . I would tell you that everyone in Hong Kong is concerned about the law,” he stated.

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