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China tells journalists not to call Cardinal Zen ‘emeritus bishop’

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, prays before Pope Benedict XVI's final public appearance as pope in 2013 (CNS)

A state-run news agency in China has directed mainland journalists to refer to Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun not as the “emeritus” bishop of Hong Kong, but to use the word “former.”

The new terminology on how to refer to Cardinal Zen was part of a broader list of words and phrases to be “banned or used with care”, issued by the Xinhua News Agency to media workers in China, reported.

“‘Former bishop’ instead of ’emeritus bishop’ should be used to address Zen Ze-kiun and other retired bishops of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese,” said point No. 48, according to the list posted by several Chinese media.

Cardinal Zen, who retired as bishop of Hong Kong in April 2009, has spoken out on political freedom, human rights and religious persecution, especially during his six-year tenure as bishop of Hong Kong.

The cardinal was born and raised in pre-communist Shanghai. In a May interview, Cardinal Zen told the Catholic Herald: “In Shanghai we had a hard life during the war with Japanese occupation, but they didn’t intervene directly in the Church.

“When the communists took power I could not go back to China any more. I was able to communicate with my family but very carefully.”

He also raised concerns about the government’s treatment of Catholics, saying: “In my conscience, I have to shout what my convictions are,” the cardinal told the Herald.

“There is no improvement for Catholic life in China. Surely it is going backwards, and I cannot allow that to happen.” reported the word ban has riled several mainland Catholic bloggers, already dealing with a ban on using virtual private networks, a tool that they use to avoid China’s so-called Great Firewall internet censorship.

“Emeritus bishop. So, come and arrest me?” challenged a Catholic blogger on social media.

Another blogger said, “It is the church practice to call a retired bishop as emeritus bishop. It is a departure from reality to change the way of addressing.”

The first 45 points in the list of banned words in news coverage were released in November 2015. The revised list has been circulating since July 19, adding 57 more points and updated as of July 2016 – but only recently leaked to other media.

Cardinal Zen is the only Catholic figure named in the list.