WESTON – “The real story line of the Catholic Church in the United States is fundamentally not a story line of corruption and failure, but a story of fidelity and courage,” said George Weigel, noted Catholic author and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., addressing the Boston chapter of Legatus, a national organization of Catholic business owners and top executives.
Appearing before a crowd of 70 members and invited guests, Weigel spoke about the clergy abuse crisis, which has rocked the Catholic Church in the past two years. He stressed the need to speak “openly and candidly” about the “Long Lent of 2002/2003.”
"Because this has been going on for so long -- and you know that here in Boston perhaps more acutely than any other place in the country -- we may have a sense of exhaustion," said Weigel. "I think we should resist the temptation to exhaustion; the temptation to think there's something improper about engaging in these conversations," he continued.
"It is only within the Catholic conversation that these very serious problems can be discussed in their proper religious, spiritual and ecclesial framework," Weigel declared. "I'd like to foster that kind of authentically candid Catholic dialogue."
According to Weigel, the clergy abuse crisis can be summed up into two parts: “the scandal dimension,” which has exposed the acts of sexual predators, and the episcopal dimension.
"The scandal became a crisis because of failure of leadership," he stated.
Weigel pointed out that there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer,” but that several factors contributed quite heavily towards the crisis.
First, the “importation of a series of psychological categories” in dealing with deviant priests, overshadowed the “theological models” that had been used for centuries.
Secondly, “serious damage was done to what I call the ‘ecology of the Church,’ or the ‘environment of the Church,’ over a period of 30 years by a culture of dissent,” Weigel stated. In defining this “culture of dissent,” he alluded to “theologians, priests and, in some instances, bishops, who believe and teach that the teaching authority of the Church has been teaching falsities,” on “hot button” issues such as contraception, homosexuality and the ordination of women.
This “culture of dissent” created an “invisible schism” among Catholics. Weigel pointed out that the “overwhelming