George Weigel

To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II

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A Roman Press Conference

A press conference was held in Rome on Friday, December 15, for discussion of the Italian editions of two of EPPC Senior Fellow George Weigel’s books, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God and God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, both of which are published in Italy by Rubbettino Editore. The press conference was held at Rubbettino’s Rome offices and attended by television, radio, and print journalists. Sandro Magister, the internationally-renowned Vaticanista of L’Espresso, introduced Weigel, following opening remarks by the head of Rubbettino Editore, Florindo Rubbettino; Dr. Luca Volonte, a member of the Italian Parliament; and Dr. Flavio Felice, professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Dr. Volonte and Dr. Felici are both graduates of EPPC’s Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society; Volonte wrote the introduction to La Cattedrale e il Cubo, while Felici wrote the introduction to Benedetto XVI: La Scelta di Dio.

George Weigel’s opening remarks follow.

It is an honor and a pleasure to be here at Rubbettino Editore this afternoon, and I thank you for your presence.

I am very grateful to Florindo Rubbettino for publishing such handsome books, as I am to my former students, Luca Volonte and Flavio Felici, for their kind words and their introductions to these books. There is no greater professional satisfaction for a teacher than to have his students become his colleagues. My thanks, too, to my good friend, Sandro Magister, who is the best Vaticanista in the world — and whose “footprints,” we might say, are evident throughout God’s Choice or, as Rubbettino has chosen to title the book, Benedetto XVI. Sandro’s e-mail newsletter is indispensable reading for anyone trying to understand the pontificate of Benedict XVI and the debates within the Roman Curia.

Let me say a few words, very briefly, about the relationship of these two books to the book for which, as Sandro indicated, I am best known in Italy: Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II. As I indicate in God’s Choice, the pontificate of Benedict XVI is in “dynamic continuity” with the pontificate of John Paul II — how could it be otherwise, given the fact that Joseph Ratzinger was one of John Paul’s closest intellectual collaborators? Their relationship is discussed at some length in Witness to Hope, but the current edition of that book ends in the midst of the Great Jubilee of 2000. Three years after that, in 2003, John Paul issued Ecclesia in Europa (The Church in Europe), arguably the most important document of his last years. That text, with its penetrating analysis of the spiritual crisis in which contemporary Europe finds itself — a crisis whose most striking manifestation is the fact that Europe is depopulating itself, with no E.U. member-state today having a replacement-level birth rate — was a kind of inspiration for The Cube and the Cathedral, which cites Ecclesia in Europa extensively. The spiritual crisis of Europe was also (as I hope to have shown in God’s Choice) one of the reasons why the Conclave of 2005 quickly resolved itself in favor of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — a man from the heart of Europe and a respected figure in the worlds of European high culture. John Paul II had relentlessly preached a “new evangelization” in Europe; the demographics suggested that there was perhaps one more opportunity for that “new evangelization” to turn things around; and many cardinals believed that Joseph Ratzinger was the man to seize that opportunity.

He began to do that in earnest, I suggest, in his now-famous lecture at Regensburg University in September. There, he identified two grave threats to the human future in the 21st century: an irrational faith in which God is understood to command the irrational, including the murder of innocents — that is, jihadist Islam; and a loss of faith in reason, which makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, to defend the moral truths on which the West’s commitments to religious freedom and other basic human rights, the rule of law, and democracy are based — which is, alas, the situation in which much of Europe finds itself, culturally. To be sure, those two threats exist throughout the West, but they exist in a particularly acute form in Europe — a judgment in which I have been reinforced by my experience of the past week, in which I gave lectures and engaged in numerous conversations with churchmen, journalists, students, and political leaders in Brussels and Paris.

If those threats are not openly acknowledged — and met by a recommitment to faith in reason and to a dialogue about the human future conducted through the vocabulary of “rationality” and “irrationality” (which is precisely the dialogue proposed by Pope Benedict at Regensburg) — then Europe’s future is bleak indeed.

It is a great blessing to have been given two popes — world-class intellectuals, radical Christian disciples, effective evangelists — who have seen so clearly to the cultural and spiritual roots of the crisis of Europe which, as I say, exists in somewhat milder forms throughout the entire orbit of Western civilization. The challenge before all of us is to take that acute analysis and bring it alive in public life, without aggression but also without fear. Time is short. The task is very large, and very urgent.

I would now be happy to answer any questions.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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