A tough year ahead

2018 was a bad year for Catholics. 2019 is almost certainly going to be worse.


2018 was a bad year for Catholics. 2019 is almost certainly going to be worse. Good reason, then, to reflect on two recent texts from the Church’s Office of Readings.

The first is from paragraph 48 of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:

“The end of the ages is already with us. The renewal of the world has been established and cannot be revoked. In our era it is in a true sense anticipated: the Church on earth is already sealed by genuine, if imperfect, holiness. Yet, until a new heaven and a new earth are built as the dwelling place of justice, the pilgrim Church, in its sacraments and institutions belonging to this world of time, bears the likeness of this passing world. It lives in the midst of a creation still groaning and in travail as it waits for the sons of God to be revealed in glory.”

And the second is from the Spiritual Canticle of the reforming Spanish Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross:

”Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.”

With those sobering but consoling thoughts in mind, I offer a few speculations about 2019, by way of cautions about the rough waters ahead.

• There will be further revelations of clerical sexual abuse from decades ago, and the false narrative that there is a rape culture in the Catholic Church today will be reinforced.

• More awful details about the behavior of Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, will come to light.

• At least U.S. one bishop, and possibly several, will resign after revelations of malfeasance and worse in handling reports of sexually abusive clergy under their authority.

• Rome and certain sectors of the American Church will continue to ignore or misinterpret empirical evidence about the exceptionally high percentage of adolescent boys and young men who have been victims of clerical sexual abuse.

• The February meeting in Rome to discuss the abuse crisis in a global context will disappoint many U.S. Catholics, who mistakenly imagined that it would produce a global plan for reform.

• Too many senior officials of the Roman Curia will continue to insist that the U.S. reaction to clerical sexual abuse and episcopal malfeasance is exaggerated, media-driven, and somehow “Protestant.”

• The determination of the U.S. bishops’ conference leadership to involve expert Catholic laity in the reform of the priesthood and the episcopate will encounter more resistance in Rome.

• No state attorney general or federal prosecutor will launch an investigation of sexual abuse in public schools.

• October’s Special Synod on Amazonia will (obliquely?) appeal for the ordination of mature married men to the ministerial priesthood in that region, but without input from other local Churches that would be seriously impacted by any such concession – including the Church in the United States.

• Ultramontanism – an excessively Petrocentric idea of the Church that misconstrues the teaching of Vatican I and Vatican II by treating the pope as an oracle – will intensify on an increasingly cranky and authoritarian Catholic Left.

• The Holy See will run a huge deficit, even as Peter’s Pence contributions continue to fall throughout the world Church.

• The persecution of Cardinal George Pell will continue but his conviction on “historic sexual abuse” charges will increasingly be seen by rational people as a grotesque miscarriage of justice motivated by scapegoating, anti-Catholicism, and sordid politics in Australia (and elsewhere).

• As the Xi Jinping regime’s persecution of Christians intensifies, the Vatican’s “deal” with the People’s Republic of China will look even worse and its defense will seem ever more implausible.

• Russian Orthodox spokesmen will continue to blame the Catholic Church for the Moscow Patriarchate’s troubles in Ukraine, further compromising the Russian-centered ecumenical grand strategy of the Holy See toward the complex worlds of Orthodoxy.

A tough year lies ahead. Yet Christ, risen and triumphant, remains present and available in the Eucharist, to which serious missionary disciples will have ever more frequent recourse for strength and courage. May His Kingdom come.

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About George Weigel 490 Articles
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. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Thank you for understanding the vendetta against the innocent Cardinal Pell. Among the terrible results of the sin and corruption of so many cardinals and bishops is the fact that the innocent are swept up along with the guilty. Any even remotely rational look into what is going on in Australia will make the truth clear.

  2. Good news–faithful Catholic laity will increasingly step up to the plate and, with persecution, plant and nurture the seeds for a much stronger Church than we have seen in a long time,

  3. Weigel points to “the February meeting in Rome to discuss the abuse crisis in a global context [which] will disappoint many U.S. Catholics, who mistakenly imagined that it would produce a global plan for reform.”
    Perhaps we peripheral U.S. Catholics need only to adjust our expectations?

    Given that the maneuvered outcome of the Youth Synod was a last-day endorsement of—undefined and unvetted—“synodality,” might the surprise outcome of the February event likewise be more, indefinite wedge-language, this time on the cover-story issue of “clericalism”?

