Hong Kong’s Catholic cardinal slams China deal after national security arrest

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HONG KONG, May 24 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen – in his first public remarks since his arrest in a national security case earlier this month – on Tuesday criticized the Vatican for its “reckless” deal with China which must be renewed in September.

Zen, a 90-year-old retired bishop from Hong Kong, is one of Asia’s oldest Catholics. He spoke at a mass for the Chinese Catholic Church nearly two weeks after his arrest in connection with a National Security Police investigation into foreign collusion over a legal support fund.

Arrested along with four other activists, Zen was released on bail by the police pending possible formal charges.

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“The Vatican may have acted in good faith, but it made a reckless decision,” Zen told a gathering of 300 people at a small neighborhood church on Hong Kong Island.

Earlier, he prayed for “brothers and sisters who cannot attend Mass in any form tonight – because they have no freedom now.”

Zen has long been a critic of the deal first struck in 2018 in an effort to bridge a long-running rift across mainland China between an underground flock loyal to the Vatican and an official state-backed church.

The agreement, centered on cooperation over the appointment of bishops and details of which have never been made public, was extended into 2020 pending renewal later this year.

Zen’s appearance came hours after a brief hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to a minor offense related to failing to register the fund as a company with police.

The White House and human rights groups have condemned the prospect of national security charges against Zen and other activists. The Vatican expressed “concern” and said it was following developments “with extreme attention”.

Zen did not go into detail about his own situation, but said it was normal for Catholics to “endure some pain”.

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Reporting by Jessie Pang and Greg Torode in Hong Kong Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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