Saturday 24 August 2013

George Weigel: Liberal Catholic and social modernist

Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani
Prefect of the Holy Office
In one of the strangest articles I have ever read; the neo-con George Weigel claims that the Catholic Church's centuries old teaching that "error has no rights" (a teaching that Weigel dissents from), is, in fact, an inspiration for aggressive secular humanists who are trying to push the Church out of the public arena. Hence, all the more - presumably - for the Church to reject this teaching. One might wonder why Weigel has seen fit at this time to conjour up this fantasy? Perhaps the growing realization amongst Catholics that John Courtney Murray's thesis of religious liberty has actually fed religious indifferentism and the culture of relativism. 

True, the Popes following the Council have steered clear of explicitly addressing the traditional Church teaching on State relations, but they have implicitly supported the traditional doctrine by their constant linking of freedom and liberty to truth. And a State, if it is to have the common good in mind, must link the civic good to the truth. This abandonment of basing freedom on truth caused Pope John Paul great worry in the waning years of his Pontificate, as he continued to regard Europe as a continent of "devastation". One may add, is it any different in Canada or America?

In his bizarre tirade, Weigel commences by trotting out a condescending review of the theology of the late Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Holy Office. Cardinal Ottaviani, we are told, was just about wrong on every issue that he raised at the Council. Weigel dismisses the Cardinal's upholding of Church teaching on religious liberty; and not only him, but the Church (though Weigel cunningly, and cowardly, couches this as the "universities"). Weigel's alleged proof that the Cardinal was in error is the pastoral Declaration on Religious Liberty by the 2nd Vatican Council, pushed by the once sanctioned John Courtney Murray. It has been argued, that the document places restrictions on the conception of "religious liberty": it is within the civil sphere, and leaves intact the traditional teaching of the Church. Irrespective of one's opinion of Dignitatis Humanae, the document does state that it was leaving the Church's traditional teaching "intact". This was what the Fathers understood to be voting for; the Council is against Weigel's twisting of the texts via Murray. In a masterly review, Fr. Brian Harrison demonstrates how Murray actually lost out in his attempt to push American political philosophy on the Council Fathers; though, unfortunately, most of the English speaking world are unaware of this. 

As such, Weigel's "Murrayism" ( in essence a continuation of Sillonism), and - by extension - his rejection of the traditional teaching is nothing but 19th century liberal Catholicism, long condemned by the Popes. It also puts Weigel contra the Council, and, contra the Church. As we will see Weigel is a somewhat strident dissenter on Catholic social doctrine, though couched in pious language - opposition to abortion and contraception trotted out to acclaim orthodoxy. Alas, as Pius XI pointed out, social modernism is as vile as dogmatic modernism, and Weigel certainly is a social modernist.
Pope Leo XIII
Scourge of Liberal Catholicism
Weigel's social modernism continues the historicist twist applied by earlier social Modernists (e.g. Frs. Murray and Congar's attempts to spin papal teaching - such as the Syllabus, Libertas, Immortale DeiQuas Primas [the encyclical that dare not speak its name]) to put respectability on dissent by claiming that the Popes following Pius IX - such as Leo XIII -  were really closet liberals who were repulsed by the reigns of Gregory XVI and Pius XI (here, Mirari vos and Quanta Cura are two unforgivable documents; repugnant to liberal Catholics such as Weigel who adhere to the "new jurisprudence" that, incidentally, Leo XIII condemned). This twisting papal texts is nothing new: Weigel has devoted much of his energies to dismissing, reinterpreting Church social doctrine on economics and just war theory - in fact, to such a degree that he and his fellow neo-cons were called out by theologians as being disingenuous.  His contemptuous dismissal of sections of Pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritatis opens up the question: if it is OK for Weigel to sift this encyclical why is it not OK for others to sift Humanae vitae? It is pointless to claim orthodoxy on 9.9 out of 10 points. Catholicism is take all or leave all: just read St. Augustine. 

One  may wonder how Weigel and his fellow neo-con capitalists reacted to these words of Pope Francis during an Address to Ambassadors, May, 16th:

"...we have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless...solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance...a new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules...the will to power and possession has become limitless...consider the words of St. John Chrysostom: "not to share one's goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not ours goods we possess, but theirs". 

To return to Weigel's opposition to Ottaviani. Let us approach this from the perspective of Pope Leo XIII's exposition of Catholic doctrine on "error". Was the holy Pope a furtive liberal Catholic - pointing towards a vision of the Catholic Church as just one voice in the crowd of religious voices, all clamoring for public attention? Was Pope Leo leaning to Weigel's view of Church-State relations and Weigel's view of "error"? Let us see what the great Pope had to say: 

"... civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder....justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness - namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges" (Libertas). 

So much for Pope Leo approving of Weigel's State indifferentism on matters of religion. Let us continue: 

"Right is a moral faculty, and as We have said, and it cannot be too often repeated, it would be absurd to believe that it belongs naturally and without distinction to truth and lies, to good and evil" (Immortale Dei).

Alas, for Weigel,  in modern times, the teaching is maintained:

"... that which is opposed to truth is, necessarily, an error, and the same rights which are objectively recognized for truth cannot be afforded to error. In this manner, liberty of thought and liberty of conscience have their essential limits in the truthfulness of God in Revelation" (Ecco che gia un anno, 1946, Pius XII).

