Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church
Basic Books, $26.95, 307 pp.
George Weigel has chosen a risky title for his book on the election of Pope Benedict XVI. The claim that Joseph Ratzinger was “God’s choice” for pope is a judgment that needs the long perspective of time to warrant or to test it. In any case, Pope Benedict himself has expressed reservations about attributing papal elections too readily to the direct action of the Holy Spirit—as he has pointed out, dubious or incompetent popes have been elected too often for the process to be considered routinely inspired. And famously, when the late Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster ventured the opinion that the newly elected John Paul I had been “God’s candidate,” he was to be rudely confounded by the sudden death of that candidate just one month later. Absit omen.
Weigel’s book is in part an exercise in journalistic thrift, the reworking of his weeks in Rome as a commentator for a major American TV network during the obsequies of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. Its first hundred pages or so contain many evocations of those remarkable days last April, when the world’s media set everything else aside to cover the funeral of an octogenarian Polish priest, and religion briefly held center stage in a secular world. This section of the book also presents Weigel’s own assessment of the legacy of Papa Wojtyla. To those who know his indispensable biography of John Paul II (Witness to Hope), and his more recent...