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If I didn't know better, I'd say Pope Francis is making George Weigel nervous

George Weigel's syndicated column is called "The Catholic Difference," presumably because in it Weigel lays out the proper way for Catholics to view the world -- and corrects the errors of those non-Catholics (or inadequately formed Catholics) who keep getting things wrong.

I often find that my view of things does not quite line up with what Weigel insists is the "Catholic" position. For example, the January 15 column, "What Popes Can and Can't Do," features this illustrative anecdote:

At an academic conference years ago, a distinguished Catholic philosopher remarked (perhaps hyperbolically) that “If the pope said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I’d believe him.” An even more distinguished Catholic philosopher gave the correct, and far more Catholic, response: “If the Holy Father said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I would say publicly, ‘Perhaps I have misunderstood His Holiness’s meaning.’ Privately, I would pray for his sanity.”

I, meanwhile, would have said the "correct" and "Catholic" response is "Sorry, Holy Father, but that's not right." I probably wouldn't be all that private about it, either.

With this little story, Weigel is attempting to explain that popes can't go around changing established church doctrine on a whim, which is true enough. (He also says, "it is very difficult for those who see Catholicism through political lenses to grasp this." Which of course is why we need George Weigel -- now more than ever!) They do have a little more influence on church doctrine than they do on basic math, but we'll set that aside. Weigel is also taking this opportunity to throw more cold water on the hopes so many non-conservatives have been nurturing since Pope Francis's election. But the occasion of Weigel's warning is odd -- and not just because it follows his proclaiming the Wall Street Journal "America's best newspaper" and praising "the openness of the Journal's op-ed pages to serious Catholic argument on numerous issues." (I've been waiting for their Francis-inspired editorial "Trickle-Down Economics Reconsidered," but I think I must have missed it.)

What has Weigel worked up is a one-sentence description of Pope Francis in a space-filling listicle that ran in the WSJ, "People to Watch in 2014."

The WSJ said: "After raising expectations for shifting views toward homosexuality, divorce, the environment and society's obligation to the poor, the pontiff is expected to also undertake bureaucratic reform at the Vatican, as well as the possible expansion of the role of women in the church."

Weigel sighs. "A change of papal 'administration' does not—indeed cannot—mean a change of Catholic 'views.' Doctrine, as the Church understands it, is not a matter of anyone’s 'views,' but of settled understandings of the truth of things."

Yes, but did the Journal's little blurb really merit this correction? That awkward language about "raising expectations for shifting views" is their way of avoiding the mistake Weigel is anticipating. "Views" does not mean "doctrine." For example: Abortion is a grave wrong. That's church teaching. But whether politicians, or voters, should be denied communion for directly or indirectly supporting prochoice policies is a matter of one's views. When it comes to setting priorities, choosing areas of emphasis, enforcing orthodoxy, and so forth, Pope Francis appears to have some views that are markedly different from his predecessors'. That's not a delusion.  (Weigel doesn't mention that the WSJ's list also includes the USCCB's new president, Joseph Kurtz, and that his writeup offers another capsule summary of the Francis Agenda: "The pope is steering the church away from culture wars over gay marriage and abortion, focusing instead on economic inequality.")

I can't help feeling Weigel is working harder than necessary to spread the message that, when it comes to the prospects for meaningful change under Francis, there's nothing to see here, everyone should just move along. But that could just be a trick of my ideological blinders. As Weigel goes on to explain, women, in particular, shouldn't get too excited:

And “the role of women in the Church”? No doubt various Church structures would benefit by drawing upon a wider range of talent (irrespective of gender) than the talent-pool from which Church leaders typically emerge. Still, in an interview with La Stampa before Christmas, Pope Francis made it clear that identifying leadership in the Church with ordination is both a form of clericalism and another way of instrumentalizing Catholic women. Flying a Vatican desk, Francis was suggesting, is not the acme of discipleship.

There's an awful lot of misdirection and mumbling in that paragraph, considering that this was a fight Weigel picked. I mean, if the first part of the WSJ's sentence was perhaps a bit shaky, the last part, referring to expectations for "the possible expansion of the role of women in the church," is pretty rock solid: Francis has gone beyond typical Vatican boilerplate several times now to say that he thinks it's crucial for women to have a more prominent and non-symbolic role in the structures of the church. (For example: “It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church.... The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised.") He may not follow through on those statements, but that's what he has said.

