Weigel v. Weigel
gregmetzger printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Nov 08, 2011 at 11:33:28 AM EST
"George Weigel's description of the Vatican office that authored the recent Vatican document on the global economy directly contradicts his own work in his biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope."
In a recent post, Frank Cocozzelli emphasized the importance of standing up to media distortions of Catholic Social Teaching by people generally considered leaders of the Religious Right. I see the same need as Frank and so was heartened when the Washington Post's EJ Dionne did exactly that in an important column last week. Dionne was writing about the Vatican's recent statement on the global economy and the description of it provided by GeorgeWeigel, a man who is, for better or for worse, a key commentator on Catholicism in American secular and religious media. Given Weigel's stature it was significant that he had dismissed the Vatican document as "an uncritical internationalism of a distinctly Euro-secular provenance." Dionne's response to that part of Weigel's article was appropriate, but more important was the way he took issue with Weigel's characterization of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) which was responsible for writing the document for the Vatican. Here is Weigel's description followed by Dionne's reply:

The document is a "Note" from a rather small office in the Roman Curia...the lower echelons of the Roman Curia [which] doesn't speak for the Pope, it doesn't speak for "the Vatican," and it doesn't speak for the Catholic Church.

Dionne: As it happens, the Pontifical Council is no mere "small office." It has been a pioneer over the years in Catholic thinking about solidarity and justice. And this document is firmly rooted in papal teaching going back to Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II. Pope Benedict's 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, spoke explicitly of the need for a global political authority to keep watch on an increasingly integrated world economy.
Inside-the-church politics aside, the Pontifical Council's document is important because it reflects an ethical approach to economics shared well beyond Catholic circles. In particular, the council grapples intelligently with the problem of how the economy can be subject to reasonable rules when the nation-states that once enforced such regulations have less and less power, given how swiftly and easily capital moves.

I agree with what Dionne has said, but he could have said much more. What further research shows is that Weigel's description is inconsistent with Weigel's own substantial writing on the PCJP. Consider, for instance, these quotes representing the entirety of Weigel's writings on the PCJP in his landmark biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope--the book, it should be noted, that Weigel's own current high standing in the secular and religious media is a direct result of.

On page 330 of Witness to Hope Weigel describes the then head of the PCJP, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, as "one of the pope's personal diplomatic troubleshooters".

On page 447 he describes Etchegaray's promotion to head of the PCJP in 1984 as "a major redeployment of personnel at the senior levels of the Roman Curia."

On page 512 he notes that the PCJP was given "responsibility for arranging `the who, what, where, and how'" for one of the signature events of John Paul's pontificate--the interreligious World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assissi. On page 514 Weigel goes so far as to note that the PJPC's leadership on the Assissi event stood in sharp contrast to the minor, perfunctory role given to other "senior curial officials".

On pages 558-560 Weigel rightly highlights the significance of John Paul II's encyclical on social justice, Solicitudo Rei Socialis. Weigel defends the document against criticism and misunderstanding on the Right and the Left, while taking special care to note that the development of this document occurred under the strong leadership of Cardinal Etchegaray and Bishop Mejia of the PCJP. Weigel's attempt at a balanced and nuanced analysis of this encyclical and the PCJP's role in its development stands in marked contrast to his analysis of the PCJP's recent work.

On pages 718-719 Weigel highlights the key role played by the PCJP in another of John Paul II's most significant actions--the pope's participation in the United Nation's Cairo World Conference on Population and Development. Weigel points out that in a meeting in which "every ambassador accredited to the Holy See" was called to attend, the PCJP's president was one of just five Vatican officials directed by John Paul to address the ambassadors. When the debate was taken up in New York, it was Monisgnor Martin of the PCJP who Weigel reports made the key criticism of the UN's proposed draft document.

When the crisis in East Timor reached unprecedented levels in 1996, Weigel notes that it was the PCJP's Etchegaray who was sent "off to Jakarta, Indonesia, to try to find a diplomatic solution, by back channel if necessary, to the continuing troubles." (780)

On page 806 we learn that it was the PCJP's Etchegaray who first "broached the question of a papal pilgrimage to Cuba", arguably one of the signature trips of John Paul's entire papacy.

When Etchegaray was promoted to President of the Committee for the Great Jubilee of 2000 and was replaced as president of the PCJP by Archbishop Thuan of Vietnam, Weigel said on page 832 that it was part of a "major reorganization of senior curial personnel" which, in part by virtue of Thuan's Vietnamese heritage, "further internationalized the Church's central bureaucracy and brought men with extensive pastoral experience and demonstrated intellectual interests into positions of leadership."

The PCJP that emerges from Weigel's years of research into Witness to Hope, in other words, is quite clearly a vital and integral part of the Vatican in general and the modern papacy specifically. There is nothing in Weigel's extensive writing on the former Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, that would indicate a dramatic change has occurred since John Paul's death in the role of the PCJP--certainly not changes in anyway proportional to Weigel's current description of the PCJP as some hole in the wall outfit that owes its existence to the ongoing leverage of marginal bishops of a quasi-socialist bent. In fact, Weigel's distortion of the PCJP is so severe that some conservatives who agree with Weigel's economic views have begun to call him out on it. For instance, Charles Smith has written a sharp retort to Weigel at the National Post's religion blog:

It is as if [Weigel] cannot bring himself to simply say the Church might have gotten it wrong... So this document, or "note," speaks for no one but a Pontifical Council issues it for the fun of it? How does that work? And how in the world would anyone know that this document does not reflect a point of view of the Vatican...? How does Mr. Weigel know? It is not as if the note came with a warning that said: "Ignore The Contents of This Note. We're From the Vatican But Not Really."... In other words, [according to Weigel] the document was a bunch of meaningless suggestions made for no reason at all ("I know, let's suggest a central world bank for the hell of it!")... I think I am clear now. Do not pay attention to any Vatican document until someone of the calibre of Mr. Weigel explains how we are supposed to read it.

Smith and I don't agree on the merits of the Vatican document but I think we agree on this: What Weigel rightly said in describing the Drudge Report's slanted coverage of the Vatican document applies equally to Weigel's coverage, for it too is "rubbish, rubbish, rubbish."



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This is exactly why I find Weigel so exasperating. He himself is highly selective about picking and choosing what parts of Catholicism to follow. Much of what he chooses is more suited to neoconservatism than religious teaching.  

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Nov 08, 2011 at 04:20:49 PM EST
And Frank, isn't it frustrating the way that he creates these strawmen? In this case, he even creates a strawman that contradicts with his own writing. Frederick Clarkson is calling it "the Weigel wiggle"...

by gregmetzger on Tue Nov 08, 2011 at 07:55:56 PM EST
Parent
It could be that Weigel's punditocractic hackery is becoming so notorious that The Weigel Wiggle may need a definition.

How about: The Weigel Wiggle is the act of pretending one's own scholarship does not exist when it contradicts the cheap political point one wants to make.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 10:12:15 PM EST
Parent



Weigel's never has admitted he was wrong to defend Marcial Maciel. He has never admitted that Maciel was a sexual predator, despite the overwhelming evidence.

by khughes1963 on Tue Nov 08, 2011 at 10:05:43 PM EST
Parent
I thought that he had faced the Marciel allegations and admitted them. I saw him interviewed about it a while back and he was discussing how damaging his immorality was to the Legionares. If you have something different on that, please put up a link. I will look for one as well.


by gregmetzger on Wed Nov 09, 2011 at 05:52:02 PM EST
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