A Pope’s Legacy
How John Paul II kindled the fire of evangelism.


George Weigel

LOPEZ: Do you have any idea what he might have been happiest about in his years as pope and what he might have regretted? Any insights into how he might have approached the questions?

WEIGEL: He was always looking forward, so I don’t know that he spent a lot of time weighing this or that. He was certainly wounded, deeply, by the revelations that priests had betrayed their vocations by abusing the young, and that bishops had betrayed their vocations by failing to get to grips with clerical sexual abuse. He truly hoped that the world had turned a corner into a better way of solving its problems in the Revolution of 1989, and he was disappointed in that hope, obviously. But he remained to the end a man of good spirits and hope; our last meal together in December 2004 was full of good humor, with John Paul, on several occasions, laughing as much as he could given his Parkinson’s disease. He truly believed that God’s purposes would be vindicated, and he could be a man of hope and good cheer because of that.

LOPEZ: Any idea how he would have wanted to be remembered?

WEIGEL: As someone who had spent his life inviting others into the profound relationship with God that he had experienced, I think.

LOPEZ: What was the relationship between the current pope and his predecessor truly like?

WEIGEL: Great mutual respect, and a recognition, I think, of how their different intellectual gifts complemented each other in their collaboration over 20 years.

LOPEZ: A sympathetic column in the New York Times in recent months cast Benedict as the good reformer pope and John Paul as the bad pope, essentially, vis-à-vis priest scandals. Is that fair? If not, what would be a fair, honest assessment?

WEIGEL: No, it’s not fair, and if I may say so, it’s based on ignorance of the record, at least with respect to John Paul II. John Paul II was a great reformer of the priesthood for 26 and a half years. He drew into the priesthood, by his own example, tens of thousands of young men who will never abuse their priestly vocation by abusing others. His apostolic exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, led to a significant reform of seminaries and of the way the Catholic Church trains its priests. I explore John Paul’s role in the scandals of the recent past at length in The End and the Beginning — including the issue of whether he was slow to grasp the meaning of the Long Lent of 2002, and the issue of his being misled by Father Marcial Maciel — and I invite those who want to get at the truth of all this to read those parts of the book carefully.

LOPEZ: What is the consistency between JPII and B16?

WEIGEL: Both are men of Vatican II, rightly understood. Both are men who believe that the Catholic Church and its social doctrine have important things to offer to the building of free and virtuous societies. Both are men of dynamic orthodoxy, rooted in the great tradition of Christian faith but eager to put that tradition into active conversation with contemporary thought.

LOPEZ: Do you expect John Paul II will one day be canonized?

WEIGEL: I think the people of the Church have already recognized that John Paul’s was a life of heroic virtue, and I expect that the Church will formally acknowledge that the people got it right, in due course.

LOPEZ: What is the most pressing issue for the Catholic Church today?

WEIGEL: As always, the question is whether the Son of Man will find faith on earth, when he returns. Immediately, the most pressing question for the Church is identifying and ordaining the kind of bishops who embody the dynamic orthodoxy and evangelical Catholicism of John Paul II and Benedict XVI; a corollary issue is dealing with those bishops who can’t do the job, or haven’t in the past. The Church deserves leaders who are as on fire with the Gospel as many of the people of the Church are today, thanks to two great popes.