Weigel, George 1951–
Weigel, George 1951–
PERSONAL: Born April 17, 1951, in Baltimore, MD; son of George Shillow (an insurance executive) and Betsy (a homemaker; maiden name, Schmitz) Weigel; married Joan Balcombe (a homemaker); three children. Education: St. Mary's Seminary and University, Baltimore, MD, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1973; University of St. Michael's College, Toronto, Ontario, M.A. (summa cum laude), 1975. Politics: Republican Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—5415 Glenwood Rd., Bethesda, MD 20817. Office—c/o Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1015 15th St., NW, Ste. 900, Washington, DC 20005.
CAREER: Christian Brothers College, Orangeville, Ontario, lecturer in theology, 1974–75; St. Thomas Seminary, Washington, DC, assistant professor of theology and assistant dean of studies, 1975–77; Religious Education Center, Seattle, WA, instructor in religion and pastoral theology, 1975–78; World without War Council of Greater Seattle, Seattle, scholar in residence, 1977–84, founder and director of Cathedral Fellowships in World Affairs, 1980–84, co-director of American Initiatives Project, 1981–84; James Madison Foundation, Washington, DC, president, 1985–89; Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC, president, 1989–96, senior fellow, 1996–, director of the Catholic Studies program. Editor and principal author of American Purpose, 1987–, co-director of U.S. Institute of Peace seminar, 1987–. Research fellow at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1984–85; member of executive committee of Institute on Religion and Democracy, 1980–; member of board of directors of Rural Development Institute, 1983–, Puebla Institute, 1987–, and Keston-USA, 1987–; associate of Center on Religion and Society, 1986–; member of Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, 1987–. Mars Lecturer at Northwestern University, 1984; lecturer on theology, ethics, war, and peace. Member of board of regents of Seattle University, 1981–84; member of advisory committee on ethical values, U.S. Information Agency, 1982–84; member of academic advisory board of Washington Institute for Public Policy Research, 1986–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grant from National Endowment for the Humanities, 1977–84; senior fellow of Earhart Foundation, 1985–86; eight honorary doctorates; recipient of the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
Washington's Window on the World: A Guide to World Affairs Organizations and Institutions in Washington State, Frayn Publishing, 1983.
Peace and Freedom: Christian Faith, Democracy, and the Problem of War, Institute on Religion and Democracy (Washington, DC), 1983.
American Interests, American Purpose: Moral Reasoning and U.S. Foreign Policy, Praeger (New York, NY), 1989.
Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(Editor with John P. Langan) The American Search for Peace: Moral Reasoning, Religious Hope, and National Security, Georgetown University Press (Washington, DC), 1991.
(Editor with Robert Royal) A Century of Catholic Social Thought: Essays on Rerum Novarum and Nine Other Key Documents, Ethics and Public Policy Center (Washington, DC), 1991.
Freedom and Its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity, Ethics and Public Policy Center (Washington, DC), 1991.
(Editor with Richard John Neuhaus) Being Christian Today: An American Conversation, Ethics and Public Policy Center (Washington, DC), 1992.
(Editor) A New Worldly Order: John Paul II and Human Freedom, Ethics and Public Policy Center (Washington, DC), 1992.
The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor with Robert Royal) Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1993.
Idealism without Illusions, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1994.
Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1996.
Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, Cliff Street Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Striking Back!: The Trigeminal Neuralgia Handbook, Trigemenal Neuralgia (Barnegat Light, NJ), 2000.
The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored, Cliff Street Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Letters to a Young Catholic, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics without God, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.
God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to books. Contributor of articles and reviews to magazines and newspapers, including Thomist, America, Christian Century, National Catholic Reporter, World Affairs, and Eternity. Columnist for Progress, 1979–86; author of the syndicated newspaper column "The Catholic Difference." Contributing editor of Seattle Weekly, 1982–; founding member of editorial board of Crisis; member of editorial board of This World and First Things.
