Criticism of Cardinal Dolan letter 'silly,' George Weigel publisher says

Criticism of Cardinal Dolan letter 'silly,' Weigel publisher says

George Weigel. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA
George Weigel. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA

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The publisher of a new book by papal biographer George Weigel said Tuesday that it sent Weigel’s latest text to Catholic cardinals as a matter of course, and that it often sends newly published books to Catholic leaders.

“It’s not uncommon for Catholic publishers to send books to Catholic leaders, including cardinals and bishops. It certainly isn’t uncommon for us. But even if it were uncommon, there is nothing scandalous about it,” Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, told CNA, after a July 14 report from the National Catholic Reporter said that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan had sent the book, entitled “The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission,” to cardinals.

Dolan, who is known to be a longtime friend of Weigel's, wrote a one-line cover letter when the publisher mailed the book to cardinals, Brumley told CNA. The letter said “I am grateful to Ignatius Press for making this important reflection on the future of the Church available to the College of Cardinals.”

While the National Catholic Reporter said the letter was “an apparent break with the longstanding practice that the Catholic Church's highest prelates refrain from publicly lobbying for possible candidates for the papacy,” Brumley disagreed.

“It is scandalous for someone, with knowledge of the content of Cardinal Dolan’s letter, to assert or imply that Cardinal Dolan was politicking for a candidate for the next conclave. Or that the book is politicking for a candidate for the next conclave,” Brumley told CNA.

“It’s silly to assert this, if someone bothers to read the letter—which is really just a short note from Cardinal Dolan expressing gratitude to Ignatius Press for sending the book to the college—and if someone bothers to read the book, which says nothing about candidates or the next conclave or anything like that.”

Weigel told CNA that the book, while titled “The Next Pope,” does not actually discuss the next papal conclave. Instead, he said it attempts to reflect on how the Church, and the papacy, can continue the mission of the New Evangelization in the decades to come.

“There are no candidates discussed at all, and there is absolutely no discussion of conclave politics. Suggestions to the contrary are either ignorant (meaning someone hasn't read the book) or malicious (meaning someone has an agenda),” Weigel said July 14.

“‘The Next Pope’ suggests an agenda for the Catholic future, viewed through the prism of the Office of Peter. The book takes up Pope Francis's invitation in Evangelii Gaudium to think about what it would mean for the Church to be ‘permanently in mission,’ and the book suggests how the Bishop of Rome can empower others (including bishops, priests, religious, and laity) to be the missionary disciples they were baptized to be,” the author added.

“I also intended the book to raise the discussion of the Catholic future above the usual Twitter polemics and the all-too-abundant conspiracy theories in circulation. It's a shame that some people are evidently content to leave the discussion at that level.”

The book “draws lessons from the papacies of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, each of whom I have known personally and with each of whom I have been in serious conversation,” Weigel said.

The National Catholic Reporter said that a 1996 policy on the election of a pope, promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis, “expressly forbids cardinals from discussing possible papal successors.”

In fact, while those norms do prohibit cardinal electors from making agreements regarding who they will vote for before a papal conclave, they do not forbid the discussion of candidates for the papacy, or the needs of the Church.

“The cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons,” the document states.

”It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote in the document's same section.

Of his book, Weigel said “I hope it helps facilitate just that kind of reasoned, prudent discussion,” even while its focus is a set of broad reflections on the life and mission of the papacy, and the Church.

Weigel also rejected the suggestion, made by some critics, that it is inappropriate to discuss the future of the papacy, or consider possible courses of papal action to address the Church’s needs, while a pope is in office.

“It’s ridiculous. I don't recall anyone making such a silly criticism when Peter Hebblethwaite and Luigi Accattoli wrote books about the future of the papacy during the pontificate of John Paul II.”

“And I don't recall John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis, during our personal conversations, ever suggesting that it was presumptuous for a layman to offer them counsel; which only makes sense, as they had asked me to tell them the truth as I understood it,” Weigel added.

Accattoli was a long-time Vatican journalist, retired in 2008, who wrote several books on the state and needs of the Church during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Hebblethwaite was a laicized priest and journalist who, in 1995, wrote a book entitled “The Next Pope: An Enquiry,” that offered a sharp criticism of the papacy of John Paul II, and suggested what his successor might do.

Hebblethwaite was a Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. In 2004, writer Paul Elie characterized his book as “a polemic against what Hebblethwaite....saw as the interminable misrule of John Paul II.”

Those books are not the only contribution to the genre of Church analysis, to which Weigel's book belongs, or of papal prognistication, to which Weigel's book does not.

In 2002, noted Vatican journalist John Allen published “Conclave,” which looked at how cardinal electors might weigh the factors that go into choosing a papal candidate, and that offered a list of 20 likely candidates for the office. The National Catholic Register's Ed Pentin also will publish a book this summer entitled “The Next Pope.” That book, like Allen's, but unlike Weigel's, mentions specific possible candidates for the papal office.

Cardinal Dolan could not be reached for comment before publication.

In his remarks to CNA, Weigel questioned a description from the National Catholic Reporter of cardinals, who were not named in the report, left “speechless” that they had been sent the book.

“A ‘speechless’ cardinal may be something of an ontological impossibility, and in any event these ‘speechless’ cardinals seemed to find their voices when they wanted to. As I indicated previously, Cardinal Dolan didn't send them my book; Ignatius Press sent them my book and the cardinal kindly provided a cover letter thanking Ignatius Press for making the book available to the College of Cardinals. So if anyone was struck ‘speechless’ by Cardinal Dolan ‘sending’ them a book, they ought to look again at his letter and read it accurately this time.”

“The College of Cardinals has not met as a group since February 2014. That unhappy fact is going to make the next interregnum and conclave difficult, as the members of the College really don't know each other. If ‘The Next Pope’ helps create networks of conversation among the cardinals in which they can think together about the future of the Church, I'll be well satisfied,” Weigel added.

Tags: Catholic News, George Weigel, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Ignatius Press

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