EDITOR’S NOTE: CV is happy to introduce the inaugural entry in our new interview feature called “Five Questions.” This interview features popular Catholic author and cultural commentator George Weigel, who spoke with CV’s Joshua Mercer. In the weeks and months ahead, CV hopes to include many new and interesting voices into our ongoing conversation about how to best live out our Catholic faith in the modern world.
CV: Your new book is called “Evangelical Catholicism.” We are accustomed to seeing the term ‘evanglical’ to describe Protestant megachurches, not Catholicism. What is ‘Evangelical Catholicism’?
WEIGEL: Evangelical Catholicism is the Church of the New Evangelization — the Church being born from over as hundred years of Catholic reform. That reform culminated with the Second Vatican Council, which has been given an authoritative interpretation by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, an interpretation built around the idea of “putting out into the deep” of missionary activism. Everyone in the Church is a missionary. Every place is mission territory.
CV: Hispanics make up one-third of Catholics in the United States. The Bishops have been responded by creating resources to meet this need. Bishops and priests have learned Spanish. In fact, the news program 60 Minutes showed Archbishop Dolan brushing up on his Spanish, which he learned in 2010. How will this transformation affect Catholics in the pew?
WEIGEL: Whatever the language spoken, the message has to be the message of the Gospel: the call to meet the Lord Jesus in Word and Sacrament; to understand friendship with him as the answer to the question that is every human life; and to offer the possibility of that friendship to others.
CV: The Bishops have been extremely reluctant to perform quality control when Catholics or Catholic institutions betray or outright oppose Church teaching. Is this restraint making it harder to maintain Catholic identity?
WEIGEL: Yes, and a more robust response to Catholic identity issues is required. Catholic Lite impedes the evangelical mission of the Church. That’s why bishops should call Catholic institutions to fidelity: so that they can advance, not impede, the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
CV: In recent decades the Church has made living the Catholic life easier. Friday penance outside Lent is virtually forgotten. Several holy days are moved to Sundays or dropped altogether if they land on Mondays or Saturdays. The sacrament of Penance is banished to 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoons. Do you think such accommodations might tell young Catholics that the Church doesn’t take itself too seriously?
WEIGEL: In Evangelical Catholicism, I suggest that we need more holy days, not less, and more ways to differentiate ourselves behaviorally from the public culture. A restoration of Friday as a day of abstinence from meat would help say, “We’re different,’ and open up the question of why we’re different. Priests announcing that the church will be open for confessions, twenty-four hours a day, on certain days, would make another powerful signal.
CV: In the wake of the 2012 elections, some have suggested that faithful Catholics should recede from politics altogether and focus all of our energies on changing hearts and minds. But is this really an either/or? Surely we can admit that Catholics need to do more from an artistic and cultural standpoint.
WEIGEL: It’s not an either/or yet. And on the life issues, marriage, and religious freedom, we have to keep fighting the good fight until we won — or we’re in a new form of catacombs. But even then we’d be sending out e-mails making our case! Platforms like CatholicVote.org are an important part of building the Church of the New Evangelization as a culture-forming counterculture, aiming to convert the wider public culture which so often misunderstands, when it does not hold in contempt, biblical religion and biblical morality.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since it’s been 600 years since a pope has abdicated, we thought a bonus question to this well-known papal biographer was appropriate.
CV: With the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s planned abdication, let’s look back at his eight years as Bishop of Rome. Everyone agrees that Pope John Paul II was a master at evangelization. Perhaps comparisons between Benedict and John Paul are unfair. Nevertheless, do you think Pope Benedict XVI will also be known as a evangelist or will he regarded more as a theologian or teacher?
WEIGEL: He should be regarded as both. In addition to his formal magisterium, Benedict XVI leaves behind a legacy of luminous preaching and catechesis; indeed, I think it’s not unfair to say that he was one of the great preachers of our time.