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George Weigel

William Oddie from UK Catholic Herald Responds to Weigel

Here’s a thoughtful response to George Weigel’s article (posted below) in which he calls for a wholesale replacement of Irish bishops and charges Ireland with being the epicenter of European anti-Catholicism:

Sorry, Mr Weigel: the Irish Church has problems, but to call Ireland the ‘epicentre of European anti-Catholicism’ is simply wrong

There’s an obvious distinction between the governance of the Church and the essence of the faith
By William Oddie on Thursday, 4 August 2011
Sorry, Mr Weigel: the Irish Church has problems, but to call Ireland the ‘epicentre of European anti-Catholicism’ is simply wrong
Abuse survivors confront Archbishop Diarmuid Martin outside St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

I had not meant to return so soon to the subject of the crisis in the Irish Church, for though this is something I care about very much for personal reasons, I’m still an Englishman and this isn’t my business. But the American George Weigel has now written with ponderous weight on the subject, and I cannot simply ignore his piece, since people are influenced by what he says and somebody has to say something about it. After his epic and authoritative biography of the late pope, Weigel now speaks plausibly about a wide variety of subjects. And he’s a great one for the well-turned phrase which arrests attention.

He has now outdone himself with an opening sentence to an article in the respected National Review (which in Buckley’s time I wrote for myself sometimes), a sentence which, though certainly striking, is quite simply wildly untrue. The article, disrespectfully entitled “Erin go bonkers” (“Erin go brach”, of course, means “Ireland forever”) opens thus:

While America’s attention has been absorbed in recent weeks by domestic affairs, something quite remarkable has become unmistakably clear across the Atlantic: Ireland – where the constitution begins, “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity” – has become the most stridently anti-Catholic country in the Western world.

Well, now. The point is, of course, that the current crisis in Irish Church affairs, involving certainly an unprecedented fury against Ireland’s bishops and also against Vatican bureaucratic procedures – of which Enda Kenny’s late performance was the most striking example – is not about Catholicism at all. Incidentally, though the invocation of the Holy Trinity at the beginning of the Irish constitution certainly implies that Ireland is Christian, those behind the constitution (who also devised a national flag implying peace between Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants) were well aware that the Island of Ireland is home to more than the Catholic majority, and as Mary Kenny pointed out recently in an article I quoted on Monday, the constitution nowhere says that the Irish state is officially Catholic.


The flaw in Weigel’s article is very obvious: to be anti-clerical isn’t necessarily to be anti-Catholic. Later in his piece, Weigel asks the question “How on earth did this most Catholic of countries become violently anti-Catholic?” Well, of course, it didn’t. To be strongly disenchanted with your own bishops is hardly to be anti-Catholic (and it may indicate precisely the reverse).

But Weigel isn’t saying that the Irish are turning against the excessively deferential way in which they themselves have treated their bishops (and high time too, some might say) he’s actually saying (get ready for this one, it’s a corker) that “Ireland has now become the epicentre of European anti-Catholicism”.

The online version of this piece attracted a furious riposte:

Sitting here in Ireland, rather than thousands of miles away, I take serious offence at this inaccurate and misleading article.

“violently anti-Catholic”?

Firstly, Ireland is 85 per cent Catholic, and while there are many who have turned from their faith in despair, there is no violence (other than the priests who are obviously still quite content to rape and torture children as shown in the reports recently published) and there is no anti-Catholic actions – other than fully justified disgust that the organisation we have trusted for so long could be so lacking in any moral authority. As an 85 per cent Catholic country, one which I might add has been embroiled in fights for religious (Catholic) freedom for near on 800 years in one shape or another, we would need to be self-loathing to fill your inaccurate description of us.

That these crimes were committed by those who are meant to be the guides in life and one’s spiritual journey is sad, but in fairness the Irish congregation did put in place some (relatively soft touch) guidelines for the safety of children and reporting of crimes by clergy. What is unacceptable to many here is that the Church authority – the Vatican – would interfere and advise that same congregation (ie the Vatican’s staff as such) that those were not rules to follow but instead just things to discuss.

My good Lord! How dare they.

And for that matter – how dare you. What on Earth gives you the knowledge and authority to state “Ireland has now become the epicentre of European anti-Catholicism”? …. Or is it simply that you have failed to research your subject properly?

…We are more Catholic than you would comprehend.

