The Fatuities of Professor Faggioli

There is something deeply awry in Massimo Faggioli’s understanding of contemporary China and his defense of the Vatican Ostpolitik of the late 1960s and 1970s.

The Chinese national flag is pictured in a file photo in front of a Catholic church in the village of Huangtugang. (CNS photo/Thomas Peter, Reuters)

The defense of the dubious by the ill-informed can lead to the preposterous – and that is precisely the slippery slope down which Villanova’s Massimo Faggioli careens in his critique of my recent Washington Post op-ed article and my other writings urging a more forthright Vatican defense of religious freedom and other basic human rights in China.

Professor Faggioli charges that my views on the Vatican’s current China policy reflect a “U.S.-centered worldview and a U.S.-centered Catholicism.” In fact, as I have made clear in the “series of articles” on the Vatican and China that Faggioli finds offensive, I have constantly stressed that my critique of the 2018 Vatican-China agreement is fundamentally evangelical: Vatican deal-making with an increasingly repressive Chinese government impedes the proclamation of the Gospel, now and in the future. When China finally opens itself fully to the world after the present regime is a sad memory, China will be the greatest field of Christian mission since the Europeans came to the western hemisphere in the 16th century. Catholicism will be at a severe disadvantage in the post-communist evangelization of China if the Church is perceived as having kowtowed to a despised and defunct regime, while those religious communities that opposed the old regime will enjoy the credibility conferred by their resistance to godlessness and tyranny.

How this judgment has anything to do with a “U.S.-centered worldview” and a “U.S.-centered Catholicism” is not self-evidently clear.

Then there is Faggioli’s defense of the Vatican Ostpolitik of the late 1960s and 1970s: the diplomatic effort to find an accommodation with communist regimes behind the iron curtain.

In three books – The Final Revolution, and the two volumes of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning – I carefully documented the assumptions, practices, and results of the Vatican Ostpolitik. In that work, I drew on extensive conversations with the Ostpolitik’s protagonists, including Cardinals Agostino Casaroli, Giovanni Cheli, Luigi Poggi, and Achille Silvestrini; extensive conversations with leading clergy and laity touched by the Ostpolitik in central and eastern Europe; hours of discussion with Pope St. John Paul II; and twenty-five years of research in primary sources from that era, including documents from communist secret intelligence services in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union that became available in recent years.

From that research – and not, as Faggioli charges, from “conservative leaning intellectual circles in the U.S. and ….in Eastern Europe [who are] part of the rejection of the post-Cold War world now being favored by anti-liberals” – I concluded, and still conclude, that, whatever its intentions, the Ostpolitik was a failure. It failed because it did not grasp the distinctive nature of totalitarian regimes. And that offers a cautionary tale for today.

In Hungary, the Ostpolitik resulted in the major structures of the Church becoming de facto subsidiaries of the Hungarian communist party. In what was then Czechoslovakia, the Ostpolitik demoralized those Catholics who tried to resist a similar usurpation of their Church and created deep divisions between regime-acquiescent and regime-resistant Catholics. In Poland, the Ostpolitik had one discernible effect: it made life more complicated and difficult for Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the primate, and Cardinal Karol Wojtyła of Kraków; but it did nothing to ease communist pressure on the Church.

And in the Vatican, as I laid out in great detail in The End and the Beginning, the Ostpolitik was the occasion for a serious penetration of the Holy See by communist intelligence operatives, whose access to Vatican materials compromised the very negotiations in which the Ostpolitik was engaged.

Professor Faggioli’s attempts to defend the Ostpolitik cannot be regarded as serious by any serious student of this era. He suggests that, because of the Ostpolitik, the two Polish cardinals resident in Poland were permitted to participate in the conclaves of 1978. Well, the entire Polish episcopate had participated in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council in the years before the Ostpolitik, and Cardinal Wyszyński had participated in the conclaves of 1958 and 1963, which were also prior to the Ostpolitik. So why does the Ostpolitk account for Poland’s communist authorities “giving permission” for Wyszyński’s and Wojtyła’s participation in the conclaves of 1978? Poland’s communist leaders were not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but even they wouldn’t have done something as stupid as preventing Poland’s resident cardinals – both of whom symbolized Polish national pride and prestige – from casting their votes as papal electors. I have heard more than a few attempts to identify Ostpolitik successes; this is arguably the least persuasive of all.

