George Weigel, Catholic columnist and famous biographer of John Paul II, shared with CNA, on the papal transition, and the challenges Pope Benedict will face in the coming years, on the occasion of the release of his new book “God’s choice.” He is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
Your book is written deliberately too early to provide any historical report of the current Pontificate, what is the intention of the book?
I’m trying to do several things in “God’s Choice:” to recapture the remarkable spiritual intensity of April 2005, the month of John Paul’s death and benedict’s election; to paint a portrait of the world Church at the end of John Paul’s remarkable pontificate; to tell the story of the conclave, how its lightning-swift conclusion was reached and what that means; to offer a mini-biography of the new pope; and to suggest what might some of the great issues to which Benedict XVI will turn his hand.
You personally participated in the intense days of the death of Pope John Paul and the election of Pope Benedict, at which point and how you decided to write the book? What moved you internally?
I had agreed six years ago to write a book on the papal transition, and while I might have anticipated at least some of the global outpouring of affection and esteem for John Paul II at his death, no one could have anticipated the extraordinary atmosphere in Rome in April – a kind of outdoor, global retreat. That was a very moving experience, and I think it helped shape the writing of “God’s Choice.”
You knew the greatness of Pope John Paul's pontificate from close. Nevertheless, your book make a list of "pending issues" that Pope Benedict is inheriting. How would you summarize theses pending issues?
Europe is dying from spiritual boredom; Benedict XVI must try to re-ignite a sense of spiritual adventure in Europe before the lights go out for good. With Islam, Benedict has already shown that public Islamic condemnation of acts of violence in the name of God will be the new “threshold” to any serious dialogue; I’d suggest that the dialogue itself now be strategically reconceived as one in which Catholic try to support the work of those Islamic scholars, religious leaders, and activists who are trying, against great odds, to make a genuinely Islamic case for tolerance, civility, and the free society. The Holy See must also, in my view, rethink some of its “default” positions with respect to the U.N. and world politics in general; otherwise, the Holy See risks sounding like simply another non-governmental organization, rather than a voice of moral reason in a season of unreasonableness. Then there are serious “internal” questions to address: the structure of the Roman Curia, the criteria by which bishops are appointed (and, in some extreme cases, deposed), the ongoing reform of seminaries, an accelerated reform of consecrated life.
What do you think this challenges mean to the current pontificate as well as to rank-and-file Catholics?
There is enormous spiritual energy in the Church; Pope Benedict, I’m confident, will want to deal with some of the “internal” challenges I mentioned precisely so that the faith of the people of the Church can truly change the world.
Only God knows his own plans, but from a human analysis, Why do you think God would have chosen a Pope like Benedict for this particular moment of history? Benedict XVI’s will be a pontificate in dynamic continuity with the pontificate of John Paul II – so your questions really touches both popes. In both cases, od seemed to be raising up great witnesses – witnesses to the truth of Catholicism, witnesses to the power of Christian faith to bend history in a more humane direction.
The first steps of the current pontificate, as you state in your book, have been sort of a surprise. Why do you think is that?
I’m not surprised so much as I think the mainstream media is surprised. The conventional story-line is that Benedict XVI would be a less compelling public personality than John Paul II. Ye in September and October Benedict was drawing larger audience crowds that any previous pope. He doesn’t have the electric public personality of John Paul II; but there are other ways for a religious figure to be compelling, and he’s demonstrating them. Of course, what remains to be tested is the new pope’s shrewdness as a judge of personalities and a manager – and possibly a reformer – of the present curial system. But we shouldn’t be surprised by surprises here, too.