Weigel’s article is partly based on a common American error about Europe, the notion that it’s really all the same country with a few different languages in it. Another comment under Weigel’s piece made the point rather well, I think, pointing out

… an error that is made all too often by American pundits or “experts”, and that is to refer to Europeans as a single group with the same culture and attitudes …a measure of how [“expert”] any American really is [is] that he can look at all these countries in Europe and say to himself “yeah, they’re pretty much the same”.

Weigel has a quick tour d’horizon of the reasons for the secularisation of a few formerly overwhelmingly Catholic countries, which leads him to a bewildering conclusion: “Once breached, the fortifications of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in Spain, Portugal, Quebec [not European, not a country], and Ireland quickly crumbled. And absent the intellectual resources to resist the flood-tides of secularism, these four once-hyper-Catholic nations flipped, undergoing an accelerated course of radical secularization that has now, in each case, given birth to a serious problem of Christophobia…”

Christo WHAT? WHAT phobia? What is actually a crisis in the governance of the Catholic Church in Ireland has now become a general European hatred for the Saviour of the world. As one of my Scottish critics vividly commented recently about something I’d said: “Sheessh!!!”

Weigel’s plan for the reform of the Irish Catholic Church is to clear out most of the Irish bishops and import a load of foreign bishops who understand nothing of Ireland or the Irish, to sort everything out: “Men of indisputable integrity and evangelical passion who have no linkage to this sad, and in some instances tawdry, history are needed to lead the Irish Catholic reform for which Benedict XVI has called. I know no serious observer of the Irish Catholic scene, anywhere, who disputes the necessity of clearing the current bench of bishops; I also know no one who thinks that a reconfigured Irish episcopate, even one leading fewer dioceses, can be drawn entirely from the resident clergy of Ireland today.”

And why is that precisely? No reason is given. And where are the bishops to sort this out to come from? The US, perhaps? Maybe the gruesome results over the last 20 years of self-confident American efforts to tell other people how to run their own affairs might be thought to rule this out? England perhaps? That’s all the Irish need, a few English voices telling them what to do. I think we’ve been there before: it didn’t work. The point is, Mr Weigel, that the Irish spent 800 years shaking off foreign tutelage: they’re certainly not going to accept it now.

The real point about the Irish people is that they have not become disenchanted with the Catholic religion at all; it’s precisely by the moral standards of the Catholic religion that they are now judging all too many bishops and some, a small minority but still far too many, clergy. The child abuse scandals themselves have brought no decline in Mass attendance. On the contrary, far from being the “epicentre” of European anti-Catholicism, the practice of the Catholic religion is one of the highest in Europe.

As Michael Kelly pointed out in the Irish Catholic in April: “Decline in Church attendance in Ireland happened long before revelations about abuse and the subsequent cover-up. Polls show that in 1981 a staggering 88 per cent of Irish people attended Mass at least once a month, with 82 per cent attending weekly. By 2006 that figure had slipped to just 48 per cent for weekly Mass attendance while that figure climbs to 67 per cent when those who attend at least once a month are factored in. Subsequent polls have been fairly consistent, putting weekly Mass attendance somewhere between 45 per cent and 48 per cent. These are remarkably high figures by western European standards (the latest figures for Italy are 22 per cent and approximately 10 per cent for France).”

So, Mr Weigel, I think it’s back to the drawing board for your “epicentre of European anti-Catholicism”. I don’t know where that would be: but it’s certainly not Ireland. Anti-clericalism, maybe…

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George Weigel – "Wholesale replacement of the Irish hierarchy"

Shortly after the Murphy Report was issued in November 2009 regarding the egregious Irish abuse scandal, I attended a lecture at Providence College by George Weigel.  When asked by an audience member to comment on the scandal, Weigel didn’t hold back in asserting (in the presence of a bishop) that the Holy Father needs to completely wipe the slate clean by removing every bishop in Ireland and replacing them with American bishops who have experience in the matter.  He remarked that is was Ireland that evangelized the world and now it was time to return the favor.

In the following article posted in NRO, Weigel again calls for the same:

Erin Go Bonkers

While America’s attention has been absorbed in recent weeks by domestic affairs, something quite remarkable has become unmistakably clear across the Atlantic: Ireland — where the constitution begins, “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity” —  has become the most stridently anti-Catholic country in the Western world.

