Friday, December 11, 2015

George Weigel's internecine attack on internecine attacks

Winston Smith's great moment of clarity, in his cell
(George Orwell, 1984)
When vulgar and uncharitable personal abuse is aimed at people these days, it usually seems to be justified by the claim that the victims have been lacking in charity in some way. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, to see a similarly self-defeating attack on 'intra-Catholic wars' by George Weigel, one of the most ferocious captains of perhaps the most desperate tribe involved in these wars, the neo-cons.

Weigel's view of the respect and obedience due to the Pope only narrowly falls short of Rex Mottram's in Bridehead Revisited. Rex's insincerity about becoming a Catholic is revealed by his falling for the the spoof Catholicism proposed by the mischevious Cordelia Flyte:

Then again I asked him: 'Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said 'It's going to rain', would that be bound to happen?' 'Oh, yes, Father.' 'But supposing it didn't?' He thought a moment and said, "I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.'"

Compare Weigel, who quotes a 'distinguished Catholic philosopher' with approval:

“If the Holy Father said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I would say publicly, ‘Perhaps I have misunderstood His Holiness’s meaning.’ Privately, I would pray for his sanity.”

I can imagine what the fathers, saints and doctors of the Church would say to that attitude, and it's not only the Pope's sanity that I'd be praying for. Is this the meaning of being soldiers of Christ, of holding fast to the Faith: publicly pretending, really, really, hard, that everything is ok, when it isn't?

Weigel's appearances in the English Catholic press seem these days to be limited to attacking everyone in the Church (apart from the Pope, naturally) who doesn't agree with him. He did it a while ago in The Tablet, and I replied, on behalf of both progressives and traditionalists, in The Tablet's own blog with a guest post. He's done it again in The Catholic Herald, so I've written a letter, published last weekend.


How thoughtful of George Weigel (Cover story, November 27) not only to decry the “intra-Catholic wars”, but to give us such a vivid example of this sad phenomenon – in his own article. 

Catholics are divided into camps, and the ones with the temerity to disagree with him are not engaged or analysed, but thrown playground insults: “traditionalists’ ” ideas lead to “self-constructed catacombs”, thanks to them being “somewhat self-indulgent”; “progressives’ ” ideas lead to “the Church’s implosion”. 

Mr Weigel does not stoop to draw out these ideas, and his readers are left entirely in the dark as to what form they might take. To a truly tribal participant in the Church’s internecine conflict, of course, that doesn’t matter.

As Mr Weigel mentions, “progressives” and “traditionalists” share a sense of the radical nature of the Second Vatican Council and the reforms that followed it. This understanding is increasingly supported by the historical record, as more information comes to light: the recently published diaries of the Council peritus and member of the liturgical reform Consilium, Louis Bouyer, is only the latest example. If we are to address the problems of today, we must engage with this reality, and not start from inside a bubble of self-delusion.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph Shaw
Chairman, the Latin Mass Society
See also my post about criticising the Pope.

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. "Is this the meaning of being soldiers of Christ, of holding fast to the Faith: publicly pretending, really, really, hard, that everything is ok, when it isn't?" Amen!!

    Where are the zealous Faithful, the holy priests, the courageous bishops - willing to fight against the powers of darkness and to sacrifice themselves to the Enemy's persecution, in defence of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church, for the truth???

    The best are lukewarm . . .
    Reparation! Reparation! Reparation!

  2. Several years ago I attended a fund-raising event at which Weigel was the speaker. He made it very clear that he has no use for "Latin Catholics" at the time; since then, I've largely ignored him.

    He did not mask his contempt with some niceties, either.