The National Catholic Review
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The Tablet of London reported in early September that George Weigel has been bringing to Polish Catholics his criticism of the “incoherent sentimentalism” of Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Apparently Weigel claims that since the encyclical does not represent the pope’s views, Catholics should remain faithful to the “pro-capitalist teachings” of their countryman Pope John Paul II.

Weigel, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is the author of a massive biography of Pope John Paul II titled Witness to Hope. Though widely researched and respectfully praised, the book does not very successfully establish the “pro-capitalist teachings” of the pope who, as a Fortune magazine editor complained in November 1982, was “wedded to socialist economics and increasingly a sucker for third world anti-imperialist rhetoric.” Weigel acknowledges the harsh reaction of pro-capitalists to John Paul II’s encyclical On Social Concern, six years later, but in this case he proposes that the sections of the encyclical that clash with his own interpretation of John Paul were the result of committee work and Roman Curial politics.

Weigel uses the same tactic in dealing with Pope Benedict’s new encyclical letter on charity, truth and social justice. But this time he is less gracious. With a conspiratorial tone worthy of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, Weigel suggests in an article in The National Review online edition of July 7, subtitled “The Revenge of Justice and Peace (Or So They May Think),” that some liberal virus has infected the encyclical. We are advised to read it armed with a gold marker and a red marker. The gold should highlight those passages that are authentically Benedict’s (that is, they agree with Weigel); the red is for the passages inserted by the pope’s evil peace-and-justice twin. Otherwise we are stuck with “an encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.” The good Benedict is lucid and moving; the bad Benedict is “incomprehensible” and marked by “confused sentimentality.” Are these the passages that refer to world governance and the common good, the strategic importance of unions, the redistribution of wealth and governmental restraints on capitalism?

One not familiar with Weigel might think the disrespect, even ridicule, is intentional. One might even think, upon reading Weigel’s analysis, that Benedict apparently has not read his own encyclical or that he has signed on to something he does not believe. Whatever the case, Weigel tells us that the pope, “a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include in his encyclical these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household.”

So that is what Weigel thinks of this pope: He is a gentle soul who signs his name to a document that misrepresents his own theology and its application.

This is not the case. If anything, the present pope is an astute and intelligent man, not the pawn of some interest group. Rather, as was the case with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict has an integrative vision of our faith. His notion of “gratuitousness” or “the gift” in human existence is a frontal rejection of our myths of “self-made” men and women. The gift of our shared existence as a human family is grounded, for Benedict, in the Gospel that brings all things under Christ.

“All things” means everything: our political, social, economic, personal, sexual, familial and professional worlds. Any encyclical that tries to address such integration of our faith will be complex and wide-ranging, from the far reaches of theology to the immediacy of our daily lives. Some people will reject the connections among love of the earth, the common good of all humanity, the integrity of sexuality, the Gospel imperatives concerning the use of power and money and the defense of human life at every stage. But in selecting what we want to affirm and rejecting what we do not affirm out of our own proclivities, we mutilate the Gospels and fragment the truth. Benedict himself cautions us against such selectivity, by which we lose sight of the integrated teaching.

So apply, if you must, your gold pencil to things you agree with, whether in Pope Benedict’s writings or the Gospels, and mark in red what does not fit your prejudice. You may then be pleased with yourself. But you will also be stuck with yourself.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo. 

Comments

mapko | 10/15/2009 - 2:34pm
"Both
for nations and for individual men, avarice is the most evident form of moral
underdevelopment.”

Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio

Ron Pelley | 10/8/2009 - 3:13am
Fr Jack has once again exemplified the adjective "Jesuitic" in a postive manner - that is approaching complexity with clarity and a certain elegance.  Of all that I know about Pope Benedict, he has never been one to lead by consensus.  He believe in orthodoxy while acknowledging complexity.  He is the first Pope in several hundred years with authentic academic credentials and he writes like an academic tackling a tough question.  Trying to force simple views of complex social issues down the gullets of a multitude is not this Pope's way.
All of that being said, in reconciliation of our sin of hubris, let us all go out and each of us, in the next two months, organize a food drive that will yield ten thousand food items.  That way, the increasing numbers of the hungry in our nation will have a little better Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This will demonstrate that we are really in tune with what Pope Bendict and Jesus Christ are getting at -  "Love your neighbor and Feed the hungry". 
David Power | 10/5/2009 - 3:56pm
It is not good that so many catholics in this blog seem to delight in the folly of their brother in the Faith .George Weigel made a mistake in his theology ,something which everybody is capable of and even a wise head like Fr Kavanagh has surely done the same .Fr Kavanagh writes very well and very precisely as usual but he does not write on this occasion with a pastoral pen.Those who commented on the article including myself seem to have forgotten that God willed that we are in the same communion as Mr Weigel .It is probably for the best that we listen to Fr Kavanagh on this occasion as he seems to see more clearly the wisdom of the catholic approach as represented by the Holy Father in his teaching and a teaching that corresponds to the Gospel of Jesus.But I am sure he (Fr Kavanagh) is not over the moon that others have fallen into the same hubris as Mr Weigel.Mr Weigel can change his mind,I am sure he will.A catholic must love the truth more than himself.He will remember this.        
David Power | 10/5/2009 - 3:55pm
it is not good that so many catholics in this blog seem to delight in the folly of their brother in the Faith .George Weigel made a mistake in his theology ,something which everybody is capable of and even a wise head like Fr Kavanagh has surely done the same .Fr Kavanagh writes very well and very precisely as usual but he does not write on this occasion with a pastoral pen.Those who commented on the article including myself seem to have forgotten that God willed that we are in the same communion as Mr Weigel .It is probably for the best that we listen to Fr Kavanagh on this occasion as he seems to see more clearly the wisdom of the catholic approach as represented by the Holy Father in his teaching and a teaching that corresponds to the Gospel of Jesus.But I am sure he (Fr Kavanagh) is not over the moon that others have fallen into the same hubris as Mr Weigel.Mr Weigel can change his mind,I am sure he will.A catholic must love the truth more than himself.He will remember this.        
Jim Lein | 10/5/2009 - 10:44am
Father Kavanaugh is saying take the pope at his words, that's all.  Pope Benedict has said harsh things before about the downside of capitalism, as in his first encyclical, "God Is Love."  Certainly morality has to be infused into our economic system.  We can't really believe that greed is good, that everyone acting selfishly is Christ's way, that the Invisible Hand of the market is the be all and end all.  Such belief is simply idolatry.   
 
 
James O'Brien | 10/5/2009 - 1:16am
This is a wonderful article making an important point.
Aloysia Moss | 10/3/2009 - 10:08pm
I just love it  !  George Weigel as cafeteria catholic .  Marvelous !  Columbus vindicated : go far enough west and you're east .
DaveP | 10/3/2009 - 10:47am
George Weigel has always been an ideologue rather than any astute commentator on theology or ethics. That's not to say he doesn't make an occasional good point or that his counterpats on the left do not exist also.  However, his depth has always been suspect and the veil of faith in which he has cloaked so much diatribe and bias, is being pulled back.  Let him swing on his own petard.
Jeff | 10/3/2009 - 10:35am
When John Paul II and the Vatican denounced the invasion of Iraq, Weigel countered with the just war doctrine-naturally tailoring it to support the plans and efforts of the Bush administration. Weigel lost all credibility with many Catholics in the process.
Whatever he writes now represents, to many, the ramblings of a Catholic who continually rationalizes his own position by attacking the positions of other, more credible Catholics.
JERRY VIGNA | 10/3/2009 - 8:46am
I have often remarked that we make the error of measuring Catholic Social Teaching (CST) with the yardstick of our political rationality when in fact it should be the other way around. Father Kavanaugh is one of the few who calls "both sides of the aisle" to task on this mistake, and he has done it again. 
Weigel's remarks also sit uncomfortably since he has been one of the prime antagonists in defining other faithful as "cafeteria Catholics."
And whence the sense of entitlement (spiritual enlightenment?) that allows him to suggest ipsissima verba of the pope? Never mind the gnosticism implicit in such a purely rhetorical move.
But if you think Weigel has overreached, and I know many of you readers do not, you ought to take a look a the Capital Research Center's latest diatribe against the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and its request that the bishops cut off funding for it. 
 
