Cover image for The courage to be Catholic : crisis, reform, and the future of the Church
The courage to be Catholic : crisis, reform, and the future of the Church
Weigel, George, 1951-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 246 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
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BX1389 .W45 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Catholic Church in America is in a state of crisis. Yet few understand what the crisis really is, why it happened, or how the Church must respond to it. As no other commentator or critic has done, George Weigel situates the current crisis of sexual abuse and episcopal malfeasance in the context of recent Catholic history. With honesty and critical rigor, he reveals the Church's failure to embrace the true spiritual promise of Vatican II, a failure that has resulted in the gradual but steady surrender to liberal culture that he dubs "Catholic Lite." Drawing upon his unparalleled knowledge of how the Church works, both in America and in Rome, Weigel exposes the patterns of dissent and self-deception that became entrenched in seminaries, among priests, and ultimately among the bishops who failed their flock by thinking like managers instead of apostles. But, Weigel reminds us, in the Biblical world a "crisis" is a time of great opportunity, an invitation to deeper faith. Every great crisis of the Church's past, from the Dark Ages to the Reformation, has resulted in a period of reform that returned the Church-and its priesthood-to its roots. Weigel sets forth an agenda for genuine reform that challenges seminarians, priests, bishops, and the laity to lead more integrally Catholic lives. As he argues so persuasively, the answer to the present crisis will not be found in "Catholic Lite" but in classic Catholicism: a Catholicism that has reclaimed the wisdom of the past in order to face the corruptions of the present and create a strong future.

Author Notes

George Weigel is a Catholic theologian.

Weigel was educated at St. Mary's Seminary College in Baltimore, Maryland and at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto, Canada.

Weigel moved to Seattle where he was Assistant Professor of Theology and Assistant (later Acting) Dean of Studies at the St. Thomas Seminary School of Theology in Kenmore. In 1977, he became Scholar-in-Residence at the World Without War Council of Greater Seattle. In 1984-85 he was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

Weigel is the author or editor of a number of books including Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford University Press, 1987); The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism (Oxford, 1992); The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored (HarperCollins, 2001); The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (Basic Books, 2002); God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (HarperCollins, 2005); Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday, 2007); and Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace (Crossroad, 2008). His scholarly work and his journalism are regularly translated into the major European languages.

Weigel has been awarded ten honorary doctorates, the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, and the Gloria Artis Gold Medal by the Republic of Poland.

George Weigel and his wife live in North Bethesda, Maryland.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The pope's authorized biographer (Witness to Hope, 1999) might be expected to whitewash the church, but Weigel doesn't oblige. He regards revelations in early 2002 of widespread priestly sexual abuse as signs of American Catholicism's greatest crisis to date. He thoroughly analyzes that crisis, rejecting some Catholics' attitude that hostile media precipitated it and affirming others' anger at particular bishops for failing to oversee the offending priests and express concern for abuse victims. He grants that there is anti-Catholic animus in the media, and bad intentions in Catholic dissidents, too, but he is much more critical of bishops who act like managers rather than Christian shepherds, seminary training in civil rights rather than theology, priests (especially young priests) living singly rather than in community, secularized rather than ascetic priestly lifestyles, consensus rather than holy authority as the principle of church decision-making, and offhand rather than well-prepared Vatican relations with the press. Real reform of the church's present ills, he says, will proceed from reconnection with its traditions. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

