The Zen of President Bush

This is a really interesting story in the WaPo about President bush and one of WDTPRS’s favorite cardinals, H.E. Joseph Card. Zen Ze-Kiun.   Biretta tip to Argent   o{]:¬)

A Chinese Cardinal Meets the Real Bush

By Robert D. Novak
Thursday, June 21, 2007; A23

On May 31, President Bush met for 35 minutes in the private living quarters of the White House with Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Hong Kong, in an event that was not announced and did not appear on his official schedule. Their meeting did not please the State Department, elements of the Catholic hierarchy and certainly not the Chinese government. But it signifies what George W. Bush is really about.

In Hong Kong, Zen enjoys more freedom to speak out than do his fellow bishops in China proper, and he has become known as the spiritual voice of China’s beleaguered democracy movement. Since Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing by the British government in 1997, he has increasingly called for both religious freedom and democracy in China. Consequently, the China desk at the State Department in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing contended that, for the sake of Sino-American relations, it would be a bad idea for the president to invite the cardinal. So did some of Zen’s fellow cardinals[Like…. who?  Which cardinals?   See below…]

So, why did the president invite him? The fact that no news of the session leaked out for two weeks indicates that this was no political stunt to revive Bush’s anemic poll ratings. The president got divided counsel from his advisers regarding the impact the meeting would have on China’s rulers. As he nears the end of a troubled presidency, Bush as a man of faith places the plight of the religious in unfree countries at the top of his agenda.

Pope Benedict’s decision last year to place the red hat of a cardinal on Joseph Zen Ze-kiun at age 74 was not popular among advocates of a negotiated settlement between the Vatican and the Chinese government. For the past decade, Zen has been an increasingly vigorous and even strident advocate of democracy for China.

The suggestion that Zen conclude his three-week visit to 14 North American cities with a meeting in the White House came from presidential speechwriter Bill McGurn. One of the most conservative White House aides, McGurn had become acquainted with and impressed by Zen during his time as editorial page editor of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review.

McGurn’s advice did not please the State Department, which contacted the politically well-connected Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, [That figures.  The picture is much clearer now.] the former archbishop of Washington. According to Hong Kong sources, McCarrick advised that it might be better if the U.S. government worked through the regular Vatican diplomatic corps.

Clark T. Randt Jr., the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, also weighed in against a Bush-Zen meeting. Randt is an old China hand who has spent 30 years in Asia as a lawyer-businessman and is fluent in Mandarin. He is referred to as "Ambassador Squish" by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. Randt is also a good friend of the president, dating to their days at Yale[Maybe they were in the same…. organization?]

But more important to Bush than advice from a college chum is what he believes, as the difficult days of what has been an unpopular presidency dwindle. He met in Washington last year with dissident "House Christians" from China. Speaking in Prague, a week after his talk with Zen, Bush affirmed his position on the side of religious dissidents everywhere: "Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul."

In a city abounding in leaks, I first learned on June 13 about the cardinal’s visit to the White House via a circuitous route, from an American Catholic layman. That same day, Raymond Arroyo of the Eternal Word Television Network, acclaimed reporter of Catholic news, made public that the meeting took place.

Bush asked Zen whether he was the "bishop of all China." [The President might not know much about Catholics but he sure does like and respect them.]  Replying that his diocese was just Hong Kong, Zen told Bush of the plight of Catholics in China, including five imprisoned bishops. The cardinal is reported by sources close to him to have left the White House energized and inspired. 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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dave Deavel says:

    The Adam Minter piece in the Atlantic was very interesting on this topic. It was a very favorable article about many of the Patriotic Bishops who declare themselves commited to the Pope. I get the impression that the Holy See is somewhat divided on this issue and that maybe even Pope Benedict is working desperately to both regularize the Patriotic Bishops while not leaving the Underground or the Hong Kong Church out to dry.

    Did you read the Minter piece, Fr. Z? If so, what was your impression?

  2. afanco says:

    My favorite Cardinal was Cardinal Sin, for obvious reasons.

  3. wcy says:

    Cardinal Sin used to say “Welcome to the house of Sin.”

    Anyway, my favorite Chinese Cardinal is Cardinal Kung. His story is inspiring. Read at: .

    One thing about these Chinese Cardinals is that they are traditionally oriented, perhaps something that comes more easily to a Chinese cultural mindset.

  4. danphunter1 says:

    God bless our Commander-in Chief Preident George Bush.

  5. Neo-con propaganda at it’s finest and most cynical. They must think one of the finest cardinals in the world is as shallow as they are. He left inspired “sources say.” Pravda lives.

  6. anonymous says:

    Simon-Peter said:

    Neo-con propaganda at it’s finest and most cynical. They must think one of the finest cardinals in the world is as shallow as they are. He left inspired “sources say.” Pravda lives.

    Neo-con propaganda? Hardly. If you know anything about Bob Novak you would know that he is definitely NOT a neo-con.

  7. Katherine says:

    Novak is a man who pushes a political line, not an objective news reporter. When the President of the United States walks into a meeting he takes seriously, he is briefed ahead of time. The fact that Bush asked Zen whether he was the “bishop of all China” is very telling.

  8. David Deavel says:


    You, too, seem to know nothing about Bob Novak and what his relationship with the Bush administration has been.

    And I wouldn’t be too hard on President Bush about the “bishop of all China” since the whole patriotic Church thing and which bishops are what is confusing to many Catholics, much less a Methodist.

  9. Fabrizio says:

    God Bless President Bush. And may God always protect the great Cardinal Zen.

  10. JH says:

    I am curious why everyone thinks Bush was so inept in his question “Are you the Bishop of All China”. I suspect Bush with his background and yes he was briefed knows a thing or two about these things.

    Remember that the Cardianl accepted his position in his words om behalf of our Chinese. I think Bush is being possbily very astute in his question there. HInt: Bush knows he doesn’t have jurisdication over all Chinese like an ordinary Bishop. He comes from a Anglican tradition and still is a regular communicant at At Johns across the street. The Vocabulary is not foreign to him. THe Cardinal answer was very diplomatic.


  11. We recently heard of Bill (William) McGurn when he kissed the POpe’s ring when the Pope and President Bush met.


  12. Kim D'Souza says:

    I just watched Cardinal Zen talking about his hopes for the Pope’s forthcoming letter in a TV interview to be aired shortly in Canada. A preview is available on line at:
    He is really impressive. What a holy and zealous shepherd of souls! Let us pray for the Holy Father’s efforts to strengthen the Church in China!

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