Paul Baumann on George Weigel

Commonweal editor Paul Baumanns review of George Weigels Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church is now available at the website of The Nation. Excerpts follow:

When President Obama was invited to give the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in 2009, more than eighty bishops condemned the university. That a duly elected president of the United States should be regarded as a moral monster unworthy of being given a hearingespecially at a school as steeped in American patriotism as Notre Dameis bizarre. The uproar and the bitter recrimination that followed Obamas speech revealed how deeply divided and directionless the once formidably cohesive American Catholic Church has become. And if George Weigels new book is any indication of where the churchs hierarchy is headed, the divisions promise to grow deeper. Indeed, a good deal of the blame for the bishops belligerent public posture can be laid directly on the desk of the author of Evangelical Catholicism. ...According to Weigel, the evangelical Catholicism of his books title represents a necessary departure from the Counter-reformation or so-called tribal Catholicism of recent centuries. In his view, a Catholicism held together by ethnic affinities possesses neither the fervor nor the missionary commitment needed to meet the challenges of postmodernity. In place of the bricklayer bishops who built a Catholic subculture of schools, hospitals and civic associations across America, whats needed today are bishops like the late John Paul II, men who speak of their faith in compelling, adamantine and fearless ways. These bishops will be disciplinarians, unabashed in demanding doctrinal obedience from priests, women in religious orders and those in the pews. Theologians and politicians who publicly dissent from church teaching must be told that they are no longer Catholic in any meaningful sense. Catholics who do not believe everything the church teaches should leave. (It will be interesting to see how this new breed of priests and bishops responds to the leadership of the recently elected Pope Francis, who seems to take a less confrontational approach to secular culture than Weigel does.) ...Why would Weigel assume that the deep reform of the Catholic Church is relevant to the political and cultural life of most Americans? Because he thinks that, as with Poland under communist domination, Americas fate is now intimately linked to that of Catholicism. The Catholic Church is now the worlds premier institutional proponent of human rights and democracy, he claimsby which he means that the churchs social doctrine offers a principled framework for the preservation of the Wests failing democracies. As far as Weigel is concerned, no other options are available.What to make of these grandiose claims? In one sense, Weigel is repeating what the Catholic Church has always taught. Conversion is what Christianity is about, and so Catholicism, often married to Aristotelian and Thomist notions of natural law and natural rights, remains a vital force in the American political tradition. But the resources of that tradition are broader than the abstract and self-evident truths, invoked by the Declaration of Independence, on which Weigel places such emphasis. The tradition has made use of a variety of philosophical resources, including Enlightenment rationalism, civic republicanism, secular liberal rights theory and pragmatism. It is unlikely we will succeed in forging a more perfect union if we do not make use of all the political resources at our disposal.

You can read the whole thing here. (Update: We earlier noted the inclusion of a link at the end of The Nation's online version of the review; that link has since been removed.)

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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