Criticism of Cardinal Dolan letter ‘silly,’ Weigel publisher says

By JD Flynn for CNA

"The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission", by George Weigel, is published by Ignatius Press.

Denver Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- The publisher of a new book by papal biographer George Weigel said Tuesday that it sent Weigel’s latest text to Catholic cardinals as a matter of course, and that it often sends newly published books to Catholic leaders.

“It’s not uncommon for Catholic publishers to send books to Catholic leaders, including cardinals and bishops. It certainly isn’t uncommon for us. But even if it were uncommon, there is nothing scandalous about it,” Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, told CNA, after a July 14 report from the National Catholic Reporter said that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan had sent the book, entitled “The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission,” to cardinals.

Dolan, who is known to be a longtime friend of Weigel’s, wrote a one-line cover letter when the publisher mailed the book to cardinals, Brumley told CNA. The letter said “I am grateful to Ignatius Press for making this important reflection on the future of the Church available to the College of Cardinals.”

While the National Catholic Reporter said the letter was “an apparent break with the longstanding practice that the Catholic Church’s highest prelates refrain from publicly lobbying for possible candidates for the papacy,” Brumley disagreed.

“It is scandalous for someone, with knowledge of the content of Cardinal Dolan’s letter, to assert or imply that Cardinal Dolan was politicking for a candidate for the next conclave. Or that the book is politicking for a candidate for the next conclave,” Brumley told CNA.

“It’s silly to assert this, if someone bothers to read the letter—which is really just a short note from Cardinal Dolan expressing gratitude to Ignatius Press for sending the book to the college—and if someone bothers to read the book, which says nothing about candidates or the next conclave or anything like that.”

Weigel told CNA that the book, while titled “The Next Pope,” does not actually discuss the next papal conclave. Instead, he said it attempts to reflect on how the Church, and the papacy, can continue the mission of the New Evangelization in the decades to come.

“There are no candidates discussed at all, and there is absolutely no discussion of conclave politics. Suggestions to the contrary are either ignorant (meaning someone hasn’t read the book) or malicious (meaning someone has an agenda),” Weigel said July 14.

“‘The Next Pope’ suggests an agenda for the Catholic future, viewed through the prism of the Office of Peter. The book takes up Pope Francis’s invitation in Evangelii Gaudium to think about what it would mean for the Church to be ‘permanently in mission,’ and the book suggests how the Bishop of Rome can empower others (including bishops, priests, religious, and laity) to be the missionary disciples they were baptized to be,” the author added.

“I also intended the book to raise the discussion of the Catholic future above the usual Twitter polemics and the all-too-abundant conspiracy theories in circulation. It’s a shame that some people are evidently content to leave the discussion at that level.”

The book “draws lessons from the papacies of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, each of whom I have known personally and with each of whom I have been in serious conversation,” Weigel said.

The National Catholic Reporter’s report said that the 1996 policy on the election of a pope promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis, “expressly forbids cardinals from discussing possible papal successors.”

Those norms do forbid cardinal electors of a pope to promise votes or otherwise make agreements regarding who they will vote for before a papal conclave, but they do not forbid the discussion of candidates for the papacy, or the needs of the Church.

“The cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons,” the document states.

”It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote in the document’s same section.

Of his book, Weigel said “I hope it helps facilitate just that kind of reasoned, prudent discussion,” even while its focus is a set of broad reflections on the life and mission of the papacy, and the Church.

Weigel also rejected the suggestion, made by some critics, that it is inappropriate to discuss the future of the papacy, or consider possible courses of papal action to address the Church’s needs, while a pope is in office.

“It’s ridiculous. I don’t recall anyone making such a silly criticism when Peter Hebblethwaite and Luigi Accattoli wrote books about the future of the papacy during the pontificate of John Paul II.”

“And I don’t recall John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis, during our personal conversations, ever suggesting that it was presumptuous for a layman to offer them counsel; which only makes sense, as they had asked me to tell them the truth as I understood it,” Weigel added.

Accattoli was a long-time Vatican journalist, retired in 2008, who wrote several books on the state and needs of the Church during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Hebblethwaite was a laicized priest and journalist who, in 1995, wrote a book entitled “The Next Pope: An Enquiry,” that offered a sharp criticism of the papacy of John Paul II, and suggested what his successor might do.

Hebblethwaite was a Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. In 2004, writer Paul Elie characterized his book as “a polemic against what Hebblethwaite….saw as the interminable misrule of John Paul II.”

In fact, those books are not the only contribution to the genre of Church analysis, to which Weigel’s book belongs, or of papal prognistication, to which Weigel’s book does not.

In 2002, noted Vatican journalist John Allen published “Conclave,” which looked at how cardinal electors might weigh the factors that go into choosing a papal candidate, and that offered a list of 20 likely candidates for the office. The National Catholic Register’s Ed Pentin also will publish a book this summer entitled “The Next Pope.” That book, like Allen’s, but unlike Weigel’s, mentions specific possible candidates for the papal office.

Cardinal Dolan could not be reached for comment before publication.

In his remarks to CNA, Weigel questioned a description in the National Catholic Reporter of cardinals, who were not named in the report, left “speechless” that they had been sent the book.

“A ‘speechless’ cardinal may be something of an ontological impossibility, and in any event these ‘speechless’ cardinals seemed to find their voices when they wanted to. As I indicated previously, Cardinal Dolan didn’t send them my book; Ignatius Press sent them my book and the cardinal kindly provided a cover letter thanking Ignatius Press for making the book available to the College of Cardinals. So if anyone was struck ‘speechless’ by Cardinal Dolan ‘sending’ them a book, they ought to look again at his letter and read it accurately this time.”

“The College of Cardinals has not met as a group since February 2014. That unhappy fact is going to make the next interregnum and conclave difficult, as the members of the College really don’t know each other. If ‘The Next Pope’ helps create networks of conversation among the cardinals in which they can think together about the future of the Church, I’ll be well satisfied,” Weigel added.

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  1. The National Catholic Reporter’s negative complaint actually serves as an unwitting (of course!) endorsement alongside the positive “one-line cover-letter” to cardinals ATTACHED by Cardinal Dolan. It also suggests yet another book—-another non-fiction perhaps entitled “The Mystery of Catholic Cover Letters: Attached and Detached”. . .

    One episode would be the mysterious communication to Mr. McCarrick (then archbishop of Washington DC), and from Cardinal Ratzinger (then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)—and intended surely (?) for all bishops as well as cardinals in the United States. McCarrick is reported to have withheld from the main writing a message (a cover letter?) which later was leaked to the press. In July 2004 Ratzinger wrote:

    “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia…. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    Abortion…this missing message (restricting access to the Eucharist from pro-abortion politicians)—-was it delivered in a separate letter, or a memo, or only verbally, or maybe in a DETACHED cover letter? The plot thickens already! And the Reporter itself—-who surely approved—-has already offered early book material:

  2. The Clowns parade at the National Catholic Reporter proceeds apace. What a bunch of fools. It’s like third graders are running the place.

  3. Edward Pentin is issuing a book via Sophia Institute Press virtually identical in tone (and even Title) to Weigel’s. Other than offending the Fishwrap, what advantage would Weigel’s tome over Pentin’s?

    • Ed’s book is more a candidate list, with Ed’s handicapping and speculation. George’s book is more an agenda of things to be done, with analysis of the present situation and how the next pope ought to address the problems and seize the opportunities.

      Scorecard v To-Do List.

      Ed’s book is 500 pages. George’s book is 141 pages.

  4. I have had differences of opinion with Weigel in the past but this time he is spot on for two cogent reasons. First is the nonsense from the NC Reporter. Almost always a negative yardstick. Second is the regarding of Cdl. Dolan as especially influential. Despite his position, the record would seem to indicate no particular dynamism or notable accomplishment that would bring him to the fore of attention as a papabile. If I had to speculate, I would have to say we probably not heard much from or about the next Pope yet. I believe the next conclave will look for a bit of calm breathing space.

  5. The future pope: No one human being knows who it will be, but the Holy Spirit knows, and he knows all the future popes the Church will have until the end of the world. We do our part and pray, cardinals will choose in their own way, but the Holy Spirit will always be the protagonist who will choose all the popes.

    When Saint John Bosco was at St Peter’s Basilica one day because the Pope wanted to hear from him the great graces God was bestowing upon him, he told those around him that in the particular niche he pointed to, one day there would be his statue. And in point of fact it is there now, exactly where Don Bosco indicated, i.e. between the statue of St John Baptist de la Salle and St Frances Xavier Cabrini.

    There and then he turned round and saw near him a nine-year-old boy. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Don Bosco told that boy that one day he would become Pope. In point of fact that boy became Pope Pius XI.

    Our past, present and future are all present before God and they have been present before him from ever and will remain present before him forever.

    • You write that “the Holy Spirit will always be the protagonist who will choose [?] all the popes.” Or, does the protagonist/Holy Spirit only inspire (but not dictate), while the cardinals (with feet of clay) still have the vote?

      In which case, the sovereign promise of the Holy Spirit still remains—to preserve the Church intact. The particular selection can cut against the grain, but every new pope is still barred minimally from officially affirming heresy (even Alexander VI [!]; papal infallibility not as the paradigm-shift discontinuity of making things up, but as the continuity of protecting from error while deepening or making implicit things explicit).

      The cardinals can/may follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but the gift of free-will is not disrespected, not cancelled—even Mary was first asked and was free to say, “not today.”

      So, even a cardinal cabal can’t cancel the indwelling Holy Spirit—who until the end of time has an active Plan B. Maybe even involving the laity (!): this time perhaps George Weigel’s disseminated job description in “The Next Pope”, plus a short-list of both likely names and their resumes, from Edward Pentin and his lay collaborators.

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