THE COURAGE TO BE CATHOLIC: CRISIS, REFORM, AND THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH by George Weigel Basic Books, 2002 256 pages, $22 Available in online and retail bookstores, or call (800) 386-5656

To understand the nature of the crossroads the Catholic Church has come to at this moment in its history, you must first understand that Church teachings did not provide the pavement. Failed disciples did.

Restore fidelity and you will restore the Church's moral authority. Many agree with this perspective. Few can make the case as compellingly as George Weigel.

“Crisis means trauma; crisis also means opportunity,” Weigel writes. “The trauma of the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002 will become an opportunity to deepen and extend the reforms of Vatican II if the Church becomes more Catholic, not less — if the Church rediscovers the courage to be Catholic.”

It's clear that Weigel, acclaimed biographer of Pope John Paul II, knows and loves the Church. It's equally evident that he is a writer of considerable courage himself: One of the leading Catholic intellectuals of our time, he doesn't shy from making strong, if carefully nuanced, arguments sure to draw heat from those hoping to use the present crisis to advance a narrow, progressivist agenda.

“The answer to the current crisis,” he writes, “will not be found in ‘Catholic Lite.’ It will only be found in a classic Catholicism — a Catholicism with the courage to be countercultural, a Catholicism that has reclaimed the wisdom of the past in order to face the corruption of the present and create a renewed future, a Catholicism that risks the high adventure of fidelity.”

Weigel points out that sexual abuse of minors by clergy is not a solely Catholic phenomenon; nor is it especially prevalent in the Catholic Church. True, too, is that the overwhelming majority of the cases that have come to light are cases of “homosexual molestation” — not of prepubescent children, but of teenage boys and young men, often in schools or seminaries. Such facts, while important, are not meant to excuse, however. Weigel makes this emphatically clear: “Any sexual misconduct by persons placed in positions of trust and responsibility for the young is wicked and scandalous.”

Weigel is optimistic about how things will turn out, and his hopefulness seems well-founded. He declares “Catholic Lite” on its way out and points out today's “young men and women, formed in the image of John Paul II and joyfully living the Catholic sexual ethic” filling the graduate theology and philosophy departments at Catholic schools. Meanwhile, the dissenters — even if they are providing the media with memorable sound bites — are aging. Fidelity may yet win by attrition.

“The Catholic Church learned the truth about reform from its parent, Judaism, for the pattern of authentic Catholic re-form first took shape in the Hebrew Bible,” writes Weigel. “There, the prophets insisted that the answer to Israel's whoring after other gods was neither greater subtlety in the worship of false gods (Idolatry Lite), nor more clever ways to cover one's theological bets (Syncretism Lite), but rather radical fidelity to the one true God and His commandments. Similarly, crises of fidelity in the Catholic Church are never remedied by Catholic Lite, but only by more radical fidelity to the fullness of Catholic faith. That is the truth the current crisis is compelling the Catholic Church to remember — and to act upon.”

How was it that Catholic scandals came to hog the headlines during the beginning months of 2002? How did the Catholic Church get to where it is today? And where do we go from here? Read The Courage to Be Catholic and you'll be well on your way to answering those kinds of questions — and to helping the Church ease its way back on to the road its founder intended it to travel.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is executive editor of National Review Online.