Its Taoiseach (prime minister), Enda Kenny, recently took to the floor of the Dáil to denounce the Vatican as a house of “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . [and] narcissism” and to commit an act of calumny against Pope Benedict XVI, accusing him of being a party to the coverup of the “rape and torture of children.” Ireland’s attorney general plans to introduce a new law that threatens priests with five-year jail sentences if they do not violate the seal of confession when pedophilia is confessed. Polls indicate considerable support among Irish voters for such an unprecedented violation of religious freedom, and the Irish press has indulged its anti-Church phobias with virtually no restraint.

There can be no doubt that the crisis of clerical sexual abuse — and the parallel crisis of local Catholic leadership that failed to address the problem — has been especially acute in Ireland. Benedict XVI condemned both the abuse and the coverup of abuse in a stinging letter to the entire Church in Ireland 16 months ago, a letter that condemned abusers and their enablers while offering a heartfelt apology to victims. Apostolic visitations of the principal Irish dioceses and seminaries have been undertaken, on Vatican orders, by bishops from the United Stats, Canada, and Great Britain; their reports, one understands, have been blunt and unsparing.

What has not happened, and what ought to happen sooner rather than later, is a wholesale replacement of the Irish hierarchy, coupled with a dramatic reduction in the number of Irish dioceses. Ireland is in desperate need of new and credible Catholic leadership, and some of it may have to be imported: If a native of Ireland could be archbishop of New York in 1850, why couldn’t a native of, say, California be archbishop of Dublin in 2012? The United States and Canada, in particular, have Anglophone bishops who have demonstrated their capacity to clean house and reenergize dioceses evangelically. Thus the Vatican, not ordinarily given to dramatic change, might well consider clearing the Irish bench comprehensively and bringing in bishops, of whatever national origin, who can rebuild the Irish Church by preaching the Gospel without compromise — and who know how to fight the soft totalitarianism of European secularists.

In the wake of Taoiseach Kenny’s hysterical rant in the Dáil, the Vatican recalled its nuncio to Ireland for consultations, a clear sign of displeasure with Irish politicians who, for whatever reasons, deliberately foment anti-Catholic hysteria. Yet as distasteful and irresponsible as Kenny’s attacks were, they underscore the fact that radical changes are needed in the Catholic Church’s leadership in Ireland — now, not at some indeterminate point in the future.

The deeper question that the past several weeks of Catholic-bashing in Ireland has raised — How on earth did this most Catholic of countries become violently anti-Catholic? — touches on the modern history of independent Ireland; serious answers to that question are likely to offer little comfort to either Irish romantics or defenders of the old alliances between Church and state.

Sixty years into the 20th century, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Quebec were among the most intensely Catholic nations on the planet. Fifty years later, Quebec is the most religiously arid space between Point Barrow and Tierra del Fuego; Portuguese Catholicism, outside the pilgrimage shrine of Fatima, is hardly robust; Spain has the most self-consciously secularist government in Europe; and Ireland has now become the epicenter of European anti-Catholicism. What happened?

Perhaps some comparative history and sociology suggest an answer. In each of these cases, the state, through the agency of an authoritarian government, deliberately delayed the nation’s confrontation with modernity. In each of these cases, the Catholic Church was closely allied to state power (or, in the case of Quebec, to the power of the dominant Liberal party). In each of these cases, Catholic intellectual life withered, largely untouched by the mid-20th-century Catholic renaissance in biblical, historical, philosophical, and theological studies that paved the way toward the Second Vatican Council. And in each of these cases, the local Catholicism was highly clerical, with ordination to the priesthood and the episcopate being understood by everyone, clergy and laity alike, as conferring membership in a higher caste.

Then came le déluge: the deluge of Vatican II, the deluge that Europeans refer to as “1968,” and the deluge of the “Quiet Revolution” in la Belle Province. Once breached, the fortifications of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in Spain, Portugal, Quebec, and Ireland quickly crumbled. And absent the intellectual resources to resist the flood-tides of secularism, these four once-hyper-Catholic nations flipped, undergoing an accelerated course of radical secularization that has now, in each case, given birth to a serious problem of Christophobia: not mere indifference to the Church, but active hostility to it, not infrequently manifested through coercive state power.

This, then, is the blunt fact that must be faced by bishops, priests, and lay Catholics who want to build the Church of Vatican II, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI — the Church of a New Evangelization — out of the wreckage of the recent Irish past: In Ireland, as in the other three cases, the Church’s close relationship with secular power reinforced internal patterns of clericalism and irresponsibility that put young people at risk, that impeded the proclamation of the Gospel, and that made the Church in these places easy prey for the secularist cultural (and political) wolves, once they emerged on the scene.