So what's Weigel doing here? The WSJ (and the pope) referred to "[expanding] the role of women in the Church," not "making women priests." But Weigel responds by arguing against women's ordination, as though ordination were the only possible way that women's role could ever be expanded -- and then he turns around and wags his finger at those who keep "identifying leadership in the Church with ordination"! (They are guilty of a "grave misconstrual of eccesiastical 'roles.'") Also, please note that when the subject under discussion is expanding the role of women, then endorsing "drawing upon a wider range of talent" provided it is done "irrespective of gender" is just a longwinded way of saying "change nothing."

As for that last part, let's see if I'm following: if you object to the fact that, in the church, ordination is restricted to men and authority is restricted to the ordained, you are just contributing to the instrumentalization of women. Why focus on a petty little thing like gender? Truly orthodox defenders of the truth hardly think about it at all. And after all, there are other ways to be a disciple, ways that don't involve upsetting the balance of power that's working so well for the people who get to decide whether things are working well.

But perhaps this is one of those occasions when, finding the pope's plain words alarming, a distinguished Catholic intellectual has only one correct way to respond: by changing the subject and privately praying that the pope will come to his senses.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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I'm waiting for George's next book, "How Pope Francis is Really Beholding to MY Good Friend (Have I mentioned that before in any titles or articles that I am the official biographer?) Great Saint Pope John Paul II and Anything Construed as Not in Line With Him is A Misinterpretation." Shuld beanother best-seller!


Weigel is correct on the doctrinal and ecclesial issues around the role of the pope. However, as you correctly point out, a pope can do a great deal in terms of practice thereby rendering the doctrine superfluous.

And when it come to expnind the role of women in leadership positions, Benedict said much the same thing!

" Pope Francis made it clear that identifying leadership in the Church with ordination is both a form of clericalism and another way of instrumentalizing Catholic women."

This is really a criticism of the exaltation of ordained in the church. Jesus did not intend it. It is a corruption of his message to get into the alter Christus (other Christ) fiasco which elevated the clergy above all Catholics. The pastor is a presider at the mass. Let's really stop the hocus pocus and see the Eucharistic, the celebration of redemption, as the event of all the people. Why no one is seeing what Francis is saying is amazing. Yes women do belong in leadership. But don't insult them by offering them cult status with a group which has forgotten the message. Give them real leadership. (So no more jokes about a priest uttering the words of consecration over a bakery).

Next book - "Francis Derangement Syndrome"

George who?

Of course Weigel is nervous about Papa Francesco:  He doesn't have a pope in place anymore who reflexively reinforces his own narrow ideological world view.

Let's remember, Weigel has made a lot of money on the right-wing ideological gravy train over the years.  After years of pontificating, telling us what we should think and how we should act, Weigel's just protecting his investments.

That's always the bottom line with right-wingers.

Yes, indeed, Pope Francis has some extreme right-wing members of the Church shaking in their boots.  Let's hope that it will not affect the trigger finger of Fr. Z.

Usually the weekly diocesean newspaper arrives with an insert for aid to Catholic Relief Services.  About three weeks ago there was an insert envelope with the title "SPECIAL OFFER FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL FOR CATHOLICS ONLY" or something to that effect.  I could not understand why such a big change in the enclosures.  Well now I have my answer.  Weigel to the rescue to help his buddy Rupert Murduch expand subscriptions (and maybe pick up a dime for two)    Had I had the opportunity to offer my opinion on the best American newspaper I'd have to say, without hesitation, the Christian Science Monitor.  Oh George, you are a sly one, you are.

From a PhD student at Notre Dame University - speaks to an ally of Weigel - "War on Francis"


If the offer of the WSJ was $12 for 12 weeks, the "special" offer for Catholics is not different from their typical offers.  False advertising? Eighth commandment?

Some of us had hoped that the "jump" signal would be placed earlier in postings so that more than ten posts could be listed on the first page.  

Is there any way to increase the number of posts that appear there before they are sent to the black hole much more rarely visited?

Wait until Weigel reads this! : 

02/03/2014 04:30 PM

The Pope's Sex Problem

Catholic Survey Reveals Frustrated Flock




Mollie: You might want to read Peter Beinart's lengthy article titled "The End of American Exceptionalism" at THE ATLANTIC. No, he does not mention Weigel. You'll have to provide the Weigel tie-ins. Beinart makes a passing observation about Rep. Paul Ryan that may be open to question.