Faggioli also cites the “Basket III” human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 as another “major achievement of the Vatican Ostpolitik.” In The Final Revolution, I cited those provisions as an important factor in setting the stage for what became the Revolution of 1989 in central and eastern Europe, because “Basket Three” helped energize a human rights movement behind the Iron Curtain. But there is no evidence of which I’m aware that Vatican diplomacy was critical to the adoption of “Basket III” in the Helsinki Final Act, although the Holy See certainly supported that adoption and was a signatory to the Act.

And then there is the inconvenient fact that it was the policy of the Ostpolitik not to press communist governments hard on their innumerable human rights violations, Helsinki Accords or no Helsinki Accords. John Paul II certainly deployed “Basket Three” to good effect; but that had nothing to do with the Ostpolitik. In practice, John Paul II’s human rights advocacy tacitly contradicted Cardinal Casaroli’s approach of not being vociferous on such matters. (As I noted n Witness to Hope, Casaroli even tried to excise from John Paul II’s 1979 address to the United Nations any human rights criticisms that would offend communist regimes.)

There is also something deeply awry in Professor Faggioli’s understanding of contemporary China. Xi Jinping’s regime has become more repressive, more aggressive against religious communities, and more intolerant of dissent in recent years. The latest example of this is the National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong, which has put Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, and other Catholic leaders of Hong Kong’s democracy movement in grave peril. Under that same law, Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of Beijing’s anti-Catholic aggressions, is also at risk of arrest. Even worse, the Xi Jinping regime is conducting a Nazi-like campaign of genocide against the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province, where concentration camps now conduct “education” – meaning cultural lobotomization – amidst forced sterilizations and abortions.

Then there is Faggioli’s remarkable contention that, “in Xi’s China today, religion can thrive but only as long as it doesn’t challenge politics and helps politics.” Really? The latest Chinese community party congress committed the party to the “Sinicization” of all religious belief and practice in China. This has nothing to do with what the Catholic Church understands by “inculturation,” and everything to do with the creation of a cult of Xi Jinping as an ultramundane deity-of-sorts, whose “thought” is to be celebrated and inculcated in religious communities. To imagine that “religion can thrive” under these circumstances is simply fatuous.

In articles and essays dating back to 2000, I have argued that the only power the Holy See wields in world politics today is moral power: the power of moral persuasion and witness, which can be powerful indeed, as John Paul II demonstrated in central and eastern Europe in the 1980s, as well as in Latin America and East Asia. Professor Faggioli contends that this is too constrained a view, and that “some instruments of state power are a key aspect of the activity of the Holy See;” in illustration, he cites Vatican diplomatic representation in many countries, the Holy See’s permanent observer status at the U.N., and “its signature of the Treaty on the prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” How any of this has to do with the Vatican wielding “instruments of state power” escapes me. Whether at the U.N., in bilateral relations, or in nuclear non-proliferation talks, the Holy See has no “power” to wield save the power of moral persuasion; what other power would it deploy? The power of economic sanctions? The Swiss Guard?

At the end of his essay, Professor Faggioli admits that “being a Catholic Church in the global world today means difficult choices” and that there are “no easy or simple solutions” for the Holy See in dealing with such a world. We have no disagreement there. But difficult choices are not made easier by falsifications of history, misreadings of present reality, and a failure to describe alternative approaches to dealing with those difficulties accurately and honestly.

Nor are “solutions” to 21st-century dilemmas likely to be found through a stubborn insistence, against all the evidence, that the Vatican Ostpolitik of the late 20th-century was a grand success. It wasn’t. And if the same cast of mind – that accommodating totalitarians by failing to challenge their systemic human rights violations is an effective diplomatic strategy – shapes the Vatican’s China policy today, it, too will be a failure: for persecuted Catholics in China today, for the credibility of the Holy See, and for the evangelization of China in a post-communist future.


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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.

28 Comments

  1. Fagiolli writes that “acting responsibly means that there are no easy or simple solutions.” But, isn’t submissive acquiescence–especially secretly and even at the expense of expendable others–the most uncomplicated solution of all?

