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Congressional bill aims to protect pro-life pregnancy centers against ‘terror attacks’

Photos of the June 3 vandalism show a splash of red paint covering the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center’s white door. On the brick outer building, the words “Jane says revenge” are written in black spray paint. / Mary Margaret Olohan, reporter for The Daily Wire

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington introduced a bill Tuesday aimed at protecting pro-life pregnancy centers against a surge in violent attacks. 

“Despite dire threats and horrific attacks, the selfless volunteers and medical professionals who serve at these pregnancy care centers continue to heroically provide life-affirming medical care and crucial material support to pregnant women in need,” Smith told CNA. “We must ensure that those who work at these centers and the women who rely on them for support are safe from violent extremists who seek to inflict harm and terror.”

The Protect Pregnancy Care Centers Act of 2022 already has 28 co-sponsors and boasts the support of national pro-life organizations, including SBA Pro-Life America, the March for Life, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bill, among other things, would require the Biden administration to publicly report its handling of the investigation and prosecution of those engaging in “domestic violent extremism” against pregnancy centers.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure the safety and security of the estimated 3,000 pregnancy care centers that provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” Smith said in a press release. 

McMorris Rodgers added, “My goal is to foster an environment where no woman feels like their only option is abortion.”

The new legislation responds to a growing number of pro-abortion attacks targeting churches and pro-life pregnancy centers in the United States surrounding the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That decision leaves abortion up to the states.

The Smith-McMorris Rodgers bill lists and condemns the dozens of “terror attacks.”

“Pregnancy care centers across the country have suffered a surge of violent attacks, firebombing, and vandalism by pro-abortion activists in a coordinated effort to intimidate front-line volunteers and licensed medical professionals providing critical support to mothers in need and their unborn baby boys and girls,” Smith said.

McMorris Rodgers cautioned that the attacks “only endanger and intimidate the women who depend on them for critical medical care, education, and other resources.”

“I believe all extreme and hateful acts of violence should be condemned, which is why I’m helping lead this legislation to hold President Biden accountable for his failure to respond to this threat with the urgency it deserves,” she added.

The bill would require the inspector generals of the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to report information to Congress on the Biden administration’s response to the attacks, including information on groups that have claimed responsibility and the number of prosecutions initiated.

It would also require the administration to identify funding available to pregnancy centers for security measures and provide recommendations for the creation of additional grant programs.

In the press release, Smith said that these “crimes against innocent victims” violate 18 U.S. Code § 248, a law that he said requires the Biden administration to investigate and prosecute the individuals threatening, vandalizing, and damaging pregnancy centers. The law, titled the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and prohibits the destruction of reproductive health care facilities, including pro-life counseling centers.

“Our new bill takes President Biden to task for his dereliction of duty to protect these centers from domestic violent extremists and will help hold the Biden administration accountable for its obligation to prosecute those who are inflicting terror and destroying these vital resource centers,” he said.

These centers, Smith stressed, save lives. 

According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of SBA Pro-Life America, roughly 828,130 unborn babies’ lives were saved over the course of five years because of pregnancy centers. CLI also reports that these centers offered services and material assistance amounting to more than $266 million in 2019 alone. These centers serve hundreds of thousands of women at little to no cost by offering everything from medical services, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and parenting classes to supplies such as diapers, baby food, and even a place to stay.

The White House press office did not respond with comment by time of publication.

Pro-life pregnancy center network calls Elizabeth Warren accusations a political ‘stunt’

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses the public during a rally to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe Vs. Wade at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 24, 2022. / Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

A leading international network of pro-life pregnancy centers is pushing back against claims made by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other top Democrats that it engages in “misleading practices” and could use the data it collects to incriminate women seeking abortions.

Warren and six other senators made those allegations in a Sept. 19 letter sent to Jor-El Godsey, the president of Heartbeat International.

“We all know what this is,” Godsey said in a statement Tuesday. “This is naked politics intended not to help women but to influence elections. It is clearly a stunt designed to appease Big Abortion power brokers.”

Heartbeat International currently serves over 2,800 affiliated pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and nonprofit adoption agencies worldwide.

The senators’ letter claims that the data that the organization gathers from women who access its pregnancy centers is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, most commonly referred to as HIPAA, which grants protections to a patient’s health information.

The letter also requests that Godsey answer more than a dozen questions related to Heartbeat’s operations. One question reads, “Does Heartbeat International share people’s data with anyone? If yes, with whom?”

Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International. Courtesy of Heartbeat International
Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International. Courtesy of Heartbeat International

Godsey says that the senators’ letter is promoting a fabricated narrative based on “unfounded speculation.”

“What we do is safe, secure, and legal. Heartbeat has been providing help for more than fifty years and never once did we receive any of these questions or concerns until recently, and then from those with a clear abortion agenda,” he said in the statement.

“It’s politics, and we regret only that it’s a distraction to our important work of helping women find alternatives to abortion,” he added.

Godsey also criticized the senators who signed the letter for not condemning any of the acts of vandalism that have targeted pro-life pregnancy centers in recent months. 

“Instead,” Godsey wrote, “they’ve spent their time fabricating a narrative on unfounded speculation. Rather than finding ways to help women be able to choose something besides abortion, they have used their political powers to bully those who are helping women make life-affirming choices.”

Besides Warren, of Massachusetts, the other senators who signed the letter are Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Catholic Charities to provide aid to Puerto Ricans devastated by Hurricane Fiona

A man walks down a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on Sept.19, 2022, after the passage of Hurricane Fiona. Hurricane Fiona smashed into Puerto Rico, knocking out the U.S. island territory's power while dumping torrential rain and wreaking catastrophic damage before making landfall in the Dominican Republic on Sept. 19, 2022. / Photo by AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

More than a day after Hurricane Fiona dumped 30 inches of rain on Puerto Rico before heading toward the islands of Turks and Caicos, a million people still do not have electricity, and 760,000 are without running water.

The storm hit Puerto Rico just before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, the most devastating storm to hit the island since 1928. The island is still reeling from that storm, which the government says caused $90 billion in damage and killed almost 3,000 people.

In the hardest-hit areas, in southern and central Puerto Rico, more than 900 people had to be rescued as surging floodwaters submerged houses and damaged roads. Authorities report two deaths: one man drowned in a flooded river, and another was killed filling his generator with gasoline while it was running.

Kim Burgo, vice president of Catholic Charities USA’s disaster operations, told CNA that the local Catholic Charities agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are planning to do assessments Tuesday to get an idea of what aid is needed. Their staff is currently organizing distributions of food, water, and other essential items.

Many families are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, she noted; some had gotten to a point where things were better, only to lose everything again.

While no two disasters are alike, Burgo said Catholic Charities learned important lessons from the experience of responding to Hurricane Maria. One of those lessons was about the importance of strategically pre-positioning supplies around the island — especially the kinds of items that go quickly from supermarket shelves — so that they can be quickly distributed to those in need when a disaster hits. 

Those who would like to donate to the hurricane relief effort can visit the Catholic Charities website. Every dollar will go directly to the recovery effort, Burgo said.

Father Enrique “Kike” Camacho, executive director of Cáritas Puerto Rico, coordinated relief efforts after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Working closely with Catholic Charities, he helped relief get to those who needed it most through a support network operated out of 500 parishes.

Cáritas Puerto Rico’s Facebook page on Monday published an appeal for monetary donations with a promise that the organization would once again serve those affected by the disaster.

It read: “At Cáritas of Puerto Rico we are already activated to help so many Puerto Rican families and communities affected by the passage of Hurricane Fiona on our island. As on other occasions, we will be receiving monetary donations to use for top needs that arise to support our people.

“Just like in Hurricane Maria, in which we helped the 78 municipalities of PR with love and dedication, we are ready to repeat this gesture. We are resilient people and with faith we will stand again. Let us remain united in prayer, faith, and action, and may God bless you always,” the message read, advising people to donate through caritaspr.net (via PayPal).

‘To dust you shall return,’ but human composting? California bishops raise objections

null / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 20, 2022 / 13:33 pm (CNA).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday signed a bill into law that will allow the composting of human remains — a bill that the state’s Catholic Conference had opposed.

The process of human composting — also known as natural organic reduction (NOR) — is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. and is legal in a handful of other states. When a body is composted, it is placed in a reusable container where microbes and bacteria decompose it into soil over the course of 30–45 days.

The resulting soil can then be used on private land, such as on a farm or garden, and otherwise would be subject to the same restrictions as scattering cremated remains in the state, the LA Times reported.

A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home that specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington, on March 14, 2022. Human composting is now legal in Washington, California, and a handful of other states. Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images
A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home that specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington, on March 14, 2022. Human composting is now legal in Washington, California, and a handful of other states. Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

The state’s Catholic conference had expressed opposition to the bill in a June letter.

Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said the use of a body composting method originally developed for farm animals creates an “unfortunate spiritual, emotional, and psychological distancing from the deceased.” In addition, she said, the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”

The process will be available in California beginning in 2027. The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, argued that the process is more economical and eco-friendly than traditional burial methods and could help to reduce overcrowding in cemeteries.

The Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on the composting of human bodies but has weighed in many times over the years on the practice of cremation. While strongly discouraged, cremation can be permissible under certain restrictions; notably, the remains are not to be scattered and must be kept in a sacred place, out of reverence for the Church’s teaching on the eventual resurrection of the body.

“We believe that the ‘transformation’ of the remains would create an emotional distance rather than a reverence for them,” Steve Pehanich, a spokesperson for the California Catholic Conference, told Religion News Service in 2020.

“Even with cremated remains, they directed that they remain in a communal place befitting of the dignity inherent in the human body and its connection to the immortal soul,” Pehanich said.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s October 2016 instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo states that while cremation “is not prohibited,” the Church “continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased.”

In that same document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that a person’s ashes are not to be scattered, nor kept in the home or preserved in mementos or jewelry, but instead must be “laid to rest in a sacred place,” such as in a cemetery or church. As the document explains, “by burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.”

Bishops in Belgium defy Vatican, publish ceremony for blessing same-sex unions

null / Syda Productions/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 06:27 am (CNA).

In open defiance of the Vatican, Catholic bishops in Belgium on Tuesday announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. 

Thousands join March for Life in Berlin

March for Life in Berlin, Sept. 17, 2022 / EWTN.TV YouTube Channel (Screenshot)

CNA Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Around 4,000 participants took part in the March for Life in the German capital Saturday in support of the right to life for all people from conception to natural death.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski prays at mass grave in Ukraine

Papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, pictured in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 04:58 am (CNA).

A Vatican envoy in Ukraine prayed in silence at the recently discovered mass grave in Izium on Monday while forensic experts exhumed bodies, at least 146 so far.

U.S. synod synthesis shows ‘desire for greater communion’

Synod on Synodality logo / Courtesy USCCB

Denver Newsroom, Sep 19, 2022 / 16:36 pm (CNA).

The Synod on Synodality has thus far demonstrated the “joys, hopes, and wounds” shared by members of the Church in the United States, according to a report on the process issued Monday. 

“These consultations express a deep desire for greater communion,” read the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Synthesis document, released Sept. 19.

The fruit of consultation in the Latin-rite dioceses in the U.S, as well as Catholic associations, organizations, and national ministries, the synthesis noted several themes: enduring wounds, especially those inflicted by the sexual abuse crisis; enhancing communion and participation in the life of the Church; ongoing formation for mission; and engaging discernment.

In a letter prefacing the report, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, chair of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee, wrote that it is “an expression of what we as a Church have heard each other say when asked about our deepest preoccupations and hopes for the Church of which, by the grace of God, we are all a vital part.”

He emphasized that “the publication of this document is not a concluding moment, however; it is a reflective, forward-moving moment. It is an invitation to listen, to discuss together and to discern together as the Church, about how best to understand and act upon those matters that sit deeply in the hearts and minds of Catholics in the U.S.”

The report noted that the abuse crisis “has eroded not only trust in the hierarchy and the moral integrity of the Church, but also created a culture of fear that keeps people from entering into relationship with one another and thus from experiencing the sense of belonging and connectedness for which they yearn.”

Division within the Church was also a major wound, especially related to the use of the Traditional Latin Mass: “The limited access to the 1962 Missal was lamented; many felt that the differences over how to celebrate the liturgy ‘sometimes reach the level of animosity. People on each side of the issue reported feeling judged by those who differ from them.’”

Division among the bishops was also noted: “The perceived lack of unity among the bishops in the United States, and even of some individual bishops with the Holy Father, as a source of grave scandal. This perceived lack of unity within the hierarchy seems to, in turn, justify division at the local level.”

Marginalization was another wound highlighted in the synthesis, with two groups highlighted. The first is those with a lack of social or economic power, “such as immigrant communities; ethnic minorities; those who are undocumented; the unborn and their mothers; people who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, or incarceration; those people who have disabilities or mental health issues; and people suffering from various addictions. Included also in this group are women, whose voices are frequently marginalized in the decision-making processes of the Church.”

The second marginalized group, the report said, “includes those who are marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the Church. Among these are members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons who have been divorced or those who have remarried without a declaration of nullity, as well as individuals who have civilly married but who never married in the Church.”

