Crux reports that the trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen, a stalwart opponent of the atheistic Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is set to begin this week in Hong Kong. Zen is facing charges for his association with the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which “provided financial and legal aid to pro-democracy protesters” who publicly opposed a law that allows Hong Kong’s citizens to be extradited to mainland China. Prosecutors say that the organization was not properly registered. The trial has been delayed — likely for two days — because the presiding judge tested positive for COVID.
Zen was arrested earlier this year on charges of “collusion with foreign forces” in violation of the CCP-imposed national security law.
The cardinal has been a vigorous opponent of the CCP, highlighting China’s human rights violations, including its violations of religious freedom. Zen has also publicly criticized the Vatican’s 2018 deal with China, which reportedly gave the CCP the authority to select candidates from which the pope must select bishops for China. Critics charge that such bishops will be loyal to Beijing, not Rome.
When questioned about Zen’s trial, Pope Francis remarked that it is “not easy to understand the Chinese mentality.” The pontiff said, “To understand China takes a century, and we won’t see a century,” noting that Zen “says what he thinks, and we see that there are some limitations there.” The pope also said that he “respects” the “Chinese mentality” and has chosen a “path of dialogue” with the CCP instead of one of confrontation. The pope said that he does not consider China undemocratic but that some of the things China does “seem undemocratic to us.” He also praised China for its diversity and patience. The pope’s remarks caused the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher to ask: “Why Won’t Pope Defend Persecuted Cardinal Zen?”
“Poor Cardinal Zen,” Dreher writes. “He stands in the dock alone, betrayed by the Pope who sold out the underground Chinese Catholic Church.”
Zen once noted that Francis is from South America and “doesn’t have direct experience of communists in power, oppressors of people.”
Pope John Paul II did have direct experience with communists and Nazis in power. John Paul understood the evils of totalitarianism, and he was not afraid — as Francis appears to be — to speak the truth to power. George Weigel, Paul Kengor, John O’Sullivan, and others have described John Paul’s crucial role in undermining Soviet power in Poland and other nations in Eastern and Central Europe.
The pope returned to Poland in 1979, and, in a direct rebuke to Poland’s communist rulers, he proclaimed that “there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland” and that “[t]he exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.” When the communist government cracked down on the Polish Solidarity labor union and other dissenters, John Paul did not remain silent — he did not say he “respected” the mentality of the regime that repressed his people; he did not praise Poland’s government for diversity and patience. And when Polish authorities murdered the Rev. Jerzy Popiełuszko, John Paul stated that the killing “has shaken the opinion and confidence of men in Poland and in all the world.”
In The Cold War: A New History (2005), the great historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote, “When John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport on June 2, 1979, he began the process by which communism in Poland—and ultimately everywhere—would come to an end.” Everywhere, it must be said, but China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos.
Although Francis is likely familiar with the spiritual and political courage of his great predecessor, he will not emulate it. The current pope’s preferred method for dealing with the CCP is “dialogue,” meaning appeasement. Dreher is right. Zen has been betrayed by his pope. And so have the Catholics and other dissidents in China.
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