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Friday, July 01, 2005

Another Letter to the Editor 

Back in late April, our diocesan paper ran a column of George Weigel's describing Pope Benedict's election as a sign that the "'progressive' project" was over. In his view, for forty years there has been a movement trying to foster a Catholicism of "how little can I believe?" ; and that movement is, in his view, mostly dead.

The following week, an adult faith formation director wrote a letter to the editor that was little more than five column inches of whining. She did not take Weigel to task for a mischaracterization of the word "progressive," nor demonstrate that the movement was still alive, nor address his argument at all. As near as I can tell, having skimmed his column and grown angry at Weigel and all those like him, she wrote a letter against what she thought he must really mean. She excoriated him for denying the legitimacy of anyone who questions any church practices, for rejecting Vatican II, and especially for being afraid.

Now anyone who's read the least bit of Weigel's writing knows that these charges don't stick at all. There are plenty of ways the letter-writer could have argued with Weigel; but to say that the author of The Courage to Be Catholic approves of all church practices, that Letters to a Young Catholic rejects Vatican II, or that Witness to Hope is the work of a man possessed by fear, is fanciful beyond measure.

So I wrote a letter to the editor gently (I hope) pointing out the enormous gaps between the letter-writer's accusations and Weigel's actual column. My chief point, however, was that the effectiveness of dialogue breaks down utterly when we merely glance at someone's words, decide what "side" he's on, presume we already know what he and his ilk think, and then respond to that rather than what he really said.

When I was studying literature in college, the good professors always insisted we stay close to the text before our eyes. This practice was not a chain restricting good discussion, but rather an anchor to reality. The same rule applies to homilies, newspaper columns, and blogs. Take what is actually said, attribute the best motives to the author consistent with what he wrote, and then respond in charity.

Comments:
Very cool! The homily given by Archbishop William Levada at last night's ordination of the new Bishop Silva resonated with some of George Weigel's words in the column you mentioned. The Archbishop emphasized that being a Bishop is a denial of self in the face of the overwhelming evidence for the Gospel truth, not some kind of a power trip. Compare the following quote from George Weigel's column:

Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the great divide in world Catholicism these past several decades has not been between "liberals" and "conservatives," "reformers" and "integrists." It's been between bishops, priests, religious, and laity who see the church primarily in terms of its evangelical mission, and bishops, priests, religious, and laity who see the church primarily in terms of institutional maintenance and the exercise of intra-institutional power.
 
Hello Anders, I think I met you once or twice at a few St. Pauls functions. I don't go to them often as I'm not Catholic. But I am a friend of Christine's. And I have listened to Relevant Radio and read several things on the internet about Catholicism. I think the whole "how little can I believe" attitude is sad. The religion has such a legacy of devotions, saints, and direct teaching that I don't see how anyone would want to get by with the smallest amount of faith or practice!

I am glad Benedict XVI was the head of the cardinals and is very knowledgeable in the faith. I think these days any Christian church needs to be strong on its theology!
 
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