Cardinal Zen arrest: A roundup of reactions

Cardinal Joseph Zen Official Photo 1 Cardinal Joseph Zen. Courtesy Photo.

UPDATE: While Cardinal Zen has now been released on bail, reactions to his arrest continue.

The Holy See Press office stated that “The Holy See has learned with concern the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the development of the situation with extreme attention.” 

White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that “Freedom of expression are critical to prosperous and secure societies,” the Hill reported.

She added, “We call on PRC and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong’s advocates and to immediately release those who have been unjustly detained and charged, like the Cardinal Joseph Zen … and others arrested today.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence tweeted “Pray for Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90 years of age, who has been unjustly arrested by the Chinese Communists, and for all those in the world who suffer for their Catholic Faith. Though separated by distance, we stand in complete solidarity with today’s heroes and martyrs."

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler responded to Tobin by tweeting, “Thank you Bishop Tobin and others for your support of Cardinal Zen….let us pray that all bishops,priests, deacons and faithful join us in prayer and call for Justice for Cardinal Zen.”

In a tweet, former member of Congress Dan Lipinski [D-IL] took aim at the Chinese Communist Party for Zen's arrest.

“The Chinese Communist Party apparently fears 90 year old Catholic Cardinal Zen so much that they arrest him for his pro-democracy work,” Lipinski said. “It’s appalling that China has taken over democratic Hong Kong while the world watches, mostly in silence.”

Melissa Chan, a reporter and former VICE News correspondent, tweeted that “It's hard to explain to those who've never lived in Hong Kong just what a fixture Cardinal Zen is in the city.”

She added, “Even for those who are not Catholics, he symbolized for decades moral fortitude, goodness, and so much of what was great about Hong Kong. Now he's arrested.”

Shibani Mahtani, the Southeast Asia bureau chief for The Washington Post, tweeted that “Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing faction always highlights the vandalism, Molotov cocktails and violence of 2019 as a reason for the national security law — so why have they used it to go after veteran critics and dissidents, including now 90 year old Cardinal Zen?”

Hong Kong Law Fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law Eric Yan-ho Lai tweeted that “The arrest of Cardinal Zen @CardJosephZen, echoed the arrest of Cardinal Kung Pin-mei,who was jailed by the Communist Party as he refused to surrender to the state controlling the Church in 1950s. Many Catholic bishops were persecuted on the mainland,and now #HK.”

In another tweet he added, “The Vatican started a secret deal with China on appointing bishops in the mainland in 2018; the deal was renewed in 2020, and now the two-year cycle comes. Will the Holy See continue to appease China who intimidated the HK Catholic Church by arresting Cardinal Zen?”

The Standard, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, reported that Zen was arrested on Wednesday evening local time, along with other trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. The fund, which is no longer active, was created in 2019 to assist with the legal fees for pro-democracy protesters.

EWTN host Raymond Arroyo tweeted on May 11 that Zen’s arrest was “heartbreaking and tragic news.”

“I await comment and protest from the Vatican,” Arroyo added.

Sam Goodman, the advocacy director at the human rights organization Hong Kong Watch, told the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that he hoped the Vatican would condemn the arrest and call for Zen’s release.

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Goodman also said that he hoped the Vatican would reconsider what he described as “its silence regarding the ongoing human rights violations in Hong Kong and China more broadly.”

Benedict Rogers, the chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, said the arrests for alleged “collusion with foreign forces” were “unbelievably horrific.”

“And to arrest a 90 year old Cardinal, @CardJosephZen, a truly great man, a hero, is especially egregious,” Rogers wrote on his Twitter account.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief, a cross-party group of U.K. parliamentarians, also condemned Zen’s arrest.

“This is yet another example of China’s increasing restrictions of fundamental human rights,” it said in a Twitter post.

David Alton, an independent member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the U.K. parliament, described the cardinal’s arrest as “an act of outrageous intimidation.”

William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator of the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, linked the arrests to the election of Hong Kong’s new chief executive John Lee.

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“Today’s arrests in Hong Kong signal an ever darker turn under the leadership of John Lee,” he tweeted.

“The arrest of Cardinal Zen sends a chilling message for the prospects of freedom of religion in Hong Kong, and ironically proves that his warnings about the dangers of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] were prophetic,” he added.

Zen, who was the bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 to 2009, is an outspoken supporter of democracy in the city, which is officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.

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