In a recent column for First Things, George Weigel, the aging icon of Catholic neo-conservatism, proclaimed a fundamentally important and eminently timely truth with impeccable clarity:
“The Petrine Office is not divisible in any fashion, nor can it be a dyarchy [sic] in which one exercises the mission of governance and another exercises a mission of prayer.”
True to form, however, he also did what the neo-cons do best; namely, he spun a web of illogic and presumption so dense that one might come away unaware that the Church is presently mired in an historical crisis of the pontifical kind.
At issue is the recent presentation given by Archbishop Gänswein concerning the status of the Pope Contemplatus, Benedict XVI, and by necessary extension, the blasphemous Argentinian heretic who holds court next door.
In an effort to provide his readers with a bit of background, Weigel writes:
Ever since Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication, there have been voices insisting that Pope Benedict didn’t really mean to abdicate, or didn’t do so canonically, or simply laid down the burden of governance while somehow remaining “pope,” or some other such foolishness—and this despite Benedict’s insistence that, yes, he meant to do exactly what he did.
To date, these voices have been limited to the woolier fringes of Catholic commentary, where conspiracy theories abound; to academics with too much time on their hands; and to columnists (chiefly Italian) with space to fill.
A few weeks ago, however, this entirely unnecessary brouhaha was exacerbated by Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, now the Prefect of the Papal Household.
The cognitive disconnect on display here is severe.
Weigel writes as if Benedict’s intent in the matter (i.e., exactly “what he meant to do” by way of his Declaratio of 11 February 2013) was never really a matter of legitimate debate, and this in spite of the fact that Archbishop Gänswein confirmed as much.
What’s even more stunning is Weigel’s unbridled arrogance.
Among those whom he dismisses as occupants of the “woolier fringe” are such men of repute as Antonio Socci, Vittorio Messori, and Professor of Canon Law, Stefano Violi. Oh how I would like to see any or all of these men respond to the slight! Of course, I doubt that any will stoop so low as to acknowledge it.
In any case, Weigel apparently believes that he has more insight into the situation than Benedict’s longtime and current personal secretary, Archbishop Gänswein, who also happens to be a Doctor of Canon Law.
According to Weigel:
Archbishop Gaenswein’s reference to title and vesture [retaining the name Benedict and continuing to vest in papal garb] confirms what many of us thought three years ago: the decisions about these matters made in 2013 were mistaken.
Come now… Archbishop Gänswein’s “reference” in no way suggests that Benedict’s decisions were mistaken; rather, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that they were made deliberately; in order to convey his intent to transform and expand the Petrine ministry!
Obviously, Weigel thinks that he knows better:
A papal abdication, no matter what the circumstances, involves renouncing the Office of Peter, not reconceptualizing it. No good end is served by suggestions that the Petrine ministry in our day has been redefined or expanded.
Wrong again. The present situation doesn’t involve mere “suggestions” – it concerns a gravely important revelation (or better stated, confirmation) that comes to us directly from the most credible of sources.
Only a totally disinterested party (or self-important fool) could possibly dismiss it or otherwise take it lightly.
Weigel is correct, however, when he implies that a papal abdication does not involve an act that is carried out with the intent of reconceptualizing, redefining, or expanding the Petrine ministry.
On this note, it would seem that he knows very well that such an attempt as this would be utterly futile; thus rendering the alleged act of abdication invalid, and furthermore, if this be the justification for convening a conclave to elect a successor, then it too would be invalid.
The stakes are exceedingly high, in other words, and Weigel (and every other Catholic with a pulse) damn well knows it.
The million dollar question for those who occupy the ecclesiastical mushy middle is simple:
Who is better qualified to provide insight into Benedict’s intentions; George Weigel or Georg Gänswein?
For readers of this space, it’s a bona fide no-brainer, but apparently not so much for everyone else.
Take, for example, canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters who wrote in a blog post entitled, George is right, Georg is wrong:
“George Weigel has an excellent critique of Abp. Georg Gänswein’s weird theory…”
Let me make sure I understand this correctly:
So… the American think tanker who pontificates on matters ecclesial from the distant suburbs of Washington, D.C. has gifted the Catholic world with “excellent” insights, while the Archbishop who has daily contact with Benedict, and has for more than a decade, only managed to float a “weird theory.”
OK. Got it.
St. Dymphna, Patron Saint of those who suffer delirium, ora pro nobis!