George Weigel's Irish I.Q.

Last week, I posted about the reactions and overreactions to Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny's speech criticizing the Vatican's handling of the sexual-abuse crisis in Ireland. In that piece, I briefly mentioned the flouncery of George Weigel's response -- published by the National Review -- in which he claimed that Ireland is now the most stridently anti-Catholic country in the Western world. According to Weigel, Ireland has been overtaken by an epidemic of "Catholic-bashing," an "anti-Catholic hysteria" deliberately fomented by Irish politicians. No surprise, then, that he would declare the country "the epicenter of European anti-Catholicsm" -- indeed he deems the place "violently anti-Catholic."William Oddie, a former editor of the Catholic Herald who used to write for the National Review, finds those claims obviously preposterous.

The point is, of course, that the current crisis in Irish Church affairs, involving certainly an unprecedented fury against Irelands bishops and also against Vatican bureaucratic procedures of which Enda Kennys late performance was the most striking example is not about Catholicism at all.


The flaw in Weigels article is very obvious: to be anti-clerical isnt necessarily to be anti-Catholic. Later in his piece, Weigel asks the question How on earth did this most Catholic of countries become violently anti-Catholic? Well, of course, it didnt. To be strongly disenchanted with your own bishops is hardly to be anti-Catholic (and it may indicate precisely the reverse).[...]Weigel has a quick tour dhorizon of the reasons for the secularisation of a few formerly overwhelmingly Catholic countries, which leads him to a bewildering conclusion: Once breached, the fortifications of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in Spain, Portugal, Quebec [not European, not a country], and Ireland quickly crumbled. And absent the intellectual resources to resist the flood-tides of secularism, these four once-hyper-Catholic nations flipped, undergoing an accelerated course of radical secularization that has now, in each case, given birth to a serious problem of ChristophobiaChristo WHAT? WHATphobia? What is actually a crisis in the governance of the Catholic Church in Ireland has now become a general European hatred for the Saviour of the world.

Weigel suggests replacing all of Ireland's bishops--with foreign men, if necessary. Oddie dispatches with that prescription thusly:

And where are the bishops to sort this out to come from? The US, perhaps? Maybe the gruesome results over the last 20 years of self-confident American efforts to tell other people how to run their own affairs might be thought to rule this out? England perhaps? Thats all the Irish need, a few English voices telling them what to do. I think weve been there before: it didnt work. The point is, Mr Weigel, that the Irish spent 800 years shaking off foreign tutelage: theyre certainly not going to accept it now.

As Oddie points out, criticizing church governance doesn't make you anti-Catholic. Anticlerical, maybe. But even so, "its precisely by the moral standards of the Catholic religion that they are now judging all too many bishops and some, a small minority but still far too many, clergy." What's more, the sexual-abuse scandals have not caused a drop in Mass attendance. That began well before recent revelations of clerical misfeasance.So much for Weigel's theory about anti-Catholic Ireland. But what about the one claiming Spain is "now Ground Zero in the European contest between Catholicism and the dictatorship of relativism"?

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

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