Flag on the play

The Denver Catholic Register, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver, led by Archbishop Charles Chaput, published a George Weigel column aimed squarely at Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C. (The Register distributes Weigel's column to more than sixty U.S. Catholic papers.)The piece, "Truth at the Fifty Yard Line?" (hint: Weigel thinks not), takes as its starting point an anecdote McCarrick "frequently" told as he approached retirement:

the story of the Pope walking up the center aisle of Newark cathedral in October 1995, touching people on both sides. This, Cardinal McCarrick suggested, was how priests and bishops ought to act sticking to the middle, in order to be in touch with everyone. Or, as he told National Public Radio, the job of a priest always forces you to the middle...Weve got to be in the middle so that we dont let those on the left or the right get lost.

"Its not easy to know what Cardinal McCarrick means by his oft-repeated admonition to moderation," he continues. After pointing out McCarrick's alleged immoderation in supporting school vouchers, Weigel moves to "questions of doctrine." On this subject, he summarizes McCarrick's Washington Post piece

about three Catholics...described as Catholicisms great hope in the 21st century: a Jakarta nun who describes herself as both a devout Catholic and a devout Muslim; a Sri Lankan Jesuit whose Asian-inflected theology of Christ and the Church has little room for the ancient dogmatic formulas preserved by Rome; the president of a Benedictine college in Manila who has no qualms about celebrating Mass without a priest."

Did I say McCarrick wrote that piece? Sorry, I meant R. Scott Appleby. Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. At the University of Notre Dame. In South Bend. Indiana.What does this have to do with McCarrick? "Shortly before the Holy See announced that Pope Benedict had accepted Cardinal McCarricks retirement," Weigel explains, "R. Scott Appleby wrote in the Washington Post about three Catholics..." That's all the context he provides. He uses Appleby to set out the list of doctrines on which one oughtn't be moderate.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God or he isnt; Mohammed is the final Prophet or he isnt; you cant split the difference at the fifty-yard line. Is the ancient dogmatic formula which attests to Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord true? Or is it false? To stand in the center of the aisle and claim to be in communion of mind and heart with people who both affirm and deny that formula is to confess to severe intellectual confusion. Is a validly ordained priest necessary for the valid consecration of the Eucharist, or isnt he? Its hard to believe that Cardinal McCarrick would have wanted his archdiocesan vocation director to stand in the center of the aisle on that one.

But these issues were raised in Scott Appleby's piece, a book review in which he summarizes the views of other people, none of whom has the name McCarrick. So, I'm left wondering, what is George Weigel attempting here? A late hit by proxy?In an unusual move, Cardinal McCarrick has issued a response (currently this is available only on dotCommonweal):

Moderation andCivilityCardinal TheodoreE. McCarrickFormer Archbishopof WashingtonJuly 26, 2006

There are times when it probably is better not to reply to articles that unfairly or even irresponsibly distort ones own teaching on issues, lest one gives more importance to the misinformation than it deserves.

Sometimes, however, it truly is important to set the record straight in the face of half-truths or innuendos, lest the old axiom that silence presumes consent gives the impression that one has no reply, and the field is left to those who manipulate words into fanciful concepts with little relevance to the facts.

A recent column by George Weigel that ran in this newspaper is a case in point. The column incorrectly equates my repeated calls for civility in public life and in the Church with a lack of uncompromising commitment to the doctrine of our faith. Nothing could be further from the truth, as anyone who has taken the time to read my many talks and columns would know.

Not only that, the column goes on to describe the positions of three Catholics from other nations -- people I dont know as if their erroneous views were my own. That is, at the minimum, deceptive journalism, if not worse. It is an old trick of debaters to create a straw man and then demolish it, giving the false impression that one is thereby proving a point.

Therefore, let me be clear once again. I will continue to call for moderation and civility, and to reach out and talk with everyone, regardless of what side of the aisle they are on. That doesnt mean compromising our faith and our teachings, but it does mean that we treat each other with respect as befits the dignity of our brothers and sisters, avoid name calling and personal attacks and be careful that what we say is always true both in its expression and its implication.

I have no desire to enter into a long controversy on this question, but I do believe this newspapers readers at least deserve the facts.

Let us pray for each other that soon it may be said again of us what was said in days of old: "See these Christians, how they love one another!"

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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