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The Next Pope and the Crisis of the West

The usual suspects cheered Bostock’s alleged defense of freedom. But what kind of “freedom” is this?

(Image: iam_os | Unsplash.com)

In February 1968, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła wrote Father Henri de Lubac, SJ, about a project in which the cardinal was engaged: a philosophical explanation of the uniqueness and nobility of the human person. The idea of the human, Wojtyla suggested, was being degraded, even pulverized, by ideologies that denied the deep truths built into us. The response could not be “sterile polemics.” Rather, the Church should counter-propose a higher, more compelling view of “the inviolable mystery of the person.”

That project eventually became Wojtyla’s major philosophical work, Person and Act. And while his immediate target was the communist “disintegration” of our humanity, Wojtyla likely intuited that other disintegrating forces in Western culture might prove even more threatening, over time, to “the inviolable mystery” that is every human person.

That time is now. For on June 15, the Supreme Court of the United States decreed that it is an illegal act of discrimination in certain circumstances to invoke what was, until recently, the universal idea of the human person, biblically expressed in Genesis 1:28: “…male and female he created them.” The author of the Court’s majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, Justice Neil Gorsuch, claimed that its ruling only touched employment practices involving same-sex attracted people and those who consider themselves “transgendered.” In fact, the Court jack-hammered a degraded, pulverized, and, yes, disintegrating idea of the human person deep into the foundations of American civil rights law.

According to that idea, each of us is what we say we are, period. Willfulness is the measure of the human and biological reality doesn’t matter. Thus as David Crawford, Michael Hanby, and Margaret Harper McCarthy pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, the Court’s decision means that “we are all transgendered now, even if sex and ‘gender identity’ coincide in an overwhelming majority of cases.” And, as always, detachment from reality has consequences. For as Mary Eberstadt noted, citizenship itself is subverted when Americans are coerced, socially and in some instances legally, to “assent to untruths.”

The usual suspects cheered Bostock’s alleged defense of freedom. But what kind of “freedom” is this? It certainly isn’t a mature freedom, tethered to truth and ordered to goodness. It’s more like the pseudo-freedom of the two-year old who imagines that his or her will is supreme: I want it, and I want it now. Once, childish willfulness was thought to be something that parents and educators should help children overcome, for the children’s sake and society’s. Bostock, by contrast, insists that the most extreme (and often deeply disturbed) forms of willfulness are legitimate exercises of liberty protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, published earlier this month by Ignatius Press, I note an instructive historical fact. The modern popes from Leo XIII through Francis have been men of different backgrounds, intellectual formations, and life experiences. Yet, they’ve all taught that the contemporary crisis of Western civilization, which first manifested itself lethally in World War I and which has intensified ever since, is fundamentally a crisis in the idea of the human person. Who are we? How ought we relate to others of our kind? What is our destiny? When a culture gets the answers to those questions wrong, there is hell to pay – and in this life.

As Wojtyła suggested to de Lubac, the Church’s response to this crisis cannot be the “sterile polemics” too frequently indulged by doomist Catholic ultra-traditionalists and woke Catholic progressives. The Church’s response must be that of the Second Vatican Council: “Christ the Lord….fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” Christ the preacher of the Beatitudes, Christ the Good Shepherd, Christ who thirsts for the faith of the Samaritan woman, Christ crucified and raised from death to a superabundant form of human life – this is where we encounter the truly, fully human. This is the truth of who we are and what our destiny is.

The entire Church must bear witness to those truths. For in a West dying from the incoherence that breeds both coercion and the plague of identity politics, those truths are cultural life-support now and a source of renewal for the future. By being relentlessly Christ-centered in his preaching, the next pope can empower all of us to rescue the idea of the human by proclaiming the crucified and risen Lord, the embodiment of self-giving love, as the true image of humanity and its freedom.


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About George Weigel 301 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 book is The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), published by Ignatius Press.

9 Comments

  1. An essay limited to the idea that one man a Church maketh. John Paul II who I met twice convinced inwardly and intellectually of his sanctity, is highlighted by Weigel advising de Lubac that we dismiss sterile polemics ultra conservatism. And instead discover who we are through Christ. True. We find that expressed in the post Vat II revised Gospel in which rather than find life in losing it for Christ we instead discover who we are. But that is not the whole truth if juxtaposed to ecclesial coercive authority. The latter a dismal failure since Vat II and Dignitatis Humanae. Thus the Author concludes we “rescue the idea of the human by proclaiming the crucified and risen Lord, the embodiment of self-giving love, as the true image of humanity and its freedom”. As much as I love our form pontiff he was given to existential phenomenology and spoke in those terms. Perhaps the rationale for his softer take on humanness and his reticence to prosecute Cardinal McCarrick despite voluminous evidence. Perhaps. And perhaps why Ratzinger immediately when elected supreme pontiff indicted and sanctioned McCarrick. Veritatis Splendor is a masterpiece of moral theology. Nevertheless it became convincingly apparent post Vat II that surrendering the strength of clear affirmation and serious defense of the faith in a make nice Church led to disaster. Idealistic musing on freedom needs balance through the exercise of justice.

