“I am not confirming it, but if he wanted to see me, why shouldn’t I? Has Bush got leprosy?” Cardinal Zen said. “I am feeling that this is not something I should talk about.”
Unless Zen is being coy (and why would he be?), this is a pretty good indication that the Bush White House – and not Zen – leaked the news of the meeting. I don’t want to make a political judgment here, but I will point out that the leak itself seems to have been pretty self-serving, considering that it was almost simultaneously reported by the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page (subscriber only) and arch-conservative commentator Robert Novak. Both editorials painted the meeting as proof of Bush’s credentials on religious freedom issues (the absolute reddest of meat for Bush’s base), and both pieces have echoed around the Catholic blogs (for example, Rick Garnett‘s really excellent site). One wonders, though, if – before leaking the news – anyone at the White House bothered to touch base with Zen or anyone else in the Catholic hierarchy on whether such a leak would be a good idea for the ongoing diplomacy between Rome and Beijing.
Zen’s reticence with SCMP suggests that the White House didn’t give that much thought.
Finally, a brief note on Novak’s bizarre and parochial concluding sentence:
George W. Bush is at a low point among his fellow citizens, but he is still a major figure for Catholics in China who look to him as a clarion of freedom.
After nearly four years of reporting on China’s Catholics, I must admit that I have never – not once – met a Chinese Catholic who had an opinion on Bush’s stand for religious freedom. In fact, I’d venture to guess that most Chinese Catholics don’t even know that Bush has a reputation as a clarion of religious freedom. But that’s no matter to Novak, whose real purpose in writing about the Zen-Bush meeting likely had very little to do with religious freedom, anyway.