George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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Lessons in Statecraft

From the May 2015 Print Edition

When the Catholic Church celebrated the canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII on April 27, 2014, the Church was not “making saints,” and neither was Pope Francis. Rather, the Church and the pope were recognizing two saints that God had made, publicly declaring its conviction that, in these two men of our time, the grace conferred in baptism had borne fruit in a heroic exercise of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, courage, and moderation. In canonizing John Paul II, then, the Catholic Church was not recommending the Polish pope as an exemplar of shrewd and effective statecraft, as scholars and political leaders might lift up George C. Marshall or Dean Acheson as models of statesmanship. Still, John Paul II’s heroic exercise of the chief virtue of statecraft—prudence—contains important lessons for those practicing the arts of governance on a global stage in the twenty-first century. St. John Paul II always insisted, correctly, that he was neither diplomat nor politician. He was, rather, a pastor, who in exercising his pastoral responsibilities had things to say to the world of political power, because those things had to do with the Church’s defense of human dignity, the protection of which gives the exercise of public authority a distinctive excellence and a fundamental moral purpose. Yet this Polish-born pastor who refused to don the mantle of politician or diplomat, choosing instead the role of moral witness, was the most politically consequential pope in centuries, a pope whose evangelically inspired action changed history and left a deep impression on the future. The footprints of his distinctive statecraft can be found all over the world: in central and Eastern Europe, which he helped liberate from communism; in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, where men and women formed by John Paul II’s social doctrine are striving to make freedom for excellence work in the political and economic fields; in the United States, Canada, and western Europe, where John Paul II’s robust defense of religious freedom as the first of human rights has taken on new, and perhaps unexpected, salience in postmodern societies threatened by what Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.” To be sure, the responsibilities of a pope and the responsibilities of presidents, prime ministers, members of legislatures, diplomats, and other public officials are not identical. Popes no longer deploy hard power in the form of armies, as they once did; democratic leaders charged with the defense of the common good must calculate the interests of the people they represent and serve in ways that popes don’t. Which is to say that popes and public officials deal with international politics out of different toolkits. Still, in this season in which statecraft is often misunderstood as a form of psychotherapy, things seem to be coming unhinged, and the West is unsure of itself and its role as the guarantor of a measure of decency and order in world affairs, it’s useful to reflect on what we can learn from the distinctive global statecraft of a saint who had a real impact on what the pundits are pleased to call the “real world.” Continue Reading »

Remembering Number 84

From Web Exclusives

He scored forty times in an eight-year NFL career, best known, now, for the touchdown he didn’t score, as the sun set over Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28, 1958. His wife of fifty-nine years, Joan, said that Jim Mutscheller, who died on April 10, wanted to be known as a man “who had led a good life,” for he was “quiet, humble, and so conservative that he’d eat crabs with a suit and tie on.”And therein lies a tale—and a yardstick by which to measure pro sports then and now. Continue Reading »

“Wolf Hall” and Upmarket Anti-Catholicism

From Web Exclusives

Wolf Hall, the BBC adaptation of Hillary Mantel’s novel about early Tudor England, began airing on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater” Easter Sunday night. It’s brilliant television. It’s also a serious distortion of history. And it proves, yet again, that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable bigotry in elite circles in the Anglosphere.The distortions and bias are not surprising, considering the source. Hillary Mantel is a very talented, very bitter ex-Catholic who’s said that the Church today is “not an institution for respectable people” (so much for the English hierarchy’s decades-long wheedling for social acceptance). As she freely concedes, Mantel’s aim in her novel was to take down the Thomas More of A Man for All Seasons—the Thomas More the Catholic Church canonized—and her instrument for doing so is More’s rival in the court of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell. Continue Reading »

Newman and Vatican II

From Web Exclusives

That Blessed John Henry Newman was one of the great influences on Vatican II is “a commonplace,” as Newman’s biographer, Fr. Ian Ker, puts it. But what does that mean? What influence did Newman have on a Council that opened 72 years after his death? And from this side of history, what might we learn from Newman about the proper way to “read” Vatican II, as we anticipate the 50th anniversary of its conclusion on Dec. 8? Continue Reading »

Easter and Evangelism

From Web Exclusives

Galatians 1:15-18 is not your basic witness-to-the-Resurrection text. Yet St. Paul’s mini-spiritual autobiography helps us understand just how radically the experience of the Risen Lord changed the first disciples’ religious worldview, and why an evangelical imperative was built into that experience. Continue Reading »

St. John Paul II and the “Tyranny of the Possible”

From Web Exclusives

The reputations of the great often diminish over time. Ten years after his holy death on April 2, 2005, Karol Wojtyla, Pope St. John Paul II, looms even larger than he did when the world figuratively gathered at his bedside a decade ago: tens of millions of men and women around the world who felt impelled, and privileged, to pray with him through what he called his “Passover”—his liberation through death into a new life of freedom in the blazing glory of the Thrice-Holy God. Continue Reading »

The Indomitable and Effective Cardinal Pell

From Web Exclusives

Shortly after George Pell was named Archbishop of Melbourne, he instituted several reforms at the archdiocesan seminary, including daily Mass and the daily celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, both of which had fallen by the wayside in the preceding years. The seminary faculty, enthusiastic proponents of Catholic Lite, thought to call the archbishop’s bluff and informed him that, were he to persist in such draconian measures, they would resign en masse.The archbishop thanked them for the courtesy of giving him a heads-up, accepted their resignations on the spot, and got on with the reform of the Melbourne seminary—and the rest of the archdiocese. Continue Reading »

A Mission of Love

From Web Exclusives

The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September should be more than a vast Catholic “gathering of the clans” around Pope Francis—and so should the months between now and then. If the Church in the United States takes this opportunity seriously, these months of preparation will be a time when Catholics ponder the full, rich meaning of marriage and the family: human goods whose glory is brought into clearest focus by the Gospel. Parents, teachers and pastors all share the responsibility for seizing this opportunity, which comes at a moment when marriage and the family are crumbling in our culture and society. Continue Reading »

No Fighting God

From Web Exclusives

Some months after my son-in-law, Rob Susil, died, a longtime friend asked me, in a gentle but point-blank way, “Are you still fighting God?” The only honest response was, “Yes.” At which my friend said, simply, “You’re not going to win, you know . . .” Continue Reading »