My diocesan paper (a monthly) asks to be informed if readers find anything in it that is not consonant with Catholic teaching. Several times I, and others, have complained about Weigel's "Catholic Difference" because his piece, published under that title, said nothing about Catholicism at all (or, indeed, about religion of any kind) and we find it misleading that he appears to equate a particular variety of thoroughly secular conservative political thinking with Catholicism.

That said, his latest screed (which I read in the Vermont Catholic) seems to be simply a continuation of the arguments of all those over the last half-century who have maintained that Vatican II changed nothing, or at least nothing very important. For a while they had (most of the time) John Paul II and Benedict XVI on their side; now they don't.

Much of their confusion (and ours too, no doubt) comes from an unwillingness to engage the question of when, how, and why, the Church has changed its teachings over the last two millenia. They prefer to think that it never has, even when this is patently untrue. They (and we) would be much better off if they engaged the questions posed, not only by what has changed, but what hasn't.

(Many, many years ago, when I asked my Episcopalian mother why women wore hats in church, she told me that St. Paul had warned that uncovered women's hair might tempt the angels. But now, when did you last see a seriously hatted congregation? Is there any evidence of angelic temptation? I wonder how Weigel would explain this).


Brother Weigel will definitely need a good strong dose of smellings salts!  First the Germans, and now the Swiss.



Catholics voice pragmatic attitudes about sex

February 4, 2014 - 15:12


The sky is definitely falling!



The snide shot at the WSJ Editorial page is a simple indicator of this author's lack of understanding of Wcon 101.

Ditto the Pope's.

'Trickle Down' is something that is used ONLY as a pejorative. As a real economic theory it does NOT exist....non-Economists and those who know they want to at least kick what they think of as Capitalism in the shins will use it ---as did Pope Francis, I am very sorry to say.

The (in my mind) legitimate and worthwhile proponents of Free market Capitalism have always insisted that it be carried out under the rule of law....when this Pope speaks of 'unbridled Capitalism' and 'unbridled Free markets' he is speaking of a system which moral men who embrace Capitalism and Freedom, abhor.

It's a straw man....and this Pope should be beyond and above creating straw men to curry favor with some erstwhile LiberationTheologians whose bruises he his trying to salve.....

To quote Tom Sowell, "Capitalism is not an "ism." It is closer to being the opposite of an "ism," because it is simply the freedom of ordinary people to make whatever economic transactions they can mutually agree to."--- "Unbridled" is NOT part of that description and this Pope ought to recognize that.

When another economic system demands the LACK of coercion that capitalism demands and when another system creates as much wealth and pulls as many OUT of poverty as 'Capitalism' does, then I'll listen to the Pope on things economic.

Till then, he does us a favor by sticking to his knitting.

In his Helsinki lecture of Nov 29, 2013, Tomas Piketty demonstrated that "high wealth inequality is not due to any "market failure": this is a market success: the more frictionless and distortion free are capital markets, the higher will wealth inequality become."


Welcome to the Acton Institute annex.

Please be careful -- there is a wide berth in the Catholic Church for political views of many kinds, however, there is NOT berth for denigration of the Sacraments which Our Lord most certainly did intend as evidenced in such Scripture passages as John 20-23 (whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven, etc.), John 6 (this is My Body, etc.), Cana and other places.   


There IS sacramental grace -- ergo, not natural and not merely ascertained by the five senses - at work in each and every one of the Catholic sacraments including Holy Orders.    Only the substitious and bleak, crass materialists believe otherwise.  

To denigrate the operation of the supernatural in the world and in the Church is expressly NOT Catholic. 

One may make of themselves an adept secularist with such statements, but not a Catholic.   The supernatural working THROUGH and ALONGSIDE the natural is part and parcel of Christian faith.


Also...I am very grateful for George Weigel's writings and teachings.   He is helping to breathe new life into people's faith. 


You are free to disagree with him ...are there any of us who fully 100% agree with anybody on everything?....but he is doing a lot of good.   Please let's don't forget this.

(Which is more than I can say of those of us here on a comments board rattling off?)


We are all allowed not to like everything the Pope says.   So let's move on.   It is well-established that only ex-cathedra statements/doctrine from the Pope are infallable.    Menawhile, Jesus' Word is infallible.  His life is infallible.   His love is infallible. Let us focus our eyes instead on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, "who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, scorning its shame."   He is the Perfect One.   All else flows from Him.


God bless you.

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