Since 2005, the prelate received HK$ 20 million from tycoon Jimmy Lai. They were spent helping Chinese students abroad, the official and underground Church on the mainland, priests and nuns, dioceses in difficulty, prison inmates and the poor as well as the translation of Church literature and documents into Chinese. The controversy breaks out right at the onset of the cardinal’s hunger strike. Meanwhile, pro-mainland parties refuse to reveal their financial backers.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun told AsiaNews
how he spent the money donated by media tycoon Jimmy Lai. He spoke after scandal-mongering rumours appeared online. Altogether HK$ 20 million (US$ 2.5 million) that were donated since 2005 went for the official and underground Church in China, for hard-pressed dioceses, prison inmates and people in difficulty, as well as the translation of theological documents into Chinese, all connected “with my role as bishop and Christian, and not related to any political purpose,” the prelate said.
Card Zen is currently on a hunger strike to protest a decision by Hong Kong’s Supreme Court that goes against the Diocese of Hong Kong, requiring that it implement the government’s school reform. For the cardinal, the reform is a way to take over Catholic schools and undermine Catholic education (See Paul Hong, “Card. Zen on hunger strike for freedom of education in schools
,” in AsiaNews
, 19 October 2011 ).
Just as the cardinal announced his decision to fast in protest, reports appeared online with regards to donations made to Hong Kong’s bishop emeritus by Jimmy Lai, one of the territory’s richest men and a recent convert to Catholicism. Mr Lai is a strong backer of the pro-democracy movement and a staunch critic of mainland China’s Stalinist and repressive policies.
Documents pertaining to the donations, including to Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, found their way on Foxy, an internet-sharing engine.
“There is an attempt to create the impression that Card Zen enriched himself,” local sources told AsiaNews
, “or that he used money for political purposes in support of the Democratic Party.” In fact, “The whole thing is meant to discredit the Democratic Party a few weeks before District Council elections in November.”
From the Salesian House where he lives, the cardinal listed all the donations he bestowed.
“First, I gave scholarships to 170 students from the official and underground Church to go abroad. Then, as a Vatican adviser on China, I have often had to travel to Rome and around the world. Since I’ve never asked for any financial aid to pay for such trips, I pay my own way.”
“Since Hong Kong is a relatively rich diocese, it is appropriate that it should help poorer ones. For this reason, when I was the city’s bishop, we helped dioceses hit by floods, tsunami, earthquakes, both in China and in other parts of the world.”
“Then there is a long list of priests, nuns and bishops in China and elsewhere who received aid. If they come to Hong Kong, they can buy books as well as religious items and furnishings at my expenses.”
Money was also used in translating into Chinese. Card Zen funded the translation of the Compendium to the Church’s social doctrine, published by the Vatican in 2004. Funds were also allocated to the translation of a theology book about the body, as well as many official Church documents, especially those by the pope.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I have never used this money for personal use or for political purposes,” the cardinal said. “It must be said however that this money was given to me personally without any strings attached or any quid pro quo.”
As for Jimmy Lai’s financial contributions to the Democratic Party or other parties, the cardinal has nothing to say.
Still, pro-mainland parties have been critical of its overreliance on a single donor even if such donations are legal.
At the same time though, they remain opposed to proposed legislation that would require all parties, and not only the Democratic Party, to disclose its financial backers.
“If the law did come into place, we might find out that pro-mainland parties are funded by Beijing,” the source said.