Setting the World Ablaze
The future of the Catholic Church.


LOPEZ: Are there any elements evangelical Catholicism has learned from American evangelical Protestants?

WEIGEL: I think there are some important things that evangelical Catholicism can learn from evangelical Protestantism throughout the world: the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (“friendship with Jesus” being perhaps the key theme in the preaching of Pope Benedict XVI); the absolute centrality of Baptism in each of our lives; the determination to see every place we go as “mission territory.” From the evangelical Protestant encounter with Scripture, Catholics can also learn to read the New Testament again with the eyes of faith: not as an ancient text to be dissected, but as a living book that describes God’s ways in the world with remarkable salience for our own times and lives.

: Is an evangelical Catholicism realistic when “the Catholic vote” and so much of what we see from Catholics today has very little to do with the surrender to revealed faith you suggest the world needs?

WEIGEL: Well, let’s begin by noting for the umpteenth time that there isn’t any such thing as “the Catholic vote.” There are voters who self-identify as Catholics, but their degree of Catholic commitment and practice varies widely, and their voting patterns tend to mirror their commitments. Regular, weekly-Mass-attending Catholics skew heavily Republican; once-a-year Catholics skew heavily Democratic; and the scale slides in between — the once-a-month Catholic is more likely to vote Republican than the once-a-quarter Catholic. So it really makes no sense to talk about a “Catholic vote,” any more than it makes sense to talk about a “gender-gap” in our electoral politics. The “gap” in the latter is between married women and single women; the “gap” among Catholics is between practicing Catholics and occasional Catholics.

As for “realism,” I’m not suggesting that evangelical Catholicism is one possible way of being Catholic among a dozen other options; I’m saying, quite frankly, that this is the Church of the future. Cultural Catholicism — Catholicism based on the fact that your grandmother was born in County Cork or Guadalajara or Palermo or Krakow — is not going to make it when the ambient public culture is toxic, anti-Biblical, Christophobic. The only Catholicism with a future is a robustly evangelical Catholicism in which deeply converted disciples are formed for mission and empowered to meet the challenge of that hostile culture. As for its being hard, well, it’s always been hard. But the experience of dynamic, evangelically Catholic parishes, dioceses, campus ministries, seminaries, renewal movements, and religious orders is that, if you preach it and live it, they will come — because it’s true, because it’s compelling, because it’s exhilarating, and because we learn to live the truth of our humanity there by living it in conformity to Christ.

: You call people “baptized pagans” in this book. Who are they, and isn’t that a wee bit harsh?

WEIGEL: Well, to get down to specific cases, I can think of several members of Congress and senior administration officials who fit the bill. These people self-identify as Catholics, and they may even go to Mass with some regularity. But they are leading lives of such theological and moral incoherence (by, for example, supporting Roe v. Wade or agitating for “gay marriage” or defending the HHS mandate while ignoring its threat to religious freedom) that their communion with the Church is seriously damaged.

The politicos aren’t the only problem here, of course. There are aging, tenured members of theology departments at prestigious Catholic universities whose teaching and writing make clear that they are in a defective state of communion with the Church, because they deny what the Catholic Church teaches to be true. The entire fracas with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is, in fact, about precisely this: Is the LCWR living in communion with the Church, or is it living (and propounding) what amounts to another faith — indeed, another religion? We know that there are schismatics in the 21st-century Church: people who are, in a formal, canonical sense, living outside the legal boundaries of the Church because they have broken communion with the Church by breaking its canon law (think of the Lefebvrists). What I’m suggesting with the, admittedly provocative, term “baptized pagans” is that the Church has a much bigger problem than the tiny and marginal Lefebvrist sect, because there are a lot of people who are still inside the canonical boundaries of the Church but who aren’t in communion with the Church in any other meaningful sense. And it’s the job of all Catholics — but especially the Church’s pastors — to call those “baptized pagans” back to living in the fullness and integrity of Catholic faith.

: “When Catholic public witness fails to persuade on . . . fundamental questions, evangelical Catholics must understand that those failures are not compensated for by modest victories on other fronts.” What do you have in mind here?

WEIGEL: What I have in mind is when a Catholic conference director, having gotten his clock cleaned on a “gay marriage” vote in his legislature or a vote to regulate the abortion industry in his state, announces that, while that’s too bad, he looks forward to working on some social-service project with the people who just cleaned his clock. That kind of, oh-well, what-the-heck, we’ll-try-again-tomorrow attitude is badly mistaken. It assumes that all issues are equal, and they’re not. The right to life, the nature of marriage, and religious freedom are first-principles issues. When we lose on those issues, we risk losing the constitutional order (which is, after all, rooted in the way things are, as that pint-sized political realist James Madison understood), and we should make our unhappiness with those legislators who vote the wrong way very, very clear.

I have been a longtime supporter of tuition tax credits, vouchers, or some other device to make Catholic schools more available to at-risk kids. Catholic bishops and lobbyists should be able to work across the aisle on issues like this, where there may even be support among people who are otherwise wrong-headed on core Catholic issues. But we can’t do the wink-and-nod routine on the core issues, for doing so suggests that we’re not really serious about them. Moreover, if we really believe that a legislator is putting his or her soul in peril by supporting the culture of death rather than the culture of life, we ought to make that clear to him or her. Finally, tuition tax credits or other devices to make it possible for more at-risk kids to attend Catholic schools aren’t going to be worth much, over the long haul, if the Leviathan state decides that, for state accreditation purposes, Catholic schools have to teach, let’s say, that “gay marriage” is just the same as any other form of marriage.