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Pope Benedict XVI is greeted Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kinn at the end of the traditionnal Angelus prayer at his summer retreat in the Italian Alps where he spent his summer holiday on July 22, 2007 in Lorenzago di Cadore, Italy. Giuseppe Cacace /Getty Images

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has reportedly been granted leave by the Chinese authorities to travel to Rome for Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral.

The Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday that Cardinal Zen’s secretary had informed the news agency that the cardinal had been “allowed” to leave Hong Kong for Benedict’s January 5 funeral in Rome.

READ: Pope Benedict XVI dies at the age of 95

According to the AP, Zen made an appearance in court Tuesday to seek permission to leave Hong Kong for the event, and has reportedly been given five days outside Hong Kong.

Zen was made cardinal by Benedict in March 2006. Zen had submitted his resignation as Bishop of Hong Kong in January of that year, but Benedict only accepted it in 2009.

Benedict also asked Zen to pen the 2008 Good Friday reflections for the Stations of the Cross led by the pontiff at the Colosseum in Rome.

The 90-year-old Zen has endured restrictions on his movement for some length of time.

In 2020, he was famously granted just 120 hours outside of Hong Kong, which he used to fly to Rome in an attempt to meet Pope Francis.

However, Francis was reportedly “very busy” and did not receive the cardinal in audience. Zen had been visiting to ask the pontiff personally for a new ordinary to lead the Catholic Church in the Beijing-controlled territory.

Only months ago, in May 2022, Zen was arrested under the terms of China’s draconian 2020 National Security Law, along with fellow trustees of the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, who subsequently joined him in court.

In November, Zen was then found guilty of the lesser offence of failing to properly register the now-defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, and was consequently fined HK $4,000 ($512). Zen and his fellow defendants had pled not guilty.

While he did not face jail time upon the verdict, Reuters reported that he could yet face further prosecution as police investigate “an accusation of ‘collusion with foreign forces.’”

Zen weighs in on Benedict’s life of retirement

In an article published on his personal blog January 3, Zen offered his thoughts both on Benedict’s life of retirement, as well as the late pontiff’s own efforts for Chinese Catholics.

For Benedict to remain “quiet,” said Zen, was not a help for the Church “because there is confusion in the Church, a Pope Emeritus, like every bishop and cardinal as long as they have breath and are in their right mind, must do his duty as Successor of the Apostles to defend the sound tradition of the Church.”

Zen also appeared to take direct aim at many of Pope Francis’ comments criticizing “rigid” Catholics, stating:

Since when does the word “conservative” mean a sin? Unfortunately, fidelity to Tradition can be taken as “rigidity” or “indietrism.” At crucial moments, even Pope Francis has accepted this contribution of his predecessor, as when he defended the priestly celibacy of the Roman Church in the controversy over the proposal to ordain “viri probati.”

Despite Zen’s criticism of Benedict’s silence, the cardinal did offer words of appreciation for Benedict’s actions for the Church in China, saying that he was “immensely grateful” for the late pontiff’s conduct. The emeritus bishop of Hong Kong noted that Benedict had not been successful in his efforts, but praised him for refusing to compromise.

Despite his best efforts, Pope Benedict had not succeeded in improving the situation of the Church in China. He could not accept just any compromise. I am still convinced that every effort to improve the situation of the Church in China will have to be made along the lines of the 2007 Letter. (I note that even the great executor of the Church’s Ostpolitik, Cardinal Casaroli, did not believe that he could always succeed through diplomacy.)

In contrast, Zen has long been a vocal critic and opponent of Pope Francis’ secretive deal with Beijing, even accusing Francis of “encouraging a schism” and of “selling out the Catholic Church in China,” while also characterizing the deal as “an incredible betrayal.”

READ: Pope refuses to defend Cdl. Zen ahead of trial in Communist China, calls for ‘dialogue’

He also suggested that the Vatican’s silence over China’s long record of human rights’ abuses and persecution of the Church was perhaps an attempt “to establish diplomatic relations with (China).”

It was after Zen’s criticism of the deal that Francis then refused to meet the cardinal in September 2020.

The still-secret Vatican-China deal was renewed for a second term only a few weeks afterwards and was renewed once again this October. Both Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin have continually defended the deal.