Friday, October 16, 2009

The "Lasting Value" of Archbishop Weakland's Memoir

I find the following excerpt from Tom Roberts’ October 20 Christian Century review of Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, to be quite insightful. Perhaps you will too.


The lasting value of Weakland’s memoir lies in his account of deep opposition to Vatican II reforms on the part of much of the curia, the governing apparatus in the Vatican. He connects specific names, memos, and conversations to efforts to sabotage any momentum for change – efforts began before the ink was dry on the council documents.

In his own conflicts with Vatican bureaucrats over such issues as how the Benedictines should pray the daily office, he could always count on support from Paul VI. The understanding between himself and the pope regarding the changes that flowed from the council was often a source of reassurance and confidence [for Weakland].

Things changed dramatically with the election in 1978 of John Paul II, who prized loyalty and obedience, not give and take. He was apparently determined to restore absolute authority to the papacy and tolerated no interference. Weakland’s meetings with him were brief and perfunctory. As the archbishop recalls, John Paul never looked him in eye and often just grunted in response to points made.

Weakland [left] is deeply critical of John Paul’s handling of internal church matters. He sees his papacy as one of retrenchment and centralization, which cut off the spirit of collegiality that had begun to spread in the church. And on the home front, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was transformed. A group that once wrote compelling documents on the economy and on the morality of nuclear weapons was so severely restricted by John Paul’s new rules that it has never since been able to undertake those kinds of broadly consultative efforts.

Weakland faults Paul VI [right] for trying to maintain balance of thought and opinion in his curial appointments, keeping in place some he knew would oppose his ideas for implementing Vatican II. It was his way, Weakland writes, of appeasing conservatives who disagreed with the conclusions of the council. In Weakland’s view, the strategy was deeply flawed and guaranteed that the reforms of the council would never be able to take root.

By contrast, John Paul II [left] brooked no dissent or disagreement. “What surprised me most,” writes Weakland, “was his intolerance of views opposed to his own, especially among theologians, the force with which he reacted to suppress them, and the secrecy of the procedures.” In his required visits to the Vatican, Weakland also realized that John Paul gave considerable credence to conservative critics of the church’s leaders in the United States, who would flood the Vatican offices with complaints. The archbishop from Milwaukee was regularly met by curial officials bearing stacks of clips from the city’s newspaper and texts of articles that he had written.

The tension at the heart of Weakland’s experience is the perennial battle, more explosive in some eras than others, over the extent of hierarchical teaching authority in the Catholic Church. That authority, he writes, is at once “our strongest asset” and “our most burdensome and most confounding belief.”

His memoir ends with a kind of penitential rite for Catholics in which he squarely places himself among the penitents. He sees in the future a need for the church to shed its arrogance, to put aside the notion that it somehow represents the perfect society, to rid itself of the inclination to quickly blame others for its internal problems, and to use methods other than condemnation and “near-infallible” statements to deal with disagreements within the church.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Gay Bishop Feels “No Diminution of God’s Love”
Weakland and Cutié: Making the Connections


Terence Weldon said...

Thanks for this review, Michael. I have recently bought this book, but have not yet read more than the opening chapter. I now look forward even more to reading the rest of it.

Fran said...

Thank you for sharing this Michael, I had not seen this review.

The release of the Weakland book was right before the end of the semester, but I still ran out and got it while awash in theology books to tackle. It was like a tonic for me to do so!

It interests me, as it does many of us, that so much of the press regarding the book focused on Weakland's sexuality when that was so little of what the book was about. It was compelling history at its most basic level.

The insights, shown through the review excerpt that you share illuminate things that the average Catholic does not even think about.

But perhaps they should.

So much of faith, even for the most well-intended, is magical thinking. It is that very sort of magical thinking and lack of real engagement combined with the dynamics of church hierarchy that make me so upset.

JPII's approach to things, appearing like a kindly elder-rock star to so many but operating like a dictator in his dealings with brother bishops will take a long, long time to heal.

Weakland's book was the work of a wounded healer himself- truth-teller and reconciler come forth to expose the wounds to light.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Terence, I look forward to no doubt reading your thoughts on Weakland's memoir on your excellent blog!



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Fran,

Thank you for sharing so beautifully your perspective on various aspects of this issue .

I agree with all you highlight with such insight, and am honored to have folks like you, Terence, William, Kevin, Mareczku, Phillip, Crystal, Mark, Thom, and others regularly contribute such thoughtful comments to The Wild Reed. Thank you.



Mareczku said...

Another excellent article here. I was looking at this book in the bookstore the other day and hope to purchase it when time and money allow. It makes me sad to read the critique of Pope John Paul II as I was always a big fan of him. He seemed to have a love for the common person but it is sad that he did not seem all that supportive of the bishops. John Paul II did so much good on the world stage but I do feel bad that he never reached out to abuse victims, many of whom were treated like outcasts in the eyes of the Church.

Anonymous said...

It is delightful that the truth always comes out in the end. The battle of the Curia against Vatican II has been sensed by many for a long time. The Pope's embarrassing letter half-apologizing for his kindness to Holocaust-deniers has a line expressing hurt and surprise that anyone would accuse him of undoing Vatican II. "Who, me?" he exclaims as if hearing the accusation for the first time. Revelations like Weakland's gradually accumulate to form an unanswerable record, just as the revelations about the Bush White House. The present malaise and crisis in Catholicism is NOT just a case of spiritual inertia, secularization etc. It is directly connected with the gangsterism of the Curia and the inquisitorial reign of fear and mistrust promoted by Wojtyla and Ratzinger in tandem. It will take decades for the Church to recover from the havoc they have wrought. Joe

kevin57 said...

I have posted a couple of times already on Weakland's book, noting that if an archbishop did not experience collegiality and mutual respect from the Curia, then little wonder the laity were shut out even more!

I would take exception to the criticism that Paul VI deserves to be reproved for keeping conservatives in the Curia after Vatican II. Politically, it was not a wise move, but ecclesially, it promoted "communio." He would have been no better than JPII or Benedict if he had behaved in such an ideological manner.