The National Catholic Review
John F. Kavanaugh

Perhaps it was just coincidence that on the very day I was fuming about a syndicated column I had just read by George Weigel, I received a plea from a Catholic woman in Canada. I was going to let Weigel’s defense of pre-emptive war on Iraq pass, but Rose Marie Loria’s letter changed my mind.

George Weigel is a very intelligent Catholic columnist and the author of, among other works, a highly regarded biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope. He also seems to show up on television as the official interpreter of the pope. Rose Marie Loria, originally from Costa Rica, is also very intelligent, as well as a mother of three. She is as yet, I think, unpublished and unknown to the big networks.

She had read the same column I had read, in addition to Weigel’s longer article titled Moral Clarity in a Time of War. But since she had also read and recommended Witness to Hope to many of her friends and relatives, she was outraged by Weigel’s justification of pre-emptive war, written by the same man who wrote The Courage to Be Catholic.

As a practicing Catholic, I am fully aware of the position of church leadership on this issue and that Mr. Weigel, who undoubtedly is a well-known American theologian, a Catholic social theorist, the biographer of the pope, often quoted as a Catholic expert, does not state that his position is in total defiance of what the Vatican and the pope have stated on the immorality and injustice of a pre-emptive’ war. I find Mr. Weigel’s arguments particularly difficult to swallow because they come from a man who, in The Courage to Be Catholic, so convincingly and eloquently argues that the crisis of the U.S. church is a crisis of fidelity.’

Well, it turns out that she and her husband both, but without consulting each other, wrote in protest to the newspaper. And it also turns out that Weigel responded to them. Such attentiveness is to his credit, even though his remarks were not very satisfying. He quoted No. 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, suggesting that issues of just war are matters of prudence for statesmen, noted that two archbishop-officials of the Holy See seem to agree with him and mentioned that no one in authority considers him a dissident. Finally, before asking for solidarity in prayer, he recommended that she read his full Simon Lecture, to be found at www.eppc.org.

Indeed, our heroine read the article. And although she admitted it might be due to her lack of intelligence, she thought Weigel’s piece sounded like a justification of the National Security Strategy of the United States, which can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.pdf. Look at both documents for yourself, and I think you will not judge Rose Marie’s intelligence to be lacking.

She wonders just what kind of docility George Weigel has when it comes to war and peace, especially in the light of Weigel’s belief that there is no greater moral teacher in the world than the Catholic Church. She mounts evidence from the writings of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Archbishop Renato Martino and the present pope and then asks me: Where is George Weigel’s fidelity now? In what capacity and under what authority is he writing his positions, which oppose our church leaders and teachers? I think this is pivotal, because many writers have been silenced for deviations from fidelity to the magisterium. By comparison, I believe that their dissidence is less serious than defining as just a war that the Vatican has clearly called unjust, especially when thousands could die. Not long ago, the pope asked Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutiérrez to refrain from spreading a false ideology. Well, I believe that the thesis defended by Mr. Weigel is a false ideologythe justification of a preventive war in the name of what he believes is national security.

Mrs. Loria is not a pushover, to say the least. And although there are many dimensions to her complaint that some Catholics will contest, and although the refutation of Weigel’s arguments will require the same care that he gives in his private opinion columns, her main quarrel with the honorable gentleman merits attention.

In what capacity is Weigel writing when he comments that the just war tradition lives more vigorously at the higher levels of the Pentagon than in certain offices at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? Fidelity, I guess, is a sometime thing.

Should George Weigel ask for a mandatum, or at least, as Mrs. Loria requests, acknowledge that his writings on the Iraq war are in conflict with every statement that the Vatican has issued recently? Could we expect less from the man who is assumed by some to know, better than anyone else, the mind of the pope?

And what is the mind of the pope?

On Jan. 13, in a ringing passage, Yes to Life, No to Death (State of the World Address to the Diplomatic Corps), the pope, not George Weigel, said the following: No to war.... I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons.... The solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution. And what are we to say of the threat of war that could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo?

That’s the pope speaking.

I think George Weigel has a quarrel, not with Rose Marie Loria, but with the man whose mind he is reputed to know so well.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Robert Stewart | 2/13/2003 - 6:44pm
Father John Kavanaugh has it right about George Weigel, the darling of many Catholic bishops. I find it interesting that Weigel, the biographer of the Pope, can disagree with the John Paul II on the Church's "just war" doctrine and not be considered a dissident. You can bet that if he disagreed with the Pope regarding birth control he would be considered a dissident by all those bishops who run his commentaries in their diocesan newspapers. My bet is that they, the bishops who give him a forum, would stop running his column. Let's see how many stop running his column because he is not in agreement with the Holy Father. Anyone want to give me odds on this one?

Robert Stewart | 2/13/2003 - 6:44pm
Father John Kavanaugh has it right about George Weigel, the darling of many Catholic bishops. I find it interesting that Weigel, the biographer of the Pope, can disagree with the John Paul II on the Church's "just war" doctrine and not be considered a dissident. You can bet that if he disagreed with the Pope regarding birth control he would be considered a dissident by all those bishops who run his commentaries in their diocesan newspapers. My bet is that they, the bishops who give him a forum, would stop running his column. Let's see how many stop running his column because he is not in agreement with the Holy Father. Anyone want to give me odds on this one?

David L. Martinson | 1/31/2007 - 12:22pm
With the clouds of war ever before me, I was struggling in my efforts to grade over 100 examinations on mass media law and ethics. In the middle of my efforts, I took a break and began to page through a recent issue of America. I stopped and read the column by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., “No to War” (2/17). It provided a much-needed “uplift.” Perhaps my students owe Father Kavanaugh for improving my state of mind—which is always important when making decisions regarding particular exam responses!