George Weigel at the New Evangelization Summit in Ottawa. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Debate on Pope's views on marriage and family will unify Church, says Weigel

  • May 2, 2018

OTTAWA – The long-running debate over Pope Francis’ views on marriage and the family will eventually result in a more unified Church, says a prominent Catholic author.

Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) has provoked both praise and criticism from inside and outside the Church since its release in 2016, but George Weigel is confident a unified moral vision will prevail.

“Pope Francis has said that the grand strategy of his pontificate is the New Evangelization, as he wrote in Evangelii Gaudium,” said Weigel, the American author of more than 20 books, including a biography on Pope John Paul II and a look at Church reform in the 21st century.

“We have to hope that the debate over Amoris Laetitia doesn’t become an impediment to pursuing that strategy.”

Interpretations of Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation have varied widely among bishops’ conferences on whether it opens the way for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist without having obtained an annulment or before resolving to live together as brother and sister.

“There’s really no such thing as local-option Catholicism because what is mortal sin in Poland can’t be a source of grace two kilometres across the border in Germany,” said Weigel, in an interview with Canadian Catholic News.

The Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center based in Washington, D.C., is confident the debate will resolve itself.

“This will sort itself out in due course and the Church will be more unified in both doctrine and practice, precisely because the living parts of the Church are those that have embraced the magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as the authentic interpretation of Vatican II,” he said.

Weigel was in Ottawa April 27-28 to address the New Evangelization Summit, a conference that was simultaneously beamed to more than 40 host sites in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia.

“This is a privileged moment to be living in,” Weigel told the summit audience, a moment he described as “exhilarating,” but also “a little turbulent” and “a little disorienting.”

“We’re being called to be part of the birth of the Church of the New Evangelization, which of course is the Church of the Apostles.”

He expressed hope “missionary discipleship” and converting others to friendship with Jesus Christ would give our countries a “new birth of freedom” that could impact the rest of the world.

Though the Catholic faith remains the same, it has taken on new expressions “in order to meet the challenges” that the “pilgrim people of God” encounter in the world, Weigel said.

Anyone over 50 grew up in the Church of the Counter-Reformation, he said.

“When we were growing up in it, it seemed that was the way the Catholic Church had always been, and that was how it always would be,” he said. “We all know that is not true.”

The transition began in 1878 with the papacy of Pope Leo XIII who decided “not to retreat from the modern world, but to engage it,” Weigel said. Eighty years after Leo’s papacy, Pope John XXIII launched the Second Vatican Council that was intended “to be a great missionary council.”

While the earlier ecumenical councils had produced creeds, defined dogmas, condemned heresies, produced new canons or catechism, Vatican II did none of these, he said. It produced 16 documents, but “no keys, no thread to tie those 16 documents together in a coherent tapestry.”

Pope John Paul II, with his lieutenant Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “made the Second Vatican Council his project.”

A synod of bishops in 1985 “came up with the thread that allows us to sew those 16 pieces of cloth into a single beautiful cloth,” Weigel said. “The thread was to describe the Church as a communion of disciples in mission.”

Discipleship begins with “friendship with the Lord Jesus,” but in a Catholic understanding it is “not just me and Jesus” but also meeting Jesus’ other friends and “to be incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ,” Weigel said.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II, issued Mission of the Redeemer, where he said the Church “does not have a mission, but the Church is mission,” he said.

St. John Paul II further developed the teachings by going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in which he emphasized “Christianity is not a myth, but begins with radically transformed lives.”

“Like those transformed lives of 2,000 years ago, we are called by our encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ to offer His friendship to the whole world,” Weigel said.

In the closing of the Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope John Paul II adopted the antiphon “duc in altum, set out into the deep,” urging the faithful to “leave the shallow waters of institutional, maintenance Catholicism,” Weigel said.

“The ethnic, cultural transmission belt of Catholicism is gone from North America,” he said. “Each of us must consider ourselves a missionary disciple” who “takes an active role in proposing the faith.”

“This is not easy,” he said. “It’s a more demanding way of being Catholic than we might have been expected to live 50 years ago when the ethnic, cultural transmission belt was functioning.”

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