And that is why the leadership that Catholic Ireland needs may have to be imported, at least in part. Men of indisputable integrity and evangelical passion who have no linkage to this sad, and in some instances tawdry, history are needed to lead the Irish Catholic reform for which Benedict XVI has called. I know no serious observer of the Irish Catholic scene, anywhere, who disputes the necessity of clearing the current bench of bishops; I also know no one who thinks that a reconfigured Irish episcopate, even one leading fewer dioceses, can be drawn entirely from the resident clergy of Ireland today. This may be one factor leading to the current languid pace in reforming the Irish hierarchy; and that lassitude is what gave Taoiseach Kenny the opening for his latest rabid attack on the Church, the Holy See, and the Pope. All the more reason, then, to make the reform of the Church in Ireland truly radical by looking outside Ireland for men capable of helping lead this once-great Church back to evangelical health.

— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.


George Weigel on the Appointment of Abp. Chaput to Philly

Rise of the Evangelical Catholic Bishops
Gospel without compromise, joyfully lived, replaces Catholic Lite.

from NRO

When Pope Benedict XVI appointed the archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., as the new archbishop of Philadelphia on July 19, the usual suspects were trotted out to say the usual things that the usual suspects say.

Thus David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, continued his nine-year rant against the Catholic Church by pronouncing Chaput’s record on abuse (which virtually everyone else finds admirable) “dismal.” But then David Clohessy would likely have found St. John Chrysostom, St. Charles Borromeo, or Chaput’s 19th-century predecessor in Philadelphia, St. John Neumann, “dismal,” because if you’re the New York Times’s go-to guy for anti-Catholic-hierarchy sexual-abuse soundbites, that’s what you say. As for Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., the former editor of America magazine made his own priorities rather clear in fretting to the Philadelphia Inquirer that Chaput would “be a real pain in the neck for the Democratic Party.” (Bob Casey the Less, you have been warned!)

Just about every story on the Chaput appointment identified the archbishop as a “conservative” (because he believes and teaches as true what the Catholic Church believes and teaches to be true); just about every story claimed that Chaput was a tough guy when it came to holding Catholic politicians accountable for their votes on abortion and the nature of marriage (while completely missing the fact that Chaput had consistently made genuinely public arguments, not uniquely Catholic theological claims, about the inalienable right to life and marriage rightly understood); and of course every story emphasized abuse, abuse, abuse (as if this were the only reality of Catholic life in America).

All of this is tiresome, if wholly predictable; both its tediousness and its predictability help explain why it’s the rare discerning reader who turns to the mainstream media for serious reportage about and analysis of the Catholic Church. In this case, however, the same-old-same-old also obscured what is truly important about the Chaput appointment — which is not the archbishop’s Potawatomi ancestry (interesting as that is) but his place as one of the most vigorous exponents of what might be called Evangelical Catholicism.

Archbishop Chaput put it best himself in an exclusive interview with Catholic News Agency: “The biggest challenge, not just in Philadelphia but everywhere, is to preach the Gospel. . . . We need to have confidence in the Gospel, we have to live it faithfully, and to live it without compromise and with great joy.”

That formulation — the Gospel without compromise, joyfully lived — captures the essence of the Evangelical Catholicism that is slowly but steadily replacing Counter-Reformation Catholicism in the United States. The usual suspects are living in an old Catholic paradigm: They’re stuck in the Counter-Reformation Church of institutional maintenance; they simply want an institution they can run with looser rules, closely aligned with the Democratic party on the political left — which is precisely why they’re of interest to their media megaphones. Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and other rising leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States are operating out of a very different paradigm — and in doing so, they’re the true heirs of both the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II.

The Council put the Gospel and its proclamation at the center of Catholic life. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter published at the end of the Great Jubilee of 2000, challenged the entire Church to leave the stagnant shallows of institutional maintenance and put out into the deep waters of post-modernity, preaching Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life. In his 1991 encyclical Redemptoris Missio [The Mission of the Redeemer], John Paul insisted that the Church doesn’t have a mission, as if “mission” were one among a dozen things the Catholic Church does. No, John Paul taught, the Church is a mission, such that everything and everyone in the Church ought to be measured by what the management types would call mission-effectiveness.

