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Balderdash on the Tiber

The new Vandals march under the banner of pastoral “accompaniment.”

Today’s first reading is from an explication of the academic program of the reconfigured Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences by Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, the institute’s rector (translation provided by the institute):

The recomposition of the thought and practice of faith with the global covenant of man and woman is now, with all evidence, a planetary theological space for the epochal remodeling of the Christian form; and for the reconciliation of the human creature with the beauty of faith. To put it in the simplest terms, by overcoming every intellectualistic separation between theology and pastoral care, spirituality and life, knowledge and love, this evidence must be rendered convincing for all: the knowledge of faith cares about the men and women of our time.

Say what?

The Catholic blogosphere was in an uproar about these two sentences for days, the word “gnostic” appearing with some frequency. One commentator of a literary cast of mind compared Msgr. Sequeri’s discourse to the speech patterns of the agents of N.I.C.E. in C.S. Lewis’s novel, That Hideous Strength. My own thoughts turned to H.L. Mencken and the memorable autopsy he performed on President Warren G. Harding’s inaugural address of March 4, 1921:

Setting aside a college professor or two and half a dozen dipsomaniacal newspaper reporters, [Harding] takes the first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line. It reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm (I was about to write abscess!) of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

(Some might imagine, in charity, that Msgr. Sequeri’s word salad made more sense in the original Italian. Alas, it is equally bizarre when rendered in the good monsignor’s native tongue.)

The John Paul II Institute was founded in 1982 to help reform Catholic moral theology. Over three decades, the institute has trained a new generation of Catholic scholars committed to the Gospel conviction that the truth sets us free in the deepest meaning of human freedom. Moreover, the institute’s scholars, following the lead of their now-canonized patron, have helped put Catholic moral theology on a more firm foundation through a searching philosophical reflection on the nature of the human person, created male and female and made for communion in sharing the divine gift of life.

On the occasions when I had the honor of lecturing at the institute (which is based at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome), I found both faculty and students intellectually inquisitive and pastorally sensitive. They were fully aware of the difficulties of proposing the Church’s ethic of human love in cultures dominated by a concept of the human person as a twitching bundle of desires, the satisfaction of which is a “human right.” Yet they were also determined to make the Church’s proposal in a winsome way, for they were persuaded that truth makes for happiness, that happiness leads to beatitude, and that beatitude is the point of the moral life.

Now the John Paul II Institute has been hijacked by a new pack of Vandals conducting a new sack of Rome. The new Vandals march under the banner of pastoral “accompaniment.” But it has been clear for some time that their primary purpose is deconstructing John Paul II’s encyclical on moral theology, Veritatis Splendor [The Splendor of Truth], and its teaching that some acts are simply wrong, period, such that no calculus of intentions and consequences can give them moral value. In aid of that destructive program, the Vandals have now fired tenured professors at the institute, remade the curriculum, and hired faculty whose grip on Catholic doctrine is tenuous at best. Now, they attempt to justify this vandalism with gobbledygook about the “planetary theological space for the epochal remodeling of the Christian form.”

This is nonsense on steroids. It has nothing to do with either the New Evangelization or compassionate pastoral care, and everything to do with a craven surrender to the spirit of the age.

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About George Weigel 428 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. Msgr. Segueri himself (!) best models “intellectualistic” isolation when he derides an alleged “intellectualistic separation between theology and pastoral care.” The rhetorically-abused reader (before permanently vacating the back pew?) still seeks an epiphany moment when all the “balderdash” of the past six years might suddenly become coherent…

    And here it is!

    Apart from whatever good points another churchman makes, the newly elevated Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich turns the lights on a bit when he summarizes that we: “cannot isolate Christian hope in a metaphysical concept” (National Catholic Register, 9-15, p.8). A truth, yes, but a fluid half-truth…

    At the John Paul II Institute, predictable exploitation of the tension between realities and concepts (the principle that “realities are more important than ideas”, 2013 Evangelii Gaudium, EG, n. 233). Has the Church falsely believed all these years—for two millennia—that faith is not a metaphysical concept but, instead, a THEOLOGICAL VIRTUE?

    And what, too, of VIRTUE? To “put it in the simplest terms” (to borrow Sequeri’s wording), have we also falsely believed that virtue (as with chastity in all settings…) is more than a malleable and expendable idea now ripe for “epochal remodeling”?

    When does “praxis” (EG, 232) cancel principle (or doctrine)? Stay tuned to Sequeri. . . Or is it SEGUE? Under the new dispensation or the segue “new paradigm”—“accompaniment” is not modeled by “men and women of our time,” but rather the flux of “epochal” trends remodels these men and women. Lemmings accompanied into Segue’s “planetary theological space.”

    The Rhine flows into the Tiber, and now into the sea of theological dilution and moral fluidity. And so too does the Amazon. The pygmies are in charge.

