The Catholic Herald, one of our most reliable English Catholic weeklies, recently published an article by George Weigel on Vatican II and the subsequent fifty years called “Mission Abandoned” and carrying on the cover the phrase “George Weigel says we’ve wasted the last 50 years on infighting.” Professor Weigel is one of our most distinguished Catholic writers who over the years has done great work in the service of the Church. This in itself makes me hesitate to take issue with him. But in addition to that is the fact that if I do I shall expose myself to the charge of carrying on the “infighting.”Read more >>
However, there is one serious omission in his article which, if it remains unmentioned, will do a serious injustice to all those Catholics, like writers and readers of The Wanderer, who, over a period of fifty years, have done their best to uphold the faith and authentic magisterial teaching often in far from easy circumstances.
Of course I know that Professor Weigel would say nothing of the sort in regard to the fourth century, but it seems to me his article comes close at times to implying that today’s Catholics, finding themselves in a similar situation, should have done just that. This is because he seems to ignore the existence of modernism although it has been a heresy as invasive and widespread as Arianism was in its day.
Over the last fifty years the only alternative to “infighting” for any Catholics who could see that a doctrine was under attack would have been compromising. Was supporting Humanae Vitae or opposing “ongoing revelation” just a matter of “infighting”?
Of course the words “liberal and conservative” can legitimately be applied to matters of policy or pastoral practice, things which the Magisterium has authority to change. They were legitimately used in this way in the 19th century for a time. But when applied to the content of faith, they become lethal. We see the difference in the case of women priests and married clergy. The former is an impossibility. We have St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to remind us of the fact. The latter, as every reasonably well-instructed Catholics knows, could be allowable.
However, to say or imply that all the controversies of the last fifty years have been nothing but conflicts about allowable changes and therefore a waste of time seems to me equivalent to saying that the work of post-Nicaean fathers like St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, or St. Hilary of Poitiers was a waste of time too. Modernism is or has been no less deadly than Arianism.
Given the debt of gratitude we all owe to Professor Weigel, I deeply regret feeling obliged to say all this. His article, which is mainly about what Pope John wanted from the Second Vatican Council, the new evangelization it was to prepare the way for, and why it didn’t take place sooner, is in every other respect as excellent and enlightening as one would expect.
[Hat tip to JM]