ADAPTATIONS: A documentary film based on the book Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II was released in 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, is the author of numerous books dealing with Catholic thought and the political influence of Catholicism in the twentieth century. Weigel's The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism outlines the Christian contribution to the fall of the Iron Curtain, a subject the author returns to in his authorized biography titled Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. To quote John Gray in the National Review, Weigel's work "is an invaluable corrective to the pervasive Western myopia regarding the spiritual dimensions of the Soviet collapse, showing brilliantly the indispensable role played in that decomposition by the Catholic and other Christian churches and, above all, by the present Pope."
The Final Revolution was published in 1992, shortly after the nations of Eastern Europe had secured independence from the former Soviet Union. A great deal of speculation attended the fall of the Iron Curtain, as observers sought to pinpoint the cause of the sudden and widespread demise of communism. In The Final Revolution, Weigel suggests that the entire collapse was set in motion by Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland in 1979. According to Arch Puddington in Commentary, Weigel "does not contend that the influence of organized religion was universal throughout these countries. But he does insist that the rejection of Communism was driven by certain transcendent values which derive from the Western religious tradition." The critic added: "Weigel thinks … that in fact the Pope believed he had been chosen by God to lead the Church in the final struggle against Communism. What we have in The Final Revolution, then, is an inspirational story of a great political and spiritual victory, a victory achieved over considerable odds and often in the face of the indifference of much of the world's secular leadership."
Some reviewers felt that The Final Revolution placed too much emphasis on the Catholic contributions to the breakup of the Soviet empire. New Leader contributor Jonathan Kwitny, noting that Weigel himself graduated from a Catholic seminary, commented that the author "is at heart a cheerleader, not a reporter, and therefore has not written the book he might have. He quotes his best sources admiringly, as friends, as if it would be disrespectful to press them for details they don't choose to volunteer." In the New York Times Book Review, Charles Gati deemed The Final Revolution an "eloquent but one-sided book," declaring: "There is no consideration of accidents, coincidences, miscalculations, missed political signals—only of underlying historical processes in which the children of light led by the church prevailed over the children of darkness." Christian Century correspondent Paul Mojzes observed: "Those interested in analyzing the Great Transformation will find this book an important complement to other interpretations. But those who will read only Weigel's book may be seriously impaired in understanding the far more complex trends and series of events that led to the fateful unraveling of communism. Half-truths continue to be a dangerous path to error."
Proponents of Weigel's views in The Final Revolution had their say in the press as well. In the New Republic, Jaroslav Anders wrote: "Weigel's book highlights one of the more interesting paradoxes of our times. Communism's ideological atheism may have expedited Christianity's return to history after more than two centuries of retreat. It has provided Christianity with a sense of historical mission that has been lacking since the dawn of the age of democracy." Michael Lavelle in Commonweal maintained that Weigel's book, "well-written and well-argued, presents an accurate and moving picture of the church behind the Iron Curtain from 1948–89…. He has made me a believer in the strength of Pope John Paul in changing the history of the twentieth century." John Gray stated that The Final Revolution "contains the most authoritative and comprehensive history to date of the crucial contribution of the resistance Church to the downfall of Communism, together with a subtle and well-informed critique of Vatican diplomacy toward the Soviet bloc prior to the accession of Karol Wojtyla of Krakow to the Holy See."
Weigel's writings found favor in the Vatican, and in the early 1990s he was approved to pen an authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II. Weigel was allowed unprecedented access to Vatican documents and to the pope himself, completing more than twenty hours of interviews in both formal and informal settings. Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II, a work of just under 1,000 pages, was published in 1999. "Weigel's enormous and fascinating chronicle … is the capstone of 20 years of watching and writing about John Paul II," declared Jon Meacham in the New York Times Book Review. "Though the Holy See had no rights of approval, it will not be displeased. Weigel's work is a relentless defense of just about anything this pope has ever done, said, written or thought…. There is little doubt that Weigel has given the Catholicism of the future plenty of supporting evidence if it chooses to call this pope 'John Paul the Great' one day." In an interview with Insight on the News, Weigel stated: "In Witness to Hope, I argue that John Paul can only be understood as a Christian radical, a profoundly convinced Christian disciple whose thoughts, decisions and actions all reflect his intense faith and his conviction that faith is not one option in a supermarket of spiritualities but the great truth of the world and of history."
