“The answer to the current crisis will not be found in Catholic Lite.” -George Weigel
What is the state of the Catholic Church since the scandals broke in 2002?
The best book to have come out on the scandals is The Courage to be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, by George Weigel. The author not only offers a sophisticated treatment of the issues but also has some incisive suggestions for where the Church needs to go from here. The authorized biographer of Pope John Paul II, Weigel (currently a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center) is no Church outsider, but he’s not one to cover things up or fail to tell it like it is. To the contrary, Weigel’s clear-headed book criticizes U.S. bishops and Vatican officials where necessary, and he has some key advice for just about everyone this scandal touches. Among other things, he explains the gap between how the Vatican sees the media versus how seemingly everyone else in the West does.
In Weigel’s reading of the scandals, the “reform” the Church needs is a return to what is authentically Catholic. He writes, “Crisis means trauma; crisis also means opportunity. The trauma of the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002 will become an opportunity to deepen and extend the reforms of Vatican II if the Church becomes more Catholic, not less — if the Church rediscovers the courage to be Catholic.”
“The answer to the current crisis,” he writes, “will not be found in Catholic Lite,” in other words, the Boston’s Globe‘s preferred form of Catholicism. “It will only be found in a classic Catholicism — a Catholicism with the courage to be countercultural, a Catholicism that has reclaimed the wisdom of the past in order to face the corruption of the present and create a renewed future, a Catholicism that risks the high adventure of fidelity.
Weigel writes: “There is little in Catholic Lite theology that poses a serious countercultural challenge to the spirit of the age. Catholic Lite is a soft Catholicism, understanding and sympathetic. Being understanding and sympathetic are, of course, virtues. But as G. K. Chesterton pointed out long ago, the world is filled with old Christian virtues ‘gone mad.’ When a religious tradition is profoundly challenged, as Christianity is by modernity, more than vices are set loose in the world, Chesterton wrote: ‘The virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more damage.’ That is precisely what has happened in the culture of dissent. Virtues have gone mad, and one result has been the double-edged crisis of clergy sexual abuse and episcopal irresponsibility. That crisis can only be addressed by a harder, more brilliant form of Catholicism — a Catholicism formed, like a diamond, under intense pressure, but all the more beautiful and shatterproof for that.
The crisis of 2002 has many facets. One of them is that it marked the last hurrah of the Catholic Lite Brigade. Yes, the Lite Brigade still holds the commanding heights of Catholicism’s most prestigious intellectual institutions, protected from its own intellectual sterility by the tenure system. But even there, the crumbling has begun. A younger generation of scholars is not interested in Catholic Lite. Young men and women, formed in the image of John Paul II and joyfully living the Catholic sexual ethic, are filling graduate departments of theology and philosophy at Catholic universities where, as recently as ten years ago, the Lite Brigade was impregnable. These younger scholars are the future. The members of the Lite Brigade may still be good for TV sound bites and newspaper op-ed pieces, in part because the American Media can’t break itself of the habit of writing the “man bites dog” story of Catholic dissent. But the Lite Brigade is aging. It is not producing a new generation formed intellectually in its image. And the results of its promotion of ‘faithful dissent’ are now on display, in clerical sexual scandals and irresponsible episcopal leadership. The game is over.”