The old warhorses of the post–Vatican II debates, on either end of the Catholic spectrum, don’t get this; they’re still mud-wrestling within the old paradigm. But Archbishop Charles Chaput gets it, big time. That, and the effective work of his predecessor, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, is what has made the archdiocese of Denver what is arguably the model Evangelical Catholic diocese in the country: a Church brimming with excitement over the adventure of the Gospel, a Church attracting some of the sharpest young Catholics in America to its services, a Church fully engaged in public life while making genuinely public arguments about the first principles of democracy.

This is the vision that Archbishop Chaput is bringing to Philadelphia, and it has virtually nothing to do with “agendas” as the usual suspects understand agendas. Of course that vision includes addressing serious problems of sexual abuse. The old clericalism that protected perpetrators in various dioceses created serious legal problems for the institutional Church; but it was also, and even more importantly from an evangelical point of view, a terrible impediment to preaching the Gospel and attracting people to friendship with Jesus Christ. It’s his palpable commitment to the latter — to the project of unapologetic evangelism — that will give Archbishop Chaput credibility in cleaning up what needs cleaning up and in healing what can be healed in Philadelphia.

And this is something else the usual suspects miss. The usual suspects’ answer to clerical sexual abuse has been, is, and seems likely to remain the transformation of Catholicism into Catholic Lite. But in situation after situation — Phoenix and Denver being two prime examples — it’s been the Gospel without compromise, joyfully lived, that has turned abuse disaster areas into vibrant Catholic centers where public confidence in the Church’s credibility has been restored. Where Catholic Lite has been adopted as the solution to the problems Catholic Lite helped cause — as in Boston — the meltdown that began in 2002 continues.

With the appointment of Charles J. Chaput as archbishop of Philadelphia, the deep reform of the Catholic Church in the United States — the reform that is giving birth to Evangelical Catholicism even as it leaves the old post–Vatican II arguments fading into the rear-view mirror — has been accelerated.

— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. His weekly column, “The Catholic Difference,” is syndicated by the archdiocese of Denver.


The Uniquely Catholic Approach to the Global HIV Pandemic

A lot of ink has been devoted to the Catholic Church’s unwavering prohibition on condom use, particularly in AIDS ravaged Africa.  In fact, Pope Benedict’s historic visit to Cameroon back in March of ’09 was overshadowed by the following response to reporters on the plane ride there:

“You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane heading to Yaounde. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.” (Huffpo)  

A maelstrom of ‘controversy’ dominated the media, with some pundits going as far as accusing the pope of killing Africans.  In his recent article, George Weigel wrote about the Vatican’s decision not to reappoint Lesley-Anne  Knight for a second, four-year term as secretary general of Caritas International, a global network of 165 Catholic agencies working primarily in the Third World on development and health-care issues.  Worth reading in full, following is an excerpt which offers the best perspective on the Catholic position of condoms and AIDS:

 “Yes, there is a uniquely Catholic approach to the global HIV pandemic. It is an approach that takes seriously the dignity of the human person, which includes the capacity of men and women to change patterns of behavior that put themselves, their families and their communities at risk. It is an approach that takes the spiritual and moral dimensions of the AIDS crisis seriously. It is an approach that stresses abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage—both of which have been shown by independent scholars to drive down the incidence of AIDS in vulnerable populations. It is an approach that refuses to accept the empirically unproven claims that poverty, stigma and low levels of education drive AIDS epidemics. And it is an approach that refuses to burn incense at the altar of the false god latex, where the real votaries of rigid dogma are to be found among those for whom condoms are instruments of salvation.”


Pope John Paul II to be Beatified May 1

Vatican Information Service announced this morning that Pope Benedict will indeed beatify his predecessor, Karol Wojtyla, on May 1, 2011.  George Weigel writes in the NRO:

Re: John Paul II
By George Weigel
January 14, 2011 10:00 A.M.The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints has certified a miraculous cure through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, thus clearing the way for the late pontiff’s beatification on May 1. Using the word “miracle” in a broad sense, however, the greatest miracle of John Paul II was to restore a sense of Christian possibility in a world that had consigned Christian conviction to the margins of history.