    “The culture and praxis of totalitarianism also involve a rejection of the Church. The state or the party which claims to be able to lead history toward perfect goodness [Fagioli’s ‘long-term historical framework’?], and which sets itself above all values, cannot tolerate the affirmation of an OBJECTIVE CRITERION OF GOOD AND EVIL [original italics] beyond the will of those in power, since such a criterion, in given circumstances, could be used to judge their actions. This explains why totalitarianism attempts to destroy the Church, or at least to reduce her to submission, making her an instrument of its own ideological apparatus” (Gaurdium et Spes, 76, cited by St. John Paul II in Centesimus Annus, 45).

    • Bingo Peter.

      The secret Chinese Communist Party Deal = easy Street for Faggioli and McCarrick and “His Eminence” Parolin and the totally corrupt Kingdom of Mammon: the Vatican Secretariat of State, and the Marxist Pontiff of Argentina.

  2. The real fatuity here is that an apostate and heretic like Faggioli has not been excommunicated ferendae sententiae and fired from his professorship at a supposedly “Catholic” university. Weigel’s parsed debating reminds me of St. Paul’s admonition against the futility of “fight[ing] like a boxer beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26).

    • I think once intellect deteriorates it affects all fields of knowledge.

      Then there’s that truism too: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Absent that fear, we end up exactly with texts like that from Faggioli. One way or another the lie gets exposed and its hard to maintain the lie because it necessitates more lies.

  3. Washington Post articles are not usually truthful and factual—latest the article regarding Monsignor Charles Pope and Covid-19. Much is baseless conjecture with much bias opinion. My belief is that few people know what is really happening with the Pope and China—this kind of fake news was seen about the Vatican position during WWII and the Berlin Wall removal. As my high school priest religion teacher often said after small group discussions on world topics, “Now that you have traded ignorances, let’s study the real facts.”

  4. As the Francis papacy has played out, I’ve been disappointed by many of his actions/policies. The idolatry in the pachamama affair was the worst, because it’s an offense against God Himself. The most egregious on a mortal level is his betrayal of the Church in China. I have to force myself to pray for him because of that.

  5. I read the article. I noticed that Faggioli never refuted Weigel’s claims about Ostpolitik, such as the accusation of Communists infiltrating the clergy in Eastern European countries.

  6. I was glad when Pope Francis stepped forward to defend the way of life of indigenous people in S. America, but I would like to see him also speak out on behalf of the Uighers in China. The Church needs to be more vocal about this.

    • Good luck that Bergoglio is capable of pronouncing anything that resembles genuine Holy Magisterial subjects, even in that secret “Cute Jesuit” language that us unwashed, smelly Walmart shoppers, clingers to our Holy Bibles and guns as we would be willing to try to interpret. This common sophist, Fagioli, Mr Beans, a common apostate whether he knows it or not, and probably does not know what apostasy is, promotes any of the silly Bergogio junk as serious Catholic thinking.

  7. Thank you for this detailed article.

    Don’t know if I’m being paranoid but can’t help wondering if there was any financial transfer to the Vatican in connection with this matter, as others have suggested.

    • The number that’s out there is $2 billion per year. The Vatican has not disputed these reports. Just imagine if it were to be revealed that Pius XII took an equivalent amount of money from Hitler each year!

      • If it looks like a duck… This looks like an indefensible bribe. If a US company did this, it would be prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

      • I’m totally in agreement with Weigle here, but please, unless you have some proof about the Vatican receiving 2B from China… For one, that’s not even a believable number. For two, you’re trafficking in sheer gossip. Check the Catechism #2477 on calumny.

  8. The key to the wisdom in the Vatican decisions likely the Divine Will revelations and related devotion, in the unity in The Will – to learn to trust and say – ‘Fiat ‘ – Yes , let The Kingdom reign –

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq-fQluv7-M

    ‘Making rounds ‘ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq-fQluv7-M

    The Chinese would not be able to resist the above either , if given in the r gentle Franciscan manner and respect , hard to do for our human will , which if left to itself , we can imagine how many times it would have have torched out the whole universe – such as ? ‘ you Caesar , how dare you take the census now and make rules for long hard journeys ! Off with him , you angels .’ 🙂

    The temptations of the Lord very likely were of such a nature , thus the great power in patience He has bestowed .. ( having come across this ocean of the Divine Will only days ago , looking forward to take it in more , in drops ..)