  2. The new JP II institute is being officially billed as a “planetary theological space for the epochal remodeling of the Christian form.” Therefore, I think we all owe Jack Chick a sincere apology and flowers for his lonely grave.

  3. While the Pontiff warns German Hierarchy not to succumb to the Zeitgeist in their open ended Synod reform G Weigel says the new Vandals reforming the John Paul II Institute are guilty of “craven surrender to the spirit of the age”. Which Zeitgeist will prevail or is the difference no different? Who then are these new Vandals spewing balderdash? Msgr Pierangelo Sequeri is named one. But then there’s Cardinal Paglia, Fr Chiodi, and …. Someone else. Gobbledygook. Any difference from balderdash? Planetary theological space for the epochal remodeling of the Christian form – does indeed sound like quintessential gobbledygook. Balderdash sounds more like… Say what? Horsey poop. The bottom line [a perennial adage like at the end of the day] Vatican eradication of John Paul II’s legacy seemed the agenda from the start [2013]. Will anything or anyone stand in the way of the predatory New Paradigm? Yes we can!

    • Of the “bottom line”: “horsey poop,” you say?

      Of the “predatory New Paradigm,” other than a “horsey,” possibly might there be some other kind of bull in the China shop…think Gnu Pacyderm!

      Or, maybe the “eradication of John Paul II’s legacy” is less mystically “epochal” than totally of street-level, anthropogenic origin? That is to say, after all, might it simply be that in the world today there are more horses asses than there are horses?

      • As I did not find the level of intelligence of statements in question to rise above the level of Horsey poop, neither do I wish to downplay to the reader their significance. Furthermore it’s not the kind of poop we’re suffering rather it is its voluminous output.

    • Apart from our humor, witty aphorisms Cardinal Burke’s recent declaration in conjunction with Bishop Schneider speaks directly without kid gloves without half heartedness to what George Weigel is seems to be concerned with, “No honest person can anymore deny the almost general doctrinal confusion which is reigning in the life of the Church in our days. This is particularly due to ambiguities regarding the indissolubility of marriage, which is being relativized through the practice of the admittance of persons cohabiting in irregular unions to Holy Communion, due to the increasing approval of homosexual acts, which are intrinsically contrary to nature and contrary to the revealed will of God, due to errors regarding the uniqueness of the Our Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work, which is being relativized through erroneous affirmations on the diversity of religions, and especially due to the recognition of diverse forms of paganism and their ritual practices through the ‘Instrumentum Laboris’ for the coming Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon” (Cardinal Raymond Burke). It’s likely time for us all to start calling it precisely as it is.

    • The Pontiff’s warning to the German Bishops is a red herring, intended to outflank traditionalist critics. The German bishops will ignore the Pope’s ‘warning’, and they will have the full support of the Pope in doing so. Do not underestimate the deviousness of Bergoglio.

        • I think it’s an excellent bet that the pope has conveyed private assurances to the German bishops that he is behind them and that his public admonitions are nothing but posturing for the record.

  4. Matthew 11:25 “Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. ”

    If our Pope and Vatican leaders really want to accompany people, they will return to the simple language of the Gospel. People need to be called to make a simple, straightforward decision: do they want to follow God manifested in Christ Jesus, of do they want to follow the spirit of this age (the devil)?

    Msgr Sequeri’s unintelligible obfuscations are the furthest thing from pastoral care. More like the administration of a gradual euthanasia of the soul.

  5. the words that i have just read, as provided hereupon, are now part of my library of info that describes some of the worst happenings being allowed by those in charge ??
    i wish that they (newest vandals) would have had to come face to face with Saint JP2, to learn a thing or two about redoing what he did , whose results would have much different
    God be merciful to all of us.

  6. A Vandal, by the very definition of the term, cannot build, but only destroy. Instead of building on the legacy of his predecessors, Pope Francis has instead chosen to tear tear legacies down. But in doing so he only makes the likes of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI look even greater, and himself small and petty by comparison.

  7. “I once was lost, but now am accompanied.” “He saw that they were like sheep without an accompanist…” “He accompanies me beside the still waters…” Feh.

    • If P. Francis wants to remake the whole Church in his own image and succeeds, then for some of us, he may be welcome to it .

  8. Why is this happening? Saint Josemaria used to say: “The devil never takes vacations.”
    Society wants to accommodate tenets of the faith to todays sinful behavior…To feel good, not to feel guilty, not to be excluded. Thus a watering down of morals is the trend of the day and this trend is being imposed on Christianity who remains passive, silent. St. Josemaria also said that “Hell is full of closed mouths.”
    But St. Josemaria said something we know for certain: “God does not lose battles.”

  9. Watching the unravelling of the JPII Institute over the past several months, I’ve wondered why some competent orthodox Catholic institution doesn’t simply reconstitute the faculty and mission in a new location. Maybe Cardinal Dziwisz would make room for it in his own JPII center in Krakow Łagiewniki.

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