In the National Review, Jay Nordlinger called Witness to Hope "not only a major piece of scholarship, but a cracking good story." The critic concluded, "One thing is certain, made unmistakable by Witness to Hope: Rarely has there been so perfect a marriage of man to job as Karol Wojtyla to the papacy. He was appointed at just the right time, and he has met his obligations superbly. The same may be said for his biographer." America reviewer Rembert G. Weakland deemed the project "a mammoth work, but, as one can see, a labor of love. Weigel goes over much of the same material as his predecessors but adds clarity, warmth and new insights, especially about the early life of Karol Wojtyla, his friends, his thinking. He paints a clear and most helpful picture of Wojtyla as philosopher … [and] he brings his own dynamic and conviction to this complex and all-embracing subject."
Once again some critics felt that Weigel overstepped the bounds of impartiality. National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen characterized Witness to Hope as "an extended valedictory to 'John Paul the Great,' a fact that is both the book's great strength and its fatal flaw." Noting that the work "is rich in new detail," the reviewer nevertheless conceded that Witness to Hope "is more like the definitive favorable spin on John Paul's pontificate." Nordlinger likewise commented that the book "is thoroughly admiring—Weigel sees almost everything from the Pope's point of view, sometimes even seeming to inhabit him—but, then, there is a lot to admire." And, while admitting that, "as a guide to the pope's thought, Witness to Hope is invaluable," a Publishers Weekly contributor stated that the book "reads more like a valedictory hagiography than a sober work of journalism."
These caveats notwithstanding, Witness to Hope drew a great deal of positive response. Meacham declared it "a book that will become a standard for students of church history and that sheds light on the history of the 20th century for everyone. Witness to Hope is a big book about a big man." Owen Chadwick, himself a respected reporter on Vatican affairs, remarked in the Times Literary Supplement: "George Weigel's Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II is a remarkable book, learned but readable, and in many places important for understanding the history of our century."
In 2002, Weigel published The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, in which he tries to determine the cause of the sexual scandals that shook the Catholic Church. When news of sexual abuse by Catholic priests reached the headlines, many blamed the priests' misconduct on the strict rules of celibacy by which they abide, and called for a change in the traditional tenets of the Church. Weigel, however, places the blame elsewhere: he believes that a "culture of dissent" has been building since the 1960s and has caused the Church to stray from traditional teachings. Weigel argues that this dissent has caused the Church, as well as colleges and seminaries espousing Catholic ideals, to become more tolerant of opposing ideas. He also suggests that priests are offering the people what Daniel Johnson of Commentary described as "a diluted version of their faith." As this new brand of Catholicism—called "Catholic Lite" by Weigel—infiltrated Church teachings, new priests lost sight of their role in the Church, leading some to betray their sacred vows. Weigel believes that in order to counteract the effects of the culture of dissent and the sexual abuse crisis, the Church must reform itself by returning to traditional teachings. "Weigel has responded with alacrity to the crisis of abuse, seeing it as a challenge to clergy and laity alike," wrote Johnson. The reviewer continued, stating that Weigel "sets out an impressive program of sacerdotal rehabilitation that would uproot the underlying cause of sexual depravity: the betrayal by too many priests of their vows, their vocation, and their faith."
