Sorry, Mr. Weigel, the Cafeteria is Closed

I don’t normally venture into politics in this blog. I believe that contemplative prayer and Christian mysticism are for everyone, across the political spectrum. However, a blog post that I have just read, critiquing a prominent Catholic pundit who appears to have let his partisan politics cloud his assessment of Papal teaching, is, I believe, worth passing on, and contains a lesson for all of us.

George Weigel, who has made a career for himself exploiting the relationship between Catholic teaching and conservative politics, has shot himself in the foot, now that Pope Benedict XVI has issued an encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), which in part dares to challenge Mr. Weigel’s ideological right-wing political agenda. After praising Pope Benedict for years — ever since his days as Cardinal Ratzinger, in service to Pope John Paul II — now Weigel is suddenly attempting to deconstruct (and, thereby, discredit) the Pope’s message, blaming it on internal intrigue at the Vatican rather than simply rushing to defend it (which is what Weigel usually does, whenever a Papal document is sufficiently conservative). Thankfully, the blogosphere is taking him to task for this about-face, and none more eloquently than the Evangelical Catholicism blog, in this post: On the Sheer Implausibility of George Weigel’s Story.

As someone who has long been uncomfortable with the way that politically-conservative Catholics attack those who are left of center for alleged disloyalty to the church, it’s satisfying, if not entirely consistent with Christian charity, to see a prominent conservative get a dose of his own medicine.

Particularly illuminating are the comments that readers have left in response to the Evangelical Catholicism piece. I think this one pretty much says it all:

My less than charitable opinion of George Weigel has always been that he is 75% neocon and 25% Catholic with an unfettered ego bordering on arrogance. I believe this piece proves me correct. And don’t expect him to retract it. It would be much more in character for Weigel and his fans in the Neocon Alternate Universe to attack anyone who dares to attack him (for attacking the Pope).

Now, what is the lesson here? I believe that it is both foolish and unchristian to denounce our political (or theological) opponents for being defective in their faith. It’s one thing to say “I disagree with you, and here’s why,” but it’s another thing to say “Not only do I disagree with you, but you are therefore a bad Christian.” If we want to challenge one another’s politics, fine; if we want to critique each other’s theology, well, all’s fair in love and war (and blogging). But for too long now, when liberal and progressive Catholics dare to criticize church teaching or Papal pronouncements, the right has rushed to attack the left for being “disloyal” to the church. But by doing that, the conservatives have unwittingly painted themselves into a corner: for if a document like Caritas in Veritate comes along that displeases the right, how can conservatives critique it, without laying themselves open to the very charges of “disloyalty” that they have so frequently hurled at progressives?

The moral of the story: vigorous debate and thoughtful criticism are essential components of liberty — even in a hierarchical church. “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). But in order to serve God in truth and integrity, we all — regardless of our political position — need to refrain from applying double standards to our search for truth. Celebrating Papal teaching as beyond criticism when we agree with it, but then trying to explain it away when we don’t, simply doesn’t work — no matter how you vote.

Introduction to Christian Mysticism through Evening at Emory
Rocking Justice & Spirituality: Like the Two Movements of the Breath
Five Things I learned from Phyllis Tickle
Atlas and Aurora
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • PrickliestPear

    Weigel, along with those who share his politics, will take refuge in the politically conservative Catholic’s favourite excuse: Catholic social teaching is not infallible.

    Of course it’s a cop-out, but it’s a distinction that allows a lot of Catholics to maintain their psychic equilibrium.