George Weigel: New Evangelization Is Future of Catholicism

According to the papal biographer, third-millennium Catholicism will live out its fidelity ‘in a distinctive way.’

WASHINGTON — As the Catholic Church works to shape the culture in the 21st century, her members must embrace reality while fearlessly proclaiming the truth, said author George Weigel.

“It is the same Church, the same faith and, above all, the same Lord,” emphasized Weigel, a noted Catholic commentator and biographer of Pope John Paul II.

However, he explained, “the evangelical Catholicism of the third millennium” will live out its fidelity “in a distinctive way.”

Weigel spoke Feb. 5 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. His lecture, hosted by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, coincided with the release of his new book, “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.”

He explained that the deeply cultural Catholicism that emerged during the Counter-Reformation supported the evangelization of the New World, an intellectual counterbalance to the Enlightenment and opposition to the totalitarian political movements of the 20th century.

However, this “Counter-Reformation Catholicism” of history is giving way to what Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI call “the New Evangelization,” which Weigel referred to as “evangelical Catholicism.”

This new development within Catholicism, he said, is occurring for two reasons.

First, he explained, the New Evangelization reflects a spiritual revival that reflects the Church’s continuous “striving to a deeper relationship with her Divine Spouse.”

With the New Evangelization, he noted, comes a recognition that the Church is called to be “more fully and transparently what she is: the embodiment and continuation of God’s redeeming purposes.”

In addition, evangelical Catholicism is on the rise because of dramatic changes within the external environment of Western culture, Weigel said.

Instead of helping to carry the faith, “public culture in the West is now mainly actively hostile to the Catholic faith,” he observed, adding that Catholicism must, therefore, be evangelical in actively proclaiming the truth in order to survive.

Weigel explained that the rise of postmodern philosophy has left few, if any, “agreed-upon, reality-based reference points” on which to build public policy.

Therefore, since policies ordered towards the common good “must take account of reality,” public policy is no longer ordered “to the way things ought to be,” he observed. Instead, philosophy and policy are now grounded in ideas and subjective experiences “inside of our heads.”


Postmodern Mindset

Weigel warned that this postmodern mindset has brought about a “period of intense gnostic revival.” 

Gnosticism, he explained, seeks “the good outside of reality through the materials of this world.” What results is an idea that reality is incompatible with “the pursuit of human happiness” and must therefore “be overpowered and overcome.”

Weigel said that the best examples of this mindset that reality is “plastic and malleable” are found in the radical changes in sexual philosophy within the past century.

He noted that this mindset created the idea of “gender” by removing physical sexual difference from the identity of the person. It also separated sex from procreation through contraceptives and later through the normalization of homosexual relations, and it devalued and redefined marriage.

In the place of former Christian policies, Weigel said, is a legitimization of all desire and a proclamation that all “consenting” sexual activity is the “highest of goods.”