On the heels of another controversy, Weigel authored The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics without God, in which he examines the absence of Christianity in the preamble to the constitution of the European Union and the rejection by many Europeans of Christianity's role in the history—and future—of Europe. In Weigel's metaphorical title, the Cube is Paris's La Grande Arche de la Defense, the home of France's ministry of defense, and the Cathedral is the Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame. To Weigel, explained a Publishers Weekly critic, the Cube represents "the new Europe, retreating from democracy, en route to depoliticization, enamored of international organizations and intellectually Christophobic." The Cathedral, which is so much smaller than the Cube that it could fit inside the Cube's arch, represents Europe's ties to Christianity, which are being overshadowed by the belief that democracy will succeed only after religion has been completely removed from the political realm. As Weigel points out, it would seem that many Europeans believe that "Christianity was not simply a non-factor in the development of contemporary European public life; Christianity was (and is) an obstacle to the evolution of a Europe at peace, a Europe that champions human rights, a Europe that governs itself democratically." In addition, as Mark S. Massa explains in the National Catholic Reporter, Weigel "fears that such historical amnesia regarding Europe's Christian roots poses both medium-and long-term threats to America's security."
While Massa called Weigel's book "provocative" and termed the author "a past master at penning lively and lucid studies of contemporary issues," he also "found a number of problems, both historical and theological, in the book's argument that make it less than compelling." In a more positive review for the Weekly Standard, Claudia Winkler called The Cube and the Cathedral "a finely honed reflection on post-Christian Europe."
In 2005, Weigel released God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, in which he "considers the course of the church under the previous pope and the possible changes that the new one will bring," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Weigel is also the author of Letters to a Young Catholic, an extended essay describing famous Catholic sites throughout the world. Writing for the Library Journal, John-Leondard Berg called it "a passionate, accessible, and intelligent work on how to live, believe, and see things as a Catholic."
Weigel once told CA: "My work is an exploration of the relationship between religious conviction, moral reasoning, and public policy, with a focus on foreign affairs and an explicit interest in the debate over war and peace, security and freedom. That work is enthusiastically received by some, deplored by others, but seems to bore no one."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Weigel, George, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics without God, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.
America, October 9, 1993, David Lewis Schaefer, review of The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism, p. 20; November 13, 1999, Rembert G. Weakland, "A Polished Life," p. 24.
Booklist, October 1, 2005, Ray Olson, review of God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, p. 5.
Christian Century, May 19, 1993, Paul Mojzes, review of The Final Revolution, p. 565.
Commentary, March, 1993, Arch Puddington, review of The Final Revolution, p. 56; February, 2003, Daniel Johnson, review of The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, p. 25.
Commonweal, April 9, 1993, Michael Lavelle, review of The Final Revolution, p. 39.
Insight on the News, November 15, 1999, Michael Rust, "Historian Weigel Is Witness for John Paul II," p. 37.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2005, review of God's Choice, p. 1017.
Library Journal, April 15, 2004, John-Leonard Berg, review of Letters to a Young Catholic, p. 92.
National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999, John L. Allen, review of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, p. 37; May 6, 2005, Mark S. Massa, review of The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics without God, p. 17.
National Review, November 2, 1992, John Gray, review of The Final Revolution, p. 55; October 11, 1999, Jay Nordlinger, "Books, Arts & Manners: The Pole in Rome," p. 53; October 11, 2004, Michael Potemra, "God, Man, & the Founding," review of Letters to a Young Catholic, p. 64.
New Leader, December 14, 1992, Jonathan Kwitny, review of The Final Revolution, p. 7.
New Republic, May 17, 1993, Jaroslav Anders, review of The Final Revolution, p. 42.
New York Times Book Review, November 15, 1992, Charles Gati, "With God on Their Side," p. 12; November 14, 1999, Jon Meacham, "The Flying Pope," p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1999, review of Witness to Hope, p. 76; March 7, 2005, review of The Cube and the Cathedral, p. 62.
Theological Studies, September, 2003, David E. De-Cosse, review of The Courage to be Catholic, p. 648.
Times Literary Supplement, December 24, 1999, Owen Chadwick, "A Cold Coming He Had of It," pp. 3-4.
Weekly Standard, April 25, 2005, Claudia Winkler, review of The Cube and the Cathedral, p. 39.