David Power | 10/3/2009 - 5:00am
Nice article that does justice to the need for orthodoxy. I tried to write more or less the same argument myself,but failed to come near the level of insight given by the Jesuit Father here.The very first four  or five lines of the Creed  sum up pretty much why anythng apart from the "integrative teaching" spoken of in this article is simply not Catholic.There is so much Dualism inside the Church and inside catholics themselves and good men like George Weigel and many Jesuits occasionally fall prey to it too.We may put forward the most brilliant economic theory ,social Justice plan or argument in favour of contraception but as soon as it departs from the sense of wisdom of our God we only do violence to the minds of believers.Giving us a dominion in any area is wrong,it is a short cut ,tempting to everybody who wants to cut the Gordian Knot.The fact that somebody as clever and intelligent as Mr Weigel and at times the writers here take the same approach to Church teaching should tell us that we all need to discover everyday anew what it means that God became Man and not simply that man two thousand years ago.The dual nature of Christ is the abolition of dualism .Weigel should do a John Allen and take on constructive criticism (Komonchak/Manichean) ,supplied by Fr Kavanagh.In doing so he would be more Ignatian than many Jesuits.
Ted | 10/3/2009 - 12:33am
Weigel is a liberal himself as well as a crypto-rabbi Neo-con who has a penchant for slandering the Church.
Norman Costa | 10/2/2009 - 11:38pm
John Kavanagh,
Nice article. I have issues with other of George Weigel's views, but i'll save them for another time.
c walter mattingly | 10/2/2009 - 7:15pm
We already have a sufficient quantity of so-called "cafeteria Catholics" in prominent political positions who reject the church's position on abortion, deny the validity of one or more of the sacraments, such as the divine presence in the Eucharist, and so forth. Let's not broaden this process to include grazing papal encyclicals, suggesting that one of the most distinguished Catholic theologians of our time doesn't know what he is saying or doing.
leonard Nugent | 10/2/2009 - 6:42pm
The beauty of the church's social teacing is that it transcends politics. Many people are suprised to find God is neither a republican nor a democrat. This is why I love this teaching so much and why it is so difficult for me to vote. Thank you Father Kavanaugh.
CHARLES KINNAIRD | 10/2/2009 - 5:29pm
Thank you, John Kavanaugh, for your comments. Agreed, we all come to matters of faith with our own biases, but let's not try to bend what the Holy Father intends around to support our our biases (hence why should we ever need to grow or change). I was troubled years ago to read George Weigel's editorials which supported the Iraq war. I thought, how can the man who wrote the official biography of Pope John Paul II so callously disregard that same pope's injunction against that war? The pope warned before the US involvement that "war would be a failure of humanity," and he was right. I was troubled that a faithful Catholic like Weigel would disregard those words in order to speak as a conservative American first and let his Catholic faith take a back seat.
That being said, I must admit that I let my liberal bias color where my faith leads. All the more reason for all of us to carefully consider our words and actions. Reason and compassion should be our inner guides as we weigh make ethical decisions in light of our faith.
Jim Collins | 10/2/2009 - 4:24pm
John F. Kavanagh complains of the prejudice he sees in George Weigel's commentary. Rather than expose George Weigel's prejudice he merely reveals his own.
Robert Burke | 10/2/2009 - 3:36pm
I am very glad to see Weigel called out like this. He is little more than a Republican apologist. With George the Lesser discredited and Pope John Paul II gone, he has no one's boots to lick. Poor baby.
Roger R. | 10/2/2009 - 2:31pm
One of Fr. Kavanaugh's best columns yet!
Colin Donovan | 10/2/2009 - 2:22pm
Everything which some Catholic political conservatives find objectional in the encyclical must be understood in the context of other principles he also mentions. International economic or political authority is not hanging out there on its own, supporting a global world order run from New York or Brussels, but must be viewed in light of participation and subsidiarity. Yes, a global economy or environmental issues require agreements or authorities beyond a single nation, but this ALWAYS was in keeping with Catholic social teaching. Pope Benedict merely restates the obvious. And, for the benefit of liberal readers, the Church is also as resolutely opposed to the global nanny state, as it is the domestic one.

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