Regarding greater communion and participation, the synthesis indicated a desire “to be a more welcoming Church where all members of the People of God can find accompaniment on the journey. The synodal consultations mentioned several areas where there existed a tension between how to walk with people while remaining faithful to the teachings of the Church.”

Prominent here was “the desire to accompany with authenticity LGBTQ+ persons and their families” and the “deep need for ongoing discernment of the whole Church on how best to accompany our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.”

The divorced often feel unwelcome, the report noted, suggesting “a more transparent and clear annulment process.”

Greater “leadership, discernment, and decision-making roles for women” were included as a desire in nearly all the synodal consultations.

“Another common hope for becoming a more welcoming Church revolved around removing barriers to accessibility and embracing those with special needs and their families, particularly as it relates to an individual’s sacramental life,” the report highlighted. “One of the regions reported a lack of inclusion because there are so few priests and other ministers who are fluent in American Sign Language. Families expressed great joy when steps of inclusion were taken, while many acknowledged the work still left to be done.”

Greater efforts should be made “to welcome diverse cultural and ethnic communities” and to overcome racism, according to the synthesis.

Concern over young people’s failure to practice the faith was widespread, and “young people themselves voiced a feeling of exclusion and desired to participate more fully as members of the parish community. The feeling of exclusion also manifested itself in some youth seeking a sense of belonging in the Church’s ancient tradition of faith, prayer, and devotion.”

The need for continuing spiritual, pastoral, and catechetical formation was recognized, along with the importance of strengthened communication: “Nearly all of the synodal consultations saw clear, concise, and consistent communication as key to the strong desire for appropriate transparency … As the Church seeks to continue down the synodal path, a commitment to clear, transparent, and consistent communication will be crucial.”

Turning to discernment, the synthetic document said: “The rediscovery of listening as a basic posture of a Church called to ongoing conversion is one of the most valuable gifts of the synodal experience in the United States.”

According to the report, about 700,000 people participated in the diocesan phase of the synod in the U.S., out of 66.8 million Catholics in the country. 

The reports of the Eastern Catholic Churches in the U.S. were not included in the National Synthesis; these were shared directly with the Holy See and will be incorporated into the continental stage of the synod.

The national synthesis concludes the diocesan phase of the Synod of Synodality. The continental stage, in turn, will be a preparation for a Synod of Bishops to be held at the Vatican in 2023.

Virginia Gov. Youngkin revokes schools’ transgender policies, asserts parental rights

null / itakdalee/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 19, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Parental rights and religious freedom are central to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new statewide policies for public schools, which Virginia’s education department released Friday. 

The updated policies reverse the transgender school mandates put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam, which permitted schools to withhold a student’s gender transition from parents for “privacy” reasons.

The change also requires students to use bathrooms in accordance with their sex and asserts the right of parents to be involved in their children’s education and health. 

The policy document, 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for all Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools, states that Virginia’s education department “fully acknowledges the rights of parents to exercise their fundamental rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to direct the care, upbringing, and education of their children.”

Importantly, the model policy says that parents have the primary right to make decisions concerning their children’s health and well-being. 

“Schools shall defer to parents to make the best decisions with respect to their children,” the policy reads. 

The document states that parents — not schools — should be in charge of deciding whether or not their child begins a gender transition and goes by a different name or pronoun. 

Many schools across the country implement gender support plans encouraging children to transition to a different sex without their parents knowing. 

The policy also explicitly says students will use bathrooms and participate in sports programs in accordance with “his or her sex.” 

It also affirms that teachers are guaranteed religious freedom under the First Amendment and cannot be forced to comply with policies contradicting their religious beliefs.  

“Practices such as compelling others to use preferred pronouns is premised on the ideological belief that gender is a matter of personal choice or subjective experience, not sex,” the model policy reads, adding “Many Virginians reject this belief.”

Transgender policy and parents’ rights

Earlier this year, Youngkin’s education department conducted a review of Northam’s 2021 Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students

Among Northam’s policies, schools were required to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice and use students’ preferred pronouns. 

Youngkin called out Northam’s version for “disregarding the rights of parents” and ignoring “other legal and constitutional principles.” 

“The 2021 Model Policies promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools,” the department wrote.

According to Equality Virginia, an LGBTQ advocacy group, only 10% of Virginia school boards implemented Northam’s controversial rules for how schools should educate transgender students. The low participation rate was indicative of the backlash the policies received from parents who mobilized in school boards. 

Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter told CNA that “the previous policies implemented under the Northam administration did not uphold constitutional principles and parental rights, and will be replaced.”

