The Enduring Power of John Paul II’s Example | An Interview with George Weigel on the second volume of his papal biography | by Michael J. Miller for Catholic World Report
George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (HarperCollins, 1999), has just published another volume on the same subject, The End and the Beginning (Doubleday, 2010). He recently spoke to CWR about it.
Your biography of Pope John Paul II brought the account of his life and ministry to the threshold of the third Christian millennium. Does your new book contain evidence that the late Pontiff’s hopes for a New Evangelization are being fulfilled in the 21st century?
George Weigel: In The End and the Beginning, I offer a comprehensive analysis of the accomplishments of the pontificate of John Paul II, including his efforts to define, promote, and advance the New Evangelization. I think you can see positive results of those efforts on many fronts: in renewal movements and new Catholic communities; among seminarians and religious in formation today, and among younger priests and religious; in a new generation of Catholic intellectuals; in the vitality of our best parishes, and in the extraordinary number of people who are baptized or enter into full communion with the Church every year; in those bishops who have discovered a “John Paul II voice” and are taking the Church’s proposal forcefully into the public square. Of course, I’m speaking largely of the United States here; the New Evangelization hasn’t gotten much traction yet in “Old Europe.”
In 2002 stories about the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy received massive media coverage in the United States. Although most of the incidents were decades old, the scandal raised serious questions about Church governance. During his long pontificate, could John Paul II have done more to address the root causes of such clerical abuse?
Weigel: As I hope I showed in Witness to Hope, and as I made a special effort to show in The End and the Beginning, John Paul II was a great reformer of the priesthood, a point completely ignored by the mainstream media and largely ignored by the Catholic media. He was, as Cardinal William Baum once put it, the “greatest vocations director in history,” and the kind of men he attracted to the demands of the Catholic priesthood through the power of his own example are men who will carry out his reform far into the future—and are very, very unlikely to be abusers of anyone. No one who reads [his post-synodal apostolic exhortation] Pastores Dabo Vobis or understands the effect it was already having on American seminaries in the 1990s can doubt that the reform of the priesthood in the United States was well underway years before the Long Lent of 2002. That this was not the case in, say, Ireland, is also true, but the fault there, as in many other circumstances where clerical corruptions have come to light, is primarily to be laid to the account of local bishops who were incompetent, malfeasant, or willfully obtuse.Read the entire interview...