George Weigel

To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II

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Interview with George Weigel

John Zmirak of interviews EPPC Distinguished Senior Fellow George Weigel:

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of working with George Weigel as editor of his new book: Practicing Catholic: Essays Historical, Literary, Sporting and Elegiac. His graceful, provocative essays set me to thinking, and gave me a few questions for the eminent Catholic author. He kindly agreed to answer a few for me here.

In your new book, Practicing Catholic, you discuss the function of “narrative” in the 2008 election of Barack Obama. What kind of “narrative” are secular media spinning concerning this year’s campaign?

At the moment, the story-line seems unsettled. In early September, the press had re-elected the president. Then the first debate reversed the polarities, which was, of course, not to the mainstream media’s taste, although it did keep the story going. What I find depressing about all this who’s-up-who’s-down business is that it fails to grapple with the real issues: a stagnant economy; millions denied the dignity of honest work; America disdained around the world, with lethal consequences.

You devote a long essay to John Courtney Murray, whose work laid the foundations for the Church’s teaching on religious liberty at Vatican II. What’s most important about Murray for today’s readers? Which of his insights are in danger of being forgotten?

Murray argued that America is a “proposition country,” a country based on ideas, which were in fact moral ideas. When we lose our grip on those moral ideas, we lose America. That is a very real and present danger today, and it’s obvious in the threats to religious freedom, to marriage and the family, to the unborn and the “inconvenient” elderly, and to all those whom someone finds less-than-useful.

You write about the rise and decline of the “Bernardin machine,” a mechanism that rallied Catholics to the left. Is the American Catholic left really dying? If so, what’s killing it?

Theologically, I’d say ‘intellectual implausibility.’ Beyond that, the Catholic left is joined to the hip to morally and fiscally bankrupt “progressive” politics. The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious freedom was, in large part, a product of the liberal Catholicism in America of the 1950s and early 1960s. That today’s “progressives” have been AWOL in the 2012 religious liberty wars marks the end of that project.

What would you say to Catholics who argue that the American Right’s consensus positions on foreign policy, torture, war, and immigration are just as irreconcilable with Church teaching as the Left’s embrace of abortion, the contraception mandate, and homosexual “marriage”?

They’re mistaken. First of all, there’s no “consensus” on these questions among conservatives. Second, the life issues are THE priority social justice issues, as two popes and innumerable bishops have made clear. The Catholic left does not earn a Get Out of Jail Free card by being pro-immigrant (as I am), when it abandons the weakest among us to the culture of death and supports the expansion of the Leviathan state.

You have an essay entitled “Saint” Evelyn Waugh. Really? Please explain.

It’s explained in the essay. Waugh was actually a pretty good amateur theologian. He knew that we must all become saints in order to live comfortably in the Kingdom. And the last years of his life were, I think, an effort to become a more thoroughly converted man.

You have a long-standing relationship with Poland, and visited there just recently. How is the Church faring there? Is Poland slipping down the same road to secularism as Ireland? If not, why not?

I wouldn’t compare it to Ireland, but an Italian future for Poland is not out of the question fifteen or twenty years downstream. There is very weak Catholic leadership there; the Church has yet to learn to speak in a “public” voice; catechetics are very poor; seminaries are unreformed. There is still an enormous balance sheet of piety and devotion in Poland, but you can’t draw down those assets profligately forever.

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

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