The Next Pope
The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission
by George Weigel
This book is not a prediction of the outcome of the next conclave and it does not tell us who the strong candidates are. It has a more modest aim: to express an opinion of what the next pope needs to focus on.
Weigel is surely correct in claiming that one such area should be the re-evangelization of nations that used to be Catholic but are no more. The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany come to mind.But the problem is much greater than that : Europe, America and Australia need to be re-evangelized, as does large parts of Asia and Africa. Until about fifty years ago, the Catholic faith in Ireland and Belgium, for example, was such that missionaries from these lands were sent out to evangelize Africa and Asia. No more.
So what went so terribly wrong? Again, Weigel has surely made the correct diagnosis: a watered down version of Catholicism was given to the people, what Weigel refers to as Catholic Lite. I remember witnessing so many young people in my university days leaving the Catholic faith and I later realized that they had left something that they did not really belong to in the first place. They had been provided with bad catechesis and meaningless liturgies. If they wanted entertainment, there were better places to go. Catholic Lite can never replace the real thing, Catholicism-in-full.
Weigel also rightly notes that Catholicism is dying because the fullness of Catholic morality has often not been presented in a convincing manner. There is the temptation to focus on popular (and very real) causes such as poverty and immigration and avoid confronting the number one issue of the age: abortion. There is also the very real and dreadful possibility that the next US president might well be wanting to push for more abortions and more marriage destruction while claiming to be Catholic and getting away with it.
There needs to be a focus on marriage, says Weigel, which is the union of one man and one woman for life. Those who find themselves in irregular circumstances need compassionate support and accompaniment. But not at the expense of the Gospel. Dialogue is good. Accompaniment is good. But they are means, not ends, says Weigel.
Weigel questions the way in which synodality has been interpreted. It does not mean a federation of local churches, each with a different set of doctrines. That has already been tried and found wanting. It is called Anglicanism. As things stand, the German bishops appear to be on the verge of achieving what Martin Luther failed to do.
We need a pope who will always remember that the ministry of Peter is at the service of the Gospel and not above the Gospel. There is also a real difference between the "settled teaching of the Church" and the personal opinions of the pope.
Apart from the re-evangelization of once Catholic nations, the next pope needs to encourage missionary activity among people who do not as yet know the Gospel. The theory of "anonymous Christianity" must surely be abandoned. We cannot presume that all are saved. That is quite simply not the teaching of Our Lord.
So, there is much to pray for, much to expect from the next pope. But whoever the next pope is, he needs the "prayerful support of the entire Catholic world."