Photo: George Weigel
By Terence P. Jeffrey, CNSNews, May 9, 2018
George Weigel, author of a best-selling two-volume biography of Pope John Paul II, argues in his new book—”The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times“–that for America to maintain a political culture that protects liberty it must first rebuild the moral culture needed to sustain that political culture.
“My point in this book,” Weigel said in an interview with CNSNews.com, “is to explain just how deep the problem is, how we got there, and let us understand that while politics can help create the space for cultural renewal, it cannot create cultural renewal itself. That has to be retail work by individuals, by families, by neighbors, reconstituting a country in which freedom is lived nobly and freedom is ordered to goodness not just to willfulness and I did it my way.”
“The first step is to recognize that American political culture is in crisis because our public moral culture is in crisis,” Weigel writes in the book.
“But politics and law cannot resolve the crisis,” he says, “because politics and law of themselves cannot revitalize the cultural subsoil of American democracy from which grow the habits of mind and heart that turn democratic self-governance from an aspiration to a capacity.
“What is needed to resolve the crisis,” he concludes, “is another Great Awakening.”
Here is the full transcript of the interview in which Weigel discusses “The Fragility of Order” with CNSNews.com:
Terry Jeffrey: Hi and welcome to this edition of Online With Terry Jeffrey. Our guest today is George Weigel. He holds the William E. Simon Chair of Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is a New York Times bestselling author. Among his prior books is the highly regarded biography of Pope John Paul II. We are going to talk to him today about his new book, “The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times.” George, thanks for coming.
George Weigel: Thanks, Terry. Good to be here.
Jeffrey: Now, in part of this book, you reflect on how the Catholic Church and its leaders faced off against Soviet Communism and its many satellite states in the years after World War II, leading up through Pope John Paul II. You tell some pretty interesting stories. Is it true that the Soviet Union in fact penetrated the church, and even the Vatican, with spies and agents?
Weigel: It is unfortunately true. Beginning in the early 1960s, Pope John XXIII and later Pope Paul VI tried to find some sort of a way of having a conversation with these communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, and part of the price for that was dialing down the anti-communist rhetoric from the Vatican. But another price for that was the penetration of the Vatican by any number of East Bloc intelligence services. In the second volume of my John Paul II biography, The End of the Beginning, I explored this through documents from the KGB, the East German Stasi, the Polish SB, the Hungarian secret intelligence service, and the then-Czechoslovak secret intelligence service, all of which had assets inside the Vatican. I don’t think this caused an enormous amount of trouble, but the fact that to this day senior Vatican officials, who remember that era, deny that they were concerned about it is a striking fact.
Jeffrey: So, there were literally in some cases priests and bishops who were essentially Soviet agents?
Weigel: Well, there was a very famous case of a German Benedictine named Eugen Brammertz, who it turns out had been recruited by the Stasi early, before he entered the Benedictines. Ended up working in the Vatican in the Secretary of State and was a conduit for reports and probably stole some documents along the way. John Paul II, I think, suspected all of this was going on when he was elected. He had had a rather extensive experience of these people and how they operate. So, it is interesting to me that during the first eleven years of his pontificate, all of the paper involving negotiations with Communist regimes was kept in the pope’s apartment.
Jeffrey: Didn’t go anywhere else.
Weigel: Didn’t go anywhere else. And that was not, as our Marxist friends used to say, by accident.
Jeffrey: Because he literally didn’t trust that there might not be some people in the Vatican, who–
Weigel: Well, that there were moles who would get their hands on stuff that they shouldn’t get their hands on and compromise either individuals or ongoing negotiations. This is interesting in another way in that it demonstrates just how dangerous Communist regimes thought the Catholic Church was. And that fear, which really goes back to Lenin, intensified by orders of magnitude with the election of a Polish pope.
Jeffrey: Let me ask you about that. John Paul II, of course, was the archbishop of Krakow before he was elected pope. And in your book you mention that the Soviets were actually nervous that this guy might get elected pope.
Weigel: Well, it’s interesting to me that at a meeting of all these bad-guy intelligence services, a couple of years before Wojtyla’s election to pope, the Hungarians, I believe it was, identified him as a potential candidate for the papacy and said that this would be serious bad news from their point of view. Yuri Andropov, who was then running the KGB, immediately ordered up an analysis of the potential impacts of this, within weeks after John Paul II’s election. And an old Polish friend of mine, who was in Rome for John Paul’s inaugural Mass on Oct. 22, 1978, was told by an Italian friend of his who had good contacts in the Italian Communist Party, that the Soviets would prefer Solzhenitsyn as Secretary General of the U.N. than a Pole as pope. They were really scared.
Jeffrey: Obviously, there is a lot in the news in recent months about, quote-unqoute, Russian “meddling” in the U.S. election. In your book you mention an incident where there was an attempt to slander John Paul.
Weigel: Well, look, on the Russian meddling thing, they have been doing this for years, there’s nothing new about this. They do it with everybody. What is interesting about this present Putinesque phase of this is that they are not forwarding an ideological line. Communist propaganda, Soviet propaganda, during the Cold War was an attempt to sell us that they had a better way. They are just making trouble now. They like chaos. They think it creates opportunities for them. They are not selling a Putin model because there is no Putin model. But, yes, prior to the pope’s second visit to Poland in 1983, which was during martial law in Poland, they concocted a fake diary said to be of his “lady friend” and they were going to attempt to leak this in order to blackmail the pope and reshape the negotiations over the terms of the visit. The whole thing was recognized for utter nonsense at the time. But that tells you something about the level of sleaziness to which these people were prepared to go. And it underscores how much they feared him.
Jeffrey: Now, there really couldn’t be two more greatly opposite philosophies than the materialistic atheist philosophy of the Communist Soviet Union and the Catholic Church. They were fundamental enemies, were they not, on the most basic level.