A Tale of Two Saints
The Church recognizes “heroic virtue” in two of its former popes.

John Paul II (left) and Pope John XXIII


LOPEZ: The Holy See is about to go in front of a U.N. torture committee. Is there really cause for celebration in the Church about anything this weekend? At some point does Pope Francis have to not just reform but change tradition and teachings from another time?

WEIGEL: The pope is the servant of an authoritative tradition, not its master. One of his tasks is to preserve the integrity of that tradition in its fullness; note that, in his opening address, that’s what John XXIII said was the primary purpose of Vatican II!

The millions of people who will flood Rome this weekend to celebrate two great modern Catholic leaders and their lives of heroic virtue know that there’s a lot to celebrate in the Catholic Church — including its steady refusal to cave in to what the New York Times editorial board and certain Times op-ed columnists think it should be. Hundreds of thousands of men and women, presumably neither deluded nor insane, were baptized or entered into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter. The Catholic Church is the world’s premier institutional defender of religious freedom for all. Amidst the confusions of post-modernism, the Catholic Church is the world’s most important institutional defender of the prerogatives of reason to get at the truth of things — including the moral truth of things. The Catholic Church is the largest educator of women and the largest provider of health care to women and children in the Third World. The Church’s best seminaries in the United States are fuller than they have been in 40 years. Young Catholics are giving years of their lives as FOCUS missionaries on college and university campuses across the United States. The Church offers empowerment to the poor through its extensive social-service networks and compassionate support to women in crisis pregnancies.

So, yes, there’s a lot to celebrate, and a lot for which to be grateful.

LOPEZ: There’s a synod on the family coming up in the fall, convened by Pope Francis. What do you expect come of it? Again, Church teaching seems to be from another reality on marriage and family and women.

WEIGEL: Pope Francis understands that there is a crisis of marriage culture throughout the world. And he wants the Church to address that crisis more effectively. That will happen, I think, by lifting up the beauty of Christian marriage as an alternative to the anorexic notion of marriage as a legal contract for mutual convenience; Christian marriage is a covenant of love and self-giving, and the world needs to hear about that. And the Western world needs to come to grips with the fact that a contraceptive culture is leading to demographic oblivion.

We’ve got a lot of resources to address these issues today, resources that weren’t available in the cultural maelstrom of the Sixties and the furor over Paul VI’s encyclical on the morally appropriate means of family planning, Humanae Vitae. We have John Paul II’s magnificent 1981 apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio. We have John Paul’s Theology of the Body. We have brilliant books like Mary Eberstadt’s Adam and Eve After the Pill. Those resources should all be in play in the special meeting of the Synod of Bishops in October, and in the ordinary meeting of the Synod in 2015, which will also address the crisis of family life throughout the world.

Above all, we have the example of couples and families who are the living answer to the global crisis of marriage culture. The Synod fathers should hear from them, early and often, as these discussions unfold over the next year and a half.

LOPEZ: What will you most appreciate or enjoy about the canonizations this weekend?

WEIGEL: I’m looking forward to another global gathering of the great Catholic family from all over the world. It’s likely to be a bit chaotic, but then so, I expect, was the first Christian Pentecost.

LOPEZ: Is there anything about John Paul II you wish people realized?

WEIGEL: I suppose I wish that people would recognize his extraordinary courage in facing down a crippling illness and reminding us that there are no disposable human beings. More importantly, I wish that people would realize that he could do that, and be that, because of his embrace of the Cross as the truth of life.