"It must be clearly affirmed that no human authority, no State, no Community of States, of whatever religious character, can give a positive mandate or a positive authorization to teach or do that which would be contrary to religious truth or moral good... Whatever does not respond to truth and the moral law has objectively no right to existence, nor to propaganda, nor to action" (Ci Riesce, Pius XII).

Fr. Francis Connell, writing in the American Ecclesiastical Review, 1964 has this to say regarding the rights of people to adhere to "error".

"Some have tried to argue that while error has no rights, persons inculpably holding erroneous doctrines have the right to hold them. But it must be born in mind that error can be believed, spread and activated only by persons and so it is difficult to see what it would mean to say "error has no right to be spread" if one held at the same time "persons can have a right to spread error" - that is if "right" be taken in the same sense in both statements..... how can one have a genuine right to believe, spread, or practice what is objectively false or morally wrong? For a genuine right is based on what is objectively true and good".

Gravely disturbed by the continuing descent into moral relativism created by liberal-democracy; a few years prior to his death Pope John Paul write:

"Freedom is properly so called to the extent that it implements the truth regarding the good. On;y then does it become a good in itself. If freedom ceases to be linked with truth and begins to make truth dependent on freedom, it sets the premises for dangerous moral consequences..." (Memory and Identity, John Paul II).

Society may - and the Church has always said so - tolerate some evils to avoid even greater ones, but the principle of error not having rights, of freedom being dependent on truth is immutable. Weigel is gravely mistaken in proposing that the Church's teaching on error not having rights as foundational to totalitarian ideologies. The Church's teaching is founded on objective Truth; totalitarian imposition of a monolithic ethics is founded upon ego - of the masses in a social contract or, usually from a dictator, or oligarchy. Witness the various tyrants in history. Surely Wiegel might have reflected on the fact that over the centuries - not even during the reign of the Fascists in Italy - did anyone propose that totalitarianism was founded on Church teaching that "error has no rights". Weigel's position seem to be closer to those of the deranged ravings of bigoted Orangemen or other purveyors of protestant pamphlets against the Catholic Church. Strange bedfellows!

A final question remains: how can the Archdiocese of Denver publish this spiritual poison? Is the Archdiocese infested with social modernism as well? 


Freyr said...

Weigel has been playing fast and loose with papal documents and pronouncements. He has been selectively reading them and redefining them to suit an agenda of his own. This sounds an awful lot like selective disobedience and a subtle form of dissent. As for him being a modernist... even a social modernist... that requires more qualification. If modernism is the synthesis of all heresies isn't it the same as calling someone a heretic? Having dropped the word don't you still have to spend a great deal of time getting down to specifics as you have done here? I've actually waded through Pius X encyclical and in my humble opinion, anything that takes that much effort to define is not a terribly useful word. That could explain why it has been quietly dropped from papal documents in favor of more precise and descriptive language. Relativism, secularism, indifferentism, are all more descriptive, precise and useful words to describe the same basic phenomenon. Benedict in particular has done a wonderful job of shining a light on these old errors in a way that allows people to talk about them once again.

Tim Broderick said...

"Personal attacks, flame wars... gratuitous insults", sounds like this diatribe against Mr. Weigel for his thoughtful, straight-forward, and dispassionate remarks concerning the adage, "Error has no rights."

Barona said...

Pope John Paul did reference Modernism in Fides et Ratio. The key to modernism is its immanentist subjectivist reduction of faith. Historicism is one aspect of modernism that was further unpacked by Pius XI and later Popes. Weigel's dealing with Pope Leo and Americanism is a typical example of historicism.

Freyr said...

This is a clear example of baronaism. It is characterized by the need to make constant reference to dictionaries and other references to understand the text.

Barona said...

Baronaism is another word for Freyrism; this is Toronto, the home of Conrad Black.

Barona said...

Other examples of sifting - beyond the scope of this post - includes a dismissal of Chesterton's argument for distributism.....

As an aside, I have just re-read Weigel's interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae as proposed in his bio of the late Pope: Fr. Harrison is absolutely correct - the distortion of DH is that the Church seeks only liberty.... in an evangelical proposition to Society. There is no reference to the retention of the traditional teaching.... Weigel also dismisses "error has no rights" without ever refuting it... or, for that matter showing how a whole string of Popes were wrong.

Freyr, you hit the nail of the head with regards to this personal selection of doctrines.... as we both pointed out over the past few weeks, the "right-to-life-ers" too have been guilty of selection. No to killing babies, silence of killing mentally ill people.... and so on.

Vox Cantoris said...

I really think that the bloggers at this blog need to keep their debate and criticism of each others' posts, offline.

Frankly speaking, it shows a great degree of dysfunction amongst the presenters. Your blog needs to show a unity of purpose and if fails to do that because one is always sticking a needle in the eye of another.

It is also makes it appear that you're only talking to yourselves. Better no comments than this banter.

Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion but I'm sure that I will be corrected of my grievous error shortly.

Aged parent said...

When the Church finally emerges from the mess it is in (a mess, I'm afraid, which is much of their own making) and starts to preach and teach clearly and unambiguously once again, and once She sheds herself of both Modernism and Americanism, the George Wiegels of this world will be the first to leave. When Mr Wiegel and those who think like him see that the Church is not going to tow their particular line they will depart for greener pastures.

And frankly, good riddance.

Barona said...

We don't want to chase Weigel out, we want him to conform his mind to the Church. Chasing a sinner "out" is a final resort after medicinal efforts have failed.