In 1978, no one expected that the leading figure of the last quarter of the 20th century would be a priest from Poland. Christianity was finished as a world-shaping force, according to the opinion-leaders of the time; it might endure as a vehicle for personal piety, but would play no role in shaping the world of the 21st century. Yet within six months of his election, John Paul II had demonstrated the dramatic capacity of Christianity to create a revolution of conscience that, in turn, created a new and powerful form of politics — the politics that eventually led to the Revolution of 1989 and the liberation of central and eastern Europe.

Beyond that, John Paul II made Christianity compelling and interesting in a world that imagined that humanity had outgrown its “need” for God, Christ, and faith. In virtually every part of the world, John Paul II’s courageous preaching of Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life drew a positive response, and millions of lives were changed as a result. This was simply not supposed to happen — but it did, through the miracle of conviction wedded to courage.

Then there was John Paul’s social doctrine which, against all expectations, put the Catholic Church at the center of the world’s conversation about the post-Communist future. In 1978, did anyone really expect that papal encyclicals would be debated on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, or that a pope would rivet the world’s attention in two dramatic defenses of the universality of human rights before the United Nations? No one expected that. But it happened.

To make Christianity plausible, compelling, and attractive by preaching the fullness of Christian truth and demonstrating its importance to the human future — that was perhaps the greatest miracle of John Paul II, and his greatest gift to the Church and the world.

— George Weigel is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and biographer of John Paul II. His second volume on the life of the pontiff, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, was released this fall.


Faith and reason, irrationality and terror

Published: Friday, September 4, 2009
The media’s obsession with salvation-through-latex in the matter of AIDS prevention in Africa so dominated the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s March pilgrimage to Cameroon and Angola that one of the most impressive addresses of the pontificate was virtually ignored.

Delivered to the Muslim leaders of Cameroon at the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde on March 19, Benedict’s concise remarks represented perhaps the most refined statement of the point the Pope has been making since his September 2006 Regensburg Lecture sent the world press into another tailspin.

Here are the key passages:

“My friends, I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God’s gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith. Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it.

“We are called to help others see the subtle traces and mysterious presence of God in the world which he has marvelously created and continually sustains with his ineffable and all-embracing love. Although his infinite glory can never be directly grasped by our finite minds in this life, we nonetheless catch glimpses of it in the beauty that surrounds us.

“When men and women allow the magnificent order of the world and the splendor of human dignity to illumine their hearts, they discover that what is ‘reasonable’ extends far beyond what mathematics can calculate, logic can deduce, and scientific experimentation can demonstrate; it includes the goodness and innate attractiveness of upright and ethical living made known to us in the very language of creation.

“This insight prompts us to seek all that is right and just, to step outside the restricted sphere of our own self-interest and act for the good of others. Genuine religion thus widens the horizon of human understanding and stands at the base of any authentically human culture. It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith, but also of right reason. Indeed, religion and reason mutually reinforce one another since religion is purified and structured by reason, and reason’s full potential is unleashed by revelation and faith.”

For three years now, the Holy Father has been quietly insisting that the problem of jihadist terrorism and the lethal threat it poses, both to the West and to Muslims of moderate temperament, is rooted in the detachment of faith from reason. Cut that cord theologically, and you end up with a God of sheer willfulness who can command anything, including the murder of innocents. Tighten the cord that binds faith and reason in a mutually supportive synthesis and the religious case for jihadist terrorism collapses of its own irrationality.

No one knows why Islam, which in the early Middle Ages created cultures open to philosophical inquiry and respectful of the canons of reason, underwent what seems to have been a kind of intellectual shut-down, so that by the 14th century the wellsprings of intellectual imagination had largely dried up throughout the Islamic world, leaving only the endless exegesis of Islamic law by Muslim lawyers.

Whatever its causes, however, this desiccation was a crucial factor in creating the irrationalism of contemporary jihadism, embodied in the Taliban slogan, “Throw reason to the dogs — it stinks of corruption.”

It would be helpful if western governments took this history seriously — and took the Pope’s analysis of the problem of faith and reason seriously. It is not government’s task to foster the kind of interreligious dialogue implied by Benedict’s speech in Yaounde: an interreligious dialogue that aims to understand revelation through reason, thus opening up the prospects of a joint exploration of the “splendor of human dignity” and the implications of that dignity for religious freedom and the governance of just societies.

On the other hand, governments that don’t recognize that the detachment of faith from reason defines the fault-line between the jihadists and the rest of us are likely to misread what remains a mortal threat, eight years after 9/11.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.