Weigel discards Time Magazine's spread against Catholic Church as 'nonsense'

Catholic scholar George Weigel.
Catholic scholar George Weigel.


Noted Catholic scholar and commentator George Weigel has reacted to strongly to Time Magazine's recent 10-page spread criticizing the Catholic Church as “nonsense,” and has offered counter points to several accusations the magazine raised.

In a National Review Online article last week, Weigel addressed Time's June 7 cover story titled, “Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry,” and responded to what he believes to be multiple erroneous claims that the feature story presented.

According to the scholar, Time printed “significant misunderstandings” about the Catholic Church, including the false assertions that the Pope is an absolute monarch, that the Church is a nation-state, and that the late John Paul II was an inept administrator.

Weigel also wrote that the magazine incorrectly charged that the sex abuse crises has emptied Churches in Western Europe and that Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was complicit in covering up clerical sex abuse.

“The lengthy essay inside breaks no news,” Weigel asserted, “it recycles several lame charges against Benedict XVI that have been flatly denied or effectively rebutted,” and “it indulges an adolescent literary style.”

However, he noted, the Time story “may serve a useful purpose,”  in that “it encapsulates, within ten pages, many of the things the world media continue to get wrong about the Catholic Church, the Vatican, and the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”

On the misunderstanding that the Pope is considered an absolute monarch within a nation-state Church, Weigel countered that “while it is true that the Pope enjoys the fullness of executive, legislative, and judicial authority in the Church, his exercise of that authority is not only bound by the truths of Catholic faith; it is also circumscribed by the authority and prerogatives of local bishops.”

“For, according to the teaching of Vatican II, bishops are not simply branch managers of Catholic Church, Inc. Rather, they are the heads of local churches with both the authority and the responsibility to govern them,” he noted. “Far more damage has been done to the Catholic Church in recent decades by irresponsible local bishops than by allegedly autocratic popes.”

Speaking on the false belief that because of the Holy See's claim to sovereignty, the Church is a nation-state, Wegiel argued that this stems from a deep rooted misunderstanding of papal authority.

“The moral authority of the papacy in world affairs,” he explained, “hardly derives from the Pope’s position as sovereign of the 108 acres of Vatican City State. Rather, that moral authority is a function of the truths popes articulate, truths that are based on the natural moral law that everyone can know by reason.”

Weigel then addressed the accusation that the late Pope John Paul II left behind what the Times called an “abysmal record as administrator of the Church,” as compared to his predecessor, Paul VI.

Is “any serious commentator or scholar prepared to make the argument that the pontificate of Paul VI witnessed greater accomplishments, for the Church or the world, than the pontificate of John Paul II?” the biographer of John Paul II asked in rebuttal.

“John Paul II ought to be judged a successful administrator, if by successful administrator one means a man who sets large goals and achieves them. The drift and malaise in which the Catholic Church found itself in the latter years of Paul VI were not replicated in the 26 years of John Paul II.”

On the claim that the recently surfaced clerical abuse scandals have been responsible for emptying Churches in Western Europe, Weigel remarked that “Irish, German, and Austrian churches were empty long before Scandal Time II exploded several months ago; indeed, those churches had been emptying for decades.”

To “blame the dramatic decline of Catholic practice in Ireland and the German-speaking parts of Europe on clerical sexual abuse is to confess that one simply hasn’t been paying attention for the past 40 years,” he charged.

Lastly, Wegiel discussed Time Magazine's assertion that Pope Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger was complicit in covering up clerical sex abuse as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

“By every available piece of evidence, Ratzinger, in his last half-decade as prefect of CDF and as Pope, has been determined to root out corruption within the priesthood,” he noted, “while at the same time acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are not sexual predators — a point it would be refreshing to see recognized, in print, by Time and others.”

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