“It is not under a school’s or the government’s purview to impose a set of particular ideological beliefs on all students. Key decisions rest, first and foremost, with the parents,” she said. 

Porter added that Youngkin’s 2022 policy “delivers on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students.”

Parental rights in 2021 campaign

The issue of parental rights figured prominently in the 2021 gubernatorial race, and many credit it as the basis for Youngkin’s victory over Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. 

“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out ... I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said during a 2021 debate. 

“I believe parents should be in charge of their kid’s education,” Youngkin replied. 

Virginia House Delegate Glenn Davis applauded the governor’s model policy Friday in a tweet, saying it fixed “one of the most overreaching and abusive uses of a ‘model policy.’” 

“This new standard ensures all students have the right to attend school in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying,” Davis wrote. 

LGBTQ activist groups are denouncing the move. The ACLU of Virginia took to Twitter last week saying it was “appalled by the Youngkin administration’s overhaul of key protections for transgender students in public schools.”

The official public comment period for Youngkin’s model policy is expected to open at the end of the month on the department’s website, when Virginians have 30 days to issue feedback. 

After public comments are reviewed, the new standard goes into effect after the state superintendent issues final approval.

“Empowering parents is not only a fundamental right, but it is essential to improving outcomes for all children in Virginia,” the document reads. 

Cardinal Zen’s trial has been delayed due to COVID

Cardinal Joseph Zen speaks during a Mass at the Holy Cross Church on May 24, 2022, in Hong Kong, China. The cardinal was set to stand trial on Sept. 19, 2022, in connection to his role as a trustee of a pro-democracy legal fund, which he and other trustees are accused of failing to register civilly. The trial was delayed. / Photo by Louise Delmotte/Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 19, 2022 / 11:51 am (CNA).

The criminal trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong has been delayed after the judge presiding over the case tested positive for COVID-19, Hong Kong media reported. 

Zen, 90, was to have stood trial beginning Monday in connection to his role as a trustee of a pro-democracy legal fund, which he and other trustees are accused of failing to register civilly. Zen is the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, an outspoken advocate for religious freedom and democracy, and a sharp critic of the Vatican’s 2018 agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops. 

Local media reported over the weekend that the trial — originally set to begin Sept. 19 and expected to conclude with a verdict on Sept. 23 — has been delayed by at least two days because Permanent Magistrate Ada Yim Shun-yee, the judge overseeing the case, contracted COVID-19. Zen has been free on bail since early May. 

In addition to Zen, lawyer Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung, activist Sze Ching-wee, and ex-legislator Cyd Ho are accused of failing to apply for local society registration for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund between July 16, 2019, and Oct. 31, 2021. 

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty; Cyd Ho is already jailed for a different charge. The fund helped pro-democracy protesters pay their legal fees until it dissolved itself in October 2021. The defendants’ lawyers argue that they had the right to associate under Hong Kong’s Basic Law — the legal framework created when Great Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997. 

It appears the defendants have not — as of yet — been indicted under Hong Kong’s national security law, which broadly criminalizes “sedition” and “collusion with foreign forces,” and which would have carried with it much more serious penalties. 

The trial will be conducted in Chinese with the closing arguments in English, HKFP reported in August. Without the national security law indictment, the defendants could face only a fine of up to $1,750, Asia News reported. 

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with its own government, and its citizens have historically enjoyed greater freedom of religion than on the Chinese mainland, where religious believers of all stripes are routinely surveilled and restricted by the communist government. But in recent years, Beijing has sought to tighten control over religious practices in Hong Kong under the guise of protecting national security.

Zen, who led the Hong Kong diocese from 2002–2009, is one of several high-profile Catholics who have run afoul of the Chinese government in recent years for their support of pro-democracy activities. Catholic pro-democracy figures such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai and lawyer Martin Lee have garnered media attention for their arrests at the hands of Chinese authorities. 

Amid Zen’s trial, the Holy See continues to work toward the renewal of the China-Vatican agreement for the appointment of bishops, first agreed to in 2018. That deal was meant to unify the country’s 12 million Catholics, divided between the underground Church and the Communist-administered Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and clear a path for the appointment of bishops for Chinese dioceses. Despite the deal, persecution of the underground Church has continued and, according to some, intensified.

The Vatican Secretariat of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin recently hinted to CNA that he has worked toward changing some terms of the agreement, though it is unknown which terms of the agreement could be tweaked, given the deal is secret and its terms remain unknown to the public.