Book Reviews

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to 2003 Book Review List


The Courage to be Catholic by George Weigel


Rating: (Recommended)


Click on title or picture to buy from



Fiddling with Fidelity

George Weigel’s new book, The Courage to be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church, makes everything sound simple. He takes on the current crisis in the American Catholic Church and offers firm and clear advice, especially for bishops: make priests tow the line. Ask hard questions about the fidelity of priests to vows and to the teachings they should be passing on to others. On most pages of this book, Weigel’s index is wagging rapidly. His challenge involves a look back to move forward. Examine the call to holiness and to fidelity, and follow it. Simple as that. He may be asking that Catholics return to a fidelity they never had. Here’s a sample of what to expect (pp. 111-115):



There were undoubtedly many factors involved in the episcopal misgovernance that turned a serious problem of clerical sexual abuse into a full-blown Catholic crisis. Fear was sure one: fear of confronting malfeasant clergy, fear of publicity, fear of financial retribution from donors, fear of looking out-of-step with other bishops, fear of inadvertendy doing something that would frustrate one's ambitions. In some cases, it is possible that fear of blackmail—either emotional blackmail or the real thing—was a factor in a bishop's seeming inability to come to grips with clergy sexual abuse, especially homosexual abuse. Misguided compassion was surely involved, as was a misplaced faith in the expertise of therapists. Many bishops seem to have had inadequate, and in some cases incompetent, legal counsel. Most bishops had bad counsel from their com-

munications staffs.

Yet these latter two factors, read correctly, cast the whole problem of episcopal malfeasance in the proper light. A bishop whose lawyers advise him not to meet with a victim of sexual abuse or with the victim's family because of possible legal implications needs different lawyers—lawyers who understand what a bishop is, and who have the legal wit and skill to make sure than when the bishop exercises genuine pastoral care and responsibility, he does not end upcompromising his legal position or his diocese's. When the bishop does not understand that this is what he needs, it is the bishop who is primarily at fault. A bishop whose communications people tell him to make the most anodyne statements about sexual abuse for fear that any admission of responsibility would be turned communications advice from people who understand that a bishop who forfeits his role as a teacher and pastor forfeits his capacity to govern at the same time. When the bishop does not understand that this is what he needs, it is the bishop on whom the responsibility of failure primarily falls.

In the final analysis, it really is a question of imagination, or self-understanding. And that, for bishops, is an irreducibly theological question. To repeat: A bishop who truly believes that he is what the Catholic Church teaches he is—a successor of the apostles who makes present in the Church today the living headship of Christ the Good Shepherd—does not behave like a corporate executive managing a crisis in which he has little personal involvement beyond the protection of his own position. He behaves like an apostle. He teaches the fullness of Catholic truth about sexual ethics, no matter how countercultural that may make him, and he does so in such a way that his priests and people are seized by the high adventure of orthodoxy and fidelity. He lifts up examples of fidelity and courage, so that others may be inspired by them. He condemns, forthrightly, what must be condemned. He embraces as a pastor the victims of abuse and he does what he can to help in their healing. As a father, he calls his priests to live the vows he and they have solemnly made before God and the Church. He shepherds the flock with a special shepherd's care for the weakest of the lambs.

The episcopal misgovernance that turned a serious problem into a crisis was caused by a loss of imagination and a loss of nerve. That loss of nerve had been evident in the previous three and a half decades of Catholic life in America: in bishops who approved inadequate catechetical materials, who tolerated liturgical abuses, who were frightened into passivity by theologians who taught falsely yet demanded to be considered authentically Catholic. Now, with the crisis of 2002, that loss of nerve has been publicly exposed. It is by no means the only part of the story of the Catholic bishops of the United States since Vatican II. But it is the part if the story that must be dealt with now, if a crisis is to become an opportunity for genuine reform.

For the bishops as for any Catholic, recovering one's nerve means recovering a passion for fidelity to the fullness of Catholic truth. Fidelity requires courage. And courage, for the bishops as for any Catholic in the modern world, means the courage to be countercultural.

I found myself smiling often while reading this book, both when I agreed and when I disagreed with Weigel. He’s sincere, and clear, a fine writer who never minces words. Not all are welcome under the big tent in Weigel’s version of the future of the Catholic. Read The Courage to be Catholic and find out why.

Steve Hopkins, February 27, 2002


ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the March 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Courage to be Catholic.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth Avenue • Oak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687