    The Chinese , once they get a little taste of the above , the corona / crown of holiness meant for all , they might be the ones who want to be agents of
    The Reign . 🙂

    Pope Emer . having erected at the Vatican , a statue of St.Hannibal of the Rogationists and related to the above , as well as connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe ..

    https://luisapiccarreta.me/archives/7046

    May the light of The Divine Will rise with power in more hearts , on this octave of 9 / 11 , that the twin devotions of Divine Mercy and Divine Will blaze up through all nations for the glory of The Father !

    St.Stanislaus Kostka , pray for us all !

  9. The first sentence made me think of the upcoming November election and I thought the article was about to describe the President and his supporters! But then I am just an ill-informed Canadian who loves Laudato si’ ; after all climate change is the ultimate pro-life issue. However like you, George, I have very serious doubts about the Vatican’s silence on Hong Kong and Xinjiang. I wish you peace & joy.

    • “after all climate change is the ultimate pro-life issue”

      After all climate change is not the ultimate pro-life issue, it’s a panic hoax. When I was in junior high the panic was global cooling. I’m sure they’ll get back to that soon.

      Try reading, say, Michael Shellenberger

    • In order for a thing to be a legitimate “issue,” the first requirement is that it not be a hoax.

      I often start articles wherein the author promises original insights into moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching that will justify voting pro-abortion. And it always turns out to be nothing but a concatenation of hoaxes and TDS slanders: Nazis are fine people, children in cages, mocked a disabled reporter, Russia Russia Russia, Ukraine quid pro quo, soldiers are suckers and losers, global warming, borders=racism, mean tweets, ad nauseum. Cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, lay Twitter twinks. It’s all they’ve got.

  10. Well, it appears that Prof. Faggioli has just been disemboweled but is probably not bright enough to realize it. Perhaps someone could send him a message on kraft paper drawn with crayons.

  11. The words of Our Lady of Fatima to Lucia are once again proving to be true. “When Communism returns, the entire world would become Communist.” Little did we know our own Catholic Church would aide in the enslavement of the entire population of the world. Right now, at this very moment, we are witnessing the most diabolical leadership of the Catholic Church since the beginning. Never before has Rome participated in such treachery against her own people!

  12. CHINA’S CATHOLICS AND THE CHURCH’S MORAL WITNESS

    by Michael R. Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State

    September 18, 2020

    The article begins:

    The human rights situation in China has deteriorated severely under the autocratic rule of Xi Jinping, especially for religious believers. Credible reports have exposed the Chinese Communist Party’s program of forced sterilizations and abortions of Muslims in Xinjiang, its abuse of Catholic priests and laypeople, and its assault on Protestant house churches—all of which are parts of a “Sinicization” campaign to subordinate God to the Party while promoting Xi himself as an ultramundane deity. Now more than ever, the Chinese people need the Vatican’s moral witness and authority in support of China’s religious believers.

  13. Don’t give Faggioli the attention. He constantly trolls people online, and epitomizes the “professional Catholic” so aptly described by Pope Benedict. These types use the Church as their intellectual playpen and get paid to do it. They haunt Catholic theology faculties by the score. It’s why I stopped studying theology after completing my Masters. It’s also why most theology faculties are dying. He’s best ignored. Like Kung, you’ll be able to find Faggioli’s books in the bargain bin at a theological book store near you soon.

  14. BTW has anyone noticed that books found in a theological book store bargain bin usually have titles like: Future Church, Church of Tomorrow, Toward a Modern Church blah, blah, blah. It’s almost funny. Usually the word “envision” or “reimagining” is somewhere on the cover. Not only are theologians like Faggioli unoriginal but they are actually cliche. I bet you Faggioli has probably written a book or published an article with a title/theme like that. I’m so tired of establishment Catholicism.

    • Bingo, Andrew:

      “The Church in a Change of Era: How the Franciscan Reforms are Changing the Catholic Church,” by Massimo Faggiolo.

      BTW, I have to think that’s a typo — that it’s supposed to say “Era of Change” — but that’s how it’s listed on amazon.

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