    All to set the stage for the later Amazon synod that Weigel also mentions, and which then will feel authorized to expand less “obliquely” upon the merits of a married priesthood. (On this local/historic theme, think Reformation Europe: If “yes” to “solve” the loss of communicants, the priest shortage, secret marriages and concubinage of priests, all in Germany, then why not elsewhere in France or Italy, or even Spain?)

    With sexual abuse now exposed by McCarrick (et al) to be, what, a seamless garment (!) spread across the abuse of the youth, to non-youth and seminarians, to complicity, and to favoritism and appointments at the highest level, surely such an inclusive pattern does not exclude the seemingly peripheral question of a married priesthood.

    Is it less about events now, and more about choreography? If so, then the success of the February meeting might be more in the side plates the wary attendees choose not to sample, than in the abbreviated main course.

  4. The Mantle of Oracle fits George Weigel better than he of the Ultramontanists. Fourteen each likely to unfold. Best counsel “The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross”. Followed by the means, the “Holy Eucharist, to which serious missionary disciples will have ever more frequent recourse for strength and courage”. And best ending prayer “May His Kingdom come”.

  5. Very misleading about public school abuse. Just google teacher arrested…just those two words and click images and it is endless as to public school teachers arrested and many serving time…and most seem to be female, and many married. The category is not treated as an institution because there’s been no coordinated leadership covering up or sending them for therapy instead of to the police.

    • It is certainly also worth noting that, as extended institutions of the respective States, school districts and schools are immune from prosecution of such crimes. Also, unlike clerics, public school teachers have massive union protections (and deep pockets) that can be and are invoked to stall or bury allegations. True, a relatively small percentage is prosecuted, but if there were a(serious)Pennsylvania-style Grand Jury investigation in any number of States (can anyone say, for instance, New York), the diocesan investigations would drastically pale in magnitude.

  6. Once again, the spine of Mr Weigle wobbles as he refuses to say the words, “homosexual priest (or bishop or cardinal) problem.”
    Weigle just can’t get himself to admit it and say those words.
    For this reason, I will never, ever trust him.

  7. Weigel rode the papacy of Saint JPII to fame and fortune by appealing to a very small sliver of the Catholic population and presenting a fairly one-sided and fawning view of a man who is a canonized Saint, but who nevertheless made truly profound errors with the sexual abuse crisis. Weigel is the ultimate “Establishment” Catholic of those Catholics who consider themselves “intellectuals”. What makes one a Catholic “intellectual”? Answer: Simply proclaiming oneself to be one and writing a book which made one wealthy.

    Weigel’s audience is the echo-chamber, the people who read and publish on First Things. Weigel never says anything truly profound or insightful and never rocks the boat so to speak. A very, very small amount of people actually care what he has to say. Ask the average Catholic in the pews who Weigel is and they say “who?”. Honestly, why does anyone care what this man has to say? Why is your own opinion not equal to his on everything Catholic. This man is just a simple sinner like you or me.

    • Hmm. A “very, very small amount of people actually care about what he has to say.” (Well, Harper/Collins might be surprised to hear that, given that his biography of JP II’s was once rated on the top 100 Notable Books at the New York Times.) Clearly, Bill doesn’t like Mr. Weigel. SO WHAT? Perhaps the matter would be better served if Bill addressed the validity Weigel’s actual opinions. For what it’s worth, I think he’s dead-on for every point–and given some of the predictions, it is most unfortunate.

  8. I disagree there will be no law enforcement investigation into certain Bishops of the Church for sexual abuse, considering the investigations that have already taken place and the continued coverup of abuse (even now!) by some Bishops like Richard Malone. The Department of Justice is also apparently investigating several dioceses in Illinois.

    Other than that, I think Mr. Weigel’s predictions are accurate and well reasoned. I will add that I personally think Cardinal Pell’s conviction will likely be overturned on appeal, as was the conviction of his fellow bishop, Phillip Wilson.

    • I can kick myself for skimming part of Mr. Weigel’s column. He said there would be no investigation into sexual abuse in public schools.

      Humility and patience are some virtues that I will need to develop this year.

  9. My predictions: Several of Pope Francis’ s trusted, will be forces to resign. The Church will continue its march to Marxism. The churches in America will be empty like the churches in Europe. Only traditional parishes will flourish thanks be to God.
    The bishops will continue to destroy and close parishes to pay off huge sums of money for the abuses of their fellows. God allows them to reap what they sow. The body of Christ still lives for those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

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