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06HONGKONG7552006-02-23 12:22:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Hong Kong
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HONG KONG 000755 
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Classified By: E/P Chief Simon Schuchat. Reasons: 1.4(b,d). 
¶1. (C) Summary and Comment: On February 22, Pope Benedict XVI 
named 15 new cardinals, among them Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 
head of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, and an outspoken 
defender of religious freedom on the mainland as well as a 
leading figure in the democracy movement in Hong Kong.  Zen 
told reporters that his elevation signaled the Pope's 
"goodwill and love for the whole of China."  As cardinal, Zen 
will be one of Pope Benedict's most senior advisors on policy 
towards China.  The official reaction from China has been 
muted so far, with one official stating that China would 
benefit from a new cardinal.  Comment:  Some analysts have 
speculated that because of Beijing's distrust of Zen, his 
appointment might serve as an obstacle to a resumption of 
dialogue between Beijing and the Holy See, but others see his 
appointment in a more positive light.  If a deal were 
eventually brokered to normalize the diplomatic relationship, 
Zen's reputation as an outspoken defender of religious 
freedom and advocate for democracy might help marshal support 
among the more skeptical underground Catholic community.  End 
Summary and Comment. 
Vatican Appoints Outspoken Bishop Zen as Cardinal 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
¶2. (SBU) On February 22, Pope Benedict XVI named 15 new 
cardinals, his first nominations since taking over the 
papacy.  There were three Asian bishops elevated, including 
Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, head of the Hong Kong Catholic 
Diocese, as well as bishops from Seoul and Manila.  Zen, an 
outspoken defender of religious freedom on the mainland as 
well as a leading figure in the democracy movement in Hong 
Kong, will be the second church leader from Hong Kong and the 
sixth ethnic Chinese in the history of the Catholic Church to 
be named a cardinal.  Zen will be formally appointed as a 
cardinal during a ceremony at the Vatican on March 24. 
¶3. (SBU) Pope Benedict's announcement helped fill a possible 
void in the leadership of the Chinese Catholic community. 
Zen, 74, had been approaching the mandatory retirement age of 
75 and had sent a letter to the pope requesting retirement 
last month.  With the retirement issue now moot, Zen, who is 
under the age of the cutoff age of 80, will be the only 
ethnic Chinese cardinal eligible to vote in a conclave to 
elect Pope Benedict's successor.  (Note:  During the 2005 
papal conclave that elected Pope Benedict, there were no 
ethnic Chinese cardinals eligible to vote.  There is 
currently only one living cardinal in the Greater China 
region, Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi, who retired as the head 
of the Kaohsiung, Taiwan diocese last month.  At 82, Cardinal 
Shan was ineligible to vote in the last conclave.  End Note.) 
¶4. (SBU) Following the pope's announcement, Zen told 
reporters that he was "very happy" and said that his 
elevation signaled the pope's "goodwill and love for the 
whole of China."  "He didn't name a lot of cardinals this 
time.  A lot of dioceses that typically get appointments 
didn't.  This shows his priority for China," said Zen.    He 
said that hoped to visit the mainland and begin dialogue with 
the central government.  "I don't just want to go 
sightseeing, but to have a formal and constructive dialogue." 
Initial Reaction from Beijing is Muted 
¶5. (C) As cardinal, Zen will be one of Pope Benedict's most 
senior advisors on policy towards China, explained Papal 
Nuncio Eugene Nugent.  He told poloff on February 23 that the 
Vatican had initially been concerned about a possible 
negative reaction from Beijing.  As an outspoken critic of 
central government policies on religion, Zen was branded a 
"Vatican agent" by the mainland and was banned from the 
mainland for six years.  However, relations between Zen and 
mainland leaders have thawed, beginning with an April 2004 
trip by Zen to visit Shanghai.  Moreover, in recent years, 
Zen has articulated, on numerous occasions, the Vatican's 
stated policy of seeking an improved relationship with China. 
¶6. (SBU) The only reaction from the Chinese Government so far 
is a statement by Liu Bainian, Vice Chairman of the Chinese 
Patriotic Catholic Association, who said that China would 
benefit from a new cardinal.  As Liu's statement was made 
prior to the Vatican's official announcement, he did not 
mention Zen by name. 
HONG KONG 00000755  002.2 OF 002 
The Best Candidate 
¶7. (C) Father Peter Barry, a researcher at the Holy Spirit 
Study Center (HSSC) told "Asianews," an online Catholic 
newsletter, "Zen is the best candidate because he knows 
China, he is known among Chinese Catholics...Zen can 
represent the voice of the Chinese Church in the universal 
Church and with the Holy Father."  Nugent confided to poloff 
that one of several reasons why the Pope selected Zen was for 
his expertise on the mainland Catholic Church -- both the 
official and underground communities.  As for his character, 
Professor Gianni Criveller of the HSSC told poloff that Zen's 
direct and outspoken approach was simply a part of his 
personality, and would not change as a consequence of his 
Shifts towards Sino-Vatican Normalization? 
¶8. (C) Separately, during a meeting with John Kamm, Dui Hua 
Executive Director on February 22, Kamm told us that he had 
heard from one of his sources that Shanghai Bishop Aloysius 
Jin had told the source that the Minister of Public Security 
was now in favor of normalizing Sino-Vatican relations.  The 
PSB, according to Bishop Jin, has enough work dealing with 
"cults" and would prefer to let the Catholic Church manage 
its own underground adherents.   According to Kamm's source, 
the key holdout to an improvement of relations remains Ye 
Xiaowen, the Director of the State Administration of 
Religious Affairs. 
Biographic Information 
¶9. (SBU) Zen was born in Shanghai in 1932 and moved to Hong 
Kong in 1948.  He joined the priesthood in 1961 and beginning 
in 1971, taught at Hong Kong's Holy Spirit Seminary College. 
From 1989-1996, Zen became the first theologian from the Hong 
Kong diocese to lecture in mainland seminaries.  In 1996, Zen 
was appointed as Coadjutor Bishop of Hong Kong.  In 2002, he 
was named as the Bishop of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese 
after the death of Cardinal John Baptist Wu. 
¶10. (C) In addition to his criticisms of the central 
government's religious policies, Zen has also been an 
outspoken critic of Hong Kong government policies on national 
security legislation, universal suffrage, and educational 
reform.  More recently, Zen was a signatory to a full-page 
advertisement in several newspapers calling on Chief 
Executive (CE) Donald Tsang to exercise "courageous 
leadership" by asking mainland leaders to set up a timetable 
for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.  According to Monsignor 
Nugent, when Bishop Zen encountered CE Tsang at a recent 
function, the Bishop sensed that Tsang had taken the 
criticism personally and still felt hurt.  During protests at 
last December's World Trade Organization Ministerial meeting 
in Hong Kong, Zen criticized the Hong Kong police for their 
handling of anti-globalization protestors, sparking anger 
among the police, who later sent letters of protest to the 
Vatican.  Despite speculation that the Pope might ask Zen to 
serve in the Vatican, our contacts say that Zen is most 
likely to remain in Hong Kong as the head of the Catholic 
Diocese for the next several years.