Tuesday, April 1, 2008

George Weigel, Micheal Sean Winters and the "McBrien Prize in Really Inept Vaticanology"

"Americans are still from Mars, and Europeans -- including Vatican foreign policy officials -- are still from Venus", pronounces Sean Winters in Not Eye to Eye: Wholly Different Angles on the World (Washington Post March 30, 2008).

It turns out that on everything from U.S. foreign policy in Iraq ("Pope Benedict XVI will show how much his worldview differs from President Bush's when he denounces the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq before the U.N. General Assembly") to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to economic development ("[the Vatican] insists on Third World debt relief, but also wants to address the worrisome cultural and spiritual consequences of the West's luxurious decadence") to the United Nations itself ("U.S. ambivalence (or outright hostility) toward the United Nations is not shared by our European and Vatican friends. [B]eyond that, nationalism is on the wane in Europe"), the United States and the Vatican simply exist on two different planes of reality.

To which George Weigel responds: "Michael Sean Winters [wins] the pole position in this year’s chase for the coveted Father Richard McBrien Prize in Really Inept Vaticanology* (National Review March 31, 2008):

In my own conversations with senior Vatican officials over the past 18 months, I have been struck by the fact that the debates of 2002-2003 are over. That there was serious disagreement between the U.S. government and the Holy See prior to the invasion of Iraq is, and was, obvious. Today, however, the page has been turned, and despite what Winters’s Vatican leakers may be telling him, the people who make the decisions tell me, as they have told the Bush administration, that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for both Iraq and the entire Middle East.

Pope Benedict will likely urge President Bush to demand that the Iraqi government be more assertive in defending the Christian minority population of Iraq; but that means more and stronger American involvement in the evolving politics of Iraq, not the end of an “occupation.” As for a papal “denunciation” at the U.N., Winters and his friends among Catholic Democrats are likely to be disappointed; Benedict XVI is far too shrewd to give fall campaign sound-bites to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton (either of whose victory in November would cause nightmares for the Holy See at the U.N. and other international agencies).

Moreover, the pope is coming to the U.N., not to give a pontifically guided tour of the world scene, praising this and lamenting that. In this 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he is far more likely to challenge the world body to take more seriously the moral truths that undergird the human dignity the U.N. was founded to defend — moral truths that can be known by reason.

On the question of the ongoing U.S. presidential election, Weigel mentions that not even the Vatican is immune to the spell of a certain charismatic senator from Illinois:
As a very senior Vatican official told me recently, the people who actually make the decisions in Rome know that the future is unlikely to provide an American administration as comprehensively sympathetic to core Holy See concerns in international arenas as the Bush administration has been. There is, alas, a kind of Obama swoon going on in at least some parts of the Roman Curia at the moment; but once the Illinois senator’s positions on the life issues and the nature of marriage come into clearer focus along the Tiber, the honeymoon will be adjourned, quickly.
Rather than stir up rivalries (real or imagined), it would be best for all to simply listen to what Benedict has to say during his visit:
Far from Jeremiah against the Great Satan Bush, Benedict XVI is going to teach the world a lesson about moral reason as the “grammar” by which the world can have a conversation about the world’s future. There are truths built into the world and into us, he will remind Americans and the U.N.; thinking together about those truths is one way to change noise into conversation and incomprehension into dialogue.
* Named for the Notre Dame theologian who memorably announced that Joseph Ratzinger couldn’t possibly be elected pope, less than 24 hours before Ratzinger was elected