American Catholics divided over the future direction of their church have managed to agree on one thing in recent months: much reform is needed in the wake of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal. Weigel, a theologian and papal biographer (Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II), outlines the shape he thinks it should take in this incisive analysis. More than a problem of clerical misbehavior, he writes, the present crisis is rooted in the church's failure to be faithful to its own teachings. He traces the current woes to a "culture of dissent" that he says was allowed to flourish after the reforming Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), creating an internal schism in the church. After the "truce of 1968," which allowed church leaders to publicly oppose Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical on artificial contraception, without fear of reprisal, he says it became clear that the Vatican would not support bishops who wanted to maintain discipline among priests and theologians. Weigel lays much of the blame for the sexual-abuse scandal at the feet of the American bishops, whom he chides for acting more like corporate managers than apostles. But his criticism also extends to Rome, where he points to deficiencies in canon law and the Vatican's communications strategy. As expected, Weigel dismisses such reforms as abolishing priestly celibacy and ordaining women priests, but he counters with practical solutions, including changes in the way bishops are selected. This book should stimulate discussion among both progressive and conservative Catholics. (Aug. 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Catholic Church in the United States is reeling from the scandal associated with the sexual abuse of minors by priests. Weigel, who has written a magisterial biography of Pope John Paul II (Witness to Hope), examines the predicament in this extended essay. He proposes that the church is in crisis, as understood in its radical sense: it is a time of judgment, also an opportunity for reflection and reform. Weigel dismisses the allegations that the sexual misbehavior of priests is the result of celibacy, a repressive sexual ethic, or an authoritarian church structure. His thesis is that the crisis is, at heart, one of fidelity. Priests have abandoned their identity as living icons of Christ, bishops have functioned more as managers than as shepherds, and the larger Catholic community has drifted from its Christ-given roots to a kind of "Catholic Lite." Weigel argues that the remedy to the present situation is to return to a classic Catholicism, deepening the reforms begun by Vatican Council II and urged by John Paul II throughout his pontificate. His argument that priests are "ontologically changed" by ordination needs significant nuance, and over three-quarters of the U.S. bishops about whom this papal loyalist complains have been appointed by the present pope. Weigel's contention may work within the confines of his perspective. All Catholics, particularly those he calls members of the "Catholic Lite," may not agree with his viewpoint or his assessment. Recommended for seminary libraries and for public libraries with a significant religion circulation. David I. Fulton, Coll. of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 What the Crisis Isp. 9
A Three-Headed Monsterp. 19
A Crisis of Priestly Identityp. 22
A Crisis of Episcopal Leadershipp. 29
A Crisis of Discipleshipp. 32
2 What the Crisis Is Notp. 35
Celibacyp. 37
An "Authoritarian" Church?p. 42
A Failure to Implement Vatican II?p. 44
A "Pedophilia Crisis"?p. 47
A Media-Created Crisis?p. 48
Is the Catholic Sexual Ethic at Fault?p. 54
3 How the Crisis Happenedp. 57
Why Now? Why This Way?p. 60
The "Truce of 1968"p. 68
Dissent Among Theologiansp. 73
The Impact on Seminariesp. 75
The "Wounded Healer" Syndromep. 78
The Beginnings of Reformp. 80
Faithful Dissent?p. 83
4 Why Bishops Failedp. 87
A Crisis of Identityp. 93
The Iron Cage of Bureaucracyp. 96
Clericalisms Old and Newp. 100
The Triumphant Therapeuticp. 102
The Travail of Compassionp. 104
On Not Appearing "Conservative"p. 106
Clubmenp. 110
A Failure of Imaginationp. 112
5 Rome and the Crisisp. 117
Off the Information Superhighwayp. 120
Old Habits Die Hardp. 125
Culture Warsp. 129
A Problem of Communicationsp. 130
An Oversold Product?p. 134
The Turnp. 136
The Learning Curvep. 144
6 Agenda for Reform--Seminaries and Novitiatesp. 147
Apostolic Visitations?p. 149
Recruitment and Screeningp. 151
Education for Chastityp. 155
Homosexuality and the Seminaryp. 160
Putting Psychology in Its Placep. 163
The Riches of Theologyp. 166
7 Agenda for Reform--The Priesthoodp. 173
A Continuing Educationp. 177
Deepening Fraternityp. 180
Welcoming the Newly Ordainedp. 182
Asceticism and Lifestylep. 183
Priests and Lay Peoplep. 185
Priests and Vocations to the Priesthoodp. 189
Handling Malfeasancep. 191
8 Agenda for Reform--The Bishops and the Vaticanp. 197
The Selection of Bishopsp. 202
The National Conferencep. 210
Changes in Romep. 214
9 From Crisis to Reformp. 219
The Last Hurrahp. 220
The Iron Lawp. 224
The Second Sorrowful Mysteryp. 225
Whose Church?p. 228
The Great Adventurep. 230
Acknowledgmentsp. 233
Indexp. 237