    • Dear Fr. Peter Morello
      Could you please clarify your statements, perhaps there was some typo errors, still some of what is written needs to be commented.
      First, it is absolutly valid to talk about only one man for his enormous contribution, vision and theology to solve the problems of the Church and humanity in these days. That is our St. John Paul II, great man and Pope!
      Second, a key fundamental idea of the article , not commented , is that the recent desicion of the Supreme Court practically ” abolish the man and woman” and as a consequence of it , some say similarly that ” we all would be transgender ” even if our gender coincides with our biology. Such is the alarming magnitude of the extreme disturbing effects of absurd willfulness and false human freedom, interpreted as Civil Right.
      But, it was only St John Paul II/Karol Wojtyla who saw that danger of the consequences of the sexual revolution in the 60s and dedicated his whole life to the study of the person using phenomenology. As a result of it, inspired by God, he explained Who we are as children of God in: Love and Responsibility , and Theology of the Body, precisely to defeat all such extreme gender ideologies and redefinition of marriage. Not being capable to apply such theology is the root cause of the problems that the Church and human beings suffer now.
      It is possible to talk about Social Justice as St John Paul II did, he always criticized governments for not attending social problems of poor people, he fought against the communism that coerce societies, and he even demanded abolishing the External Debt of under developing countries, but at the same time he defended the core fundamental values of the Church, the Truth, the Doctrine that has been preached since the first martyrs who prefered being tortured or die rather than betraying Our Lord Jesus.
      Thank you.
      Mit

      • Mitt perhaps I didn’t make clear that I think quite highly of John Paul II and his great legacy. The issue as noted was a form of indifferentism, regarding appointment of cardinals like Walter Kasper, his apparent unwillingness to pursue the McCarrick scandal. It seems he put too much good will faith in human nature. And all popes including Benedict have made mistakes. Needless to say priests have including myself. It’s a form of clerical self criticism intended for correction and to better serve Christ and the laity. If we aren’t candid between ourselves as priests and bishops we actually fail Christ.

        • Fr. Peter, the appointments of Cardinals who later betray the doctrine probably would unfortunately be like Judas who was appointed by our Lord Jesus, and even during the time St John Paul II lived on earth people strongly believed he was already a saint, no surprise at all that Monsignor Slawomir found absolutely no evidence of any wrong doing. No surprise either that some adversaries of the doctrine would say Jesus did not resurrect, etc… Far from it, the legacy of St. John Paul II needs to be examined by his prophetic vision to warn the Church and society of the dangers of the so called “sexual revolution” of the 60s that motivated him to research and explain the true anthropology of human beings, the human sexuality, who we are as human beings, as children of God, as George Weigel brilliantly writes in his articles and books. All the transgender ideology, redefinition of marriage and women’s rights to abort philosophies, etc, – that oppose doctrine from which he warned us, he has absolutely no mistake-, is at the base of the problems of the Church and society. There is so much to learn from him that the John Paul II Institute of Family and Marriage should still be teaching all his theological writings. That’s another huge topic… His encyclical Centesimus annus perhaps should also be studied more by priests and Cardinals to avoid believing that social justice perse without core fundamental values of faith would lead us to some sort of the beatific vision where there is “ no more pain, or death.. “. When he was young , during the time of the communism in Poland, John Paul II joined the underground seminary to be a priest, he resisted the communism that wanted to abolish God, what a better example of practice of social justice that all should learn these days!

  2. Obviously, what we need is Vatican II.2, a John-Paul III, and a George Weigel II, and 10 more books about the “New Springtime” of the Church, with ridiculous straw-man caricatures of those nasty “doomist ultra-traditionalists.” Good grief! Weigel has become ÜberWeigel !!!

  3. Are we to believe that Aquinas and the scholastics never dealt with human nature and the purpose of life and we have de Lubac and woytla to thank for someone finally broaching this topic im the 1980s? Seems a bridge to far George.

  4. The “bacon priest” Werenfried von Straaten worked tirelessly to feed Central European refugees of the Second World War and continued in the field for decades. He was a respected critic of Vatican compromises with the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s and returned often to this layered formula:

    “There can be no peace without justice, and there is no justice without truth.”

    • Refugees… In fact these “refugees” were expulsed Germans, victims of the “final solutions” of modern enlightened thought, victims of the remedy which they themselves recommended for others.

      It is important to remember these unabridged relations especially today when we have “refugees” and another fruit of modern enlightened thought – ideology of multiculturalism.

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