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Cardinal Joseph Zen leaving the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong.Screenshot/Twitter

HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) – The trial of Hong Kong’s Catholic bishop emeritus, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has been delayed after a judge tested positive for COVID-19.

The Vatican is still refusing to offer any public support for the cardinal. 

Hong Kong media reported Saturday that the trial would be postponed until at least September 21, after the judge, Presiding Magistrate Ada Him Shunyee (Shunyi) tested positive for COVID-19. Citing “sources close to the case,” Catholic news outlet The Pillar then reported late Tuesday that the trial would not begin until next week.

The trial had been due to start September 19 with a verdict due by Friday the 23rd.

612 Fund trustees facing fines or jail term

Cardinal Zen was arrested in May under the terms of the draconian 2020 National Security Law. He was taken into police custody along with four other trustees of the now defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund who now join him in court. The four trustees are former opposition legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee; singer Denise Ho Wan-sze; cultural studies professor Hui Po Keung; and activist Sze Ching-wee.

The fifth trustee who joins Zen in court, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, was already in jail for “illegal assemblies.”

The Fund was established to offer “legal, medical, psychological, and emergency financial assistance” to those involved in the 2019 protests against the government’s Extradition Law Amendment Bill, which sought to allow prisoners to be transferred to mainland China for trial.

All trustees pleaded not guilty upon their arrest in May. While they were arrested under the terms of the National Security Law, they are now being charged with failing to apply properly for registration for the 612 Fund. 

AsiaNews reports that “at best,” Zen and his 5 colleagues in the dock face a fine of US $1,750. However, a jail sentence could nevertheless be handed out. 

At a pre-trial in August, the court ruled the trial will be held in Chinese, with the closing arguments to be made in English.

Vatican increasingly siding with Beijing

Despite increasing outrage from concerned Catholics and even the mainstream media, the Vatican is remaining silent on Zen’s trial. In fact, Pope Francis and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin have instead signalled their alignment with Beijing, rather than with the beleaguered, 90-year-old prelate.

Speaking to reporters on the papal flight from Kazakhstan, Pope Francis refused to support Zen, or to describe China as “undemocratic.” The Pope also suggested that Zen was to blame for his trial: “Cardinal Zen is going to trial these days, I think. And he says what he feels, and you can see that there are limitations there.”

RELATED: Did China successfully pressure the Vatican to remove two ambassadors from Asia?

Meanwhile Cardinal Parolin revealed that the Holy See was prepared to move its study mission in Hong Kong over to Beijing, and was just “waiting for a signal from Beijing, but that has not yet come.” Along with the Holy See’s presence in Taiwan, the Hong Kong study mission is the Vatican’s closest diplomatic link to China, given that it has no nunciature in Beijing. 

For the Vatican to move the study mission to Beijing, it would necessarily have to cut ties with Taiwan, as China does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation but simply a breakaway province.

Both Francis and Parolin have continually defended the Vatican’s secretive deal with China, which was first established in 2018, later renewed in 2020, and is up for renewal again this fall. Though still secret, it allegedly recognizes the state-approved church and allows the Chinese Communist Party to appoint bishops.

RELATED: Pope Francis’ deal with Communist China has led to greater persecution of Catholics

Cardinal Zen has long been a vocal critic of the deal, accusing Francis of “encouraging a schism” and “selling out the Catholic Church in China.” He styled the deal “an incredible betrayal.”

Pope Francis’ ‘dialogue at all costs’ is ‘wrong, naive’

In comments to LifeSiteNews, Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch highlighted the Vatican’s “clear marginalization” of Cardinal Zen.

“Pope Francis’ rather dismissive response to the question about Cardinal Zen’s trial is yet another deeply troubling example of the Vatican’s clear marginalization of Cardinal Zen,” he said. 

These remarks, combined with his refusal to meet Cardinal Zen two years ago when he came to Rome to seek an audience with the Pope, and the apparent failure of the Vatican to appeal for Cardinal Zen to be able to travel to join the recent consistory, all indicate a shocking lack of concern, care and respect for one of the Church’s most senior and most courageous Cardinals. 

Francis’ “emphasis on dialogue is admirable, but dialogue at all costs, including the Pope’s silence on major injustices in China, is wrong,” warned Rogers. “Open-ended dialogue, with no apparent conditions or stated objectives is naïve.” 

The question that should be asked regarding dialogue between the Vatican and China is on whose terms, with what objectives and on what topics, and it appears currently to be on China’s terms, with no clear objectives and with human rights and religious freedom excluded from the conversation. 

“That is too high a price to pay for dialogue for the sake of dialogue,” he said.