Setting a Narrow Table

Papal hagiographer George Weigel (Witness to Hope) recently gave an interview to on the church’s sexual-abuse crisis. Not surprisingly, no mention was made of John Paul II’s possible misjudgments or mismanagement in appointing or promoting most of the bishops who have, even according to Weigel, handled the scandal so ineptly. No, the cause of the scandal is quite clear: the sexual abuse of minors by priests was caused by the "aging culture of dissent" within the church, especially the dissent of theologians from Humanae vitae. Unexplained is the exact cause-and-effect relation between the rejection of the ban on artificial contraception by the vast majority of married Catholic couples and molestation of minors by priests. Even more mysterious is the connection between "dissent" from Humanae vitae and the decision by bishops appointed by John Paul II to cover up crimes of abuse. Given the logic of Weigel’s analysis, one would think that these "orthodox" bishops would be immune from such moral lapses.

But Weigel, whose own hawkish writing on just-war questions is construed by some as "dissent," is rarely troubled by doubt when it comes to sexual morality.

"If the leadership of Voice of the Faithful would say unambiguously, ’We accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality, including the church’s teaching on contraception, homosexuality, the indissolubility of marriage, and the good of celibacy,’ then VOTF would have a real place at the table in helping lead a genuinely Catholic reform of the Catholic Church," Weigel said on Beliefnet. "But I don’t hear any of that at all."

In other words, "genuinely Catholic reform" will take place around a very small table. Only those who agree with Weigel and John Paul II’s "authoritative interpretation" of Vatican II are invited. One wonders who was sitting around that table when the church changed its teaching about usury, slavery, and religious freedom.

Weigel’s solution to the church’s current problems? "It is necessary for everyone now who wishes to be part of genuinely Catholic reform to make unambiguously clear that they accept the definitive teaching of the Catholic Church on these issues. Not to is not an option. Not for bishops, for priests, for laypeople. You can’t simply say, 'That’s a whole bunch of other stuff to be settled later and what we’re talking about is who’s in charge here.' That’s not adequate."

Spoken like a pope—or at least certain popes.


Related: VOTF Watch, by Grant Gallicho 
Phantom Heresies
, by Justus George Lawler

Published in the 2002-10-25 issue: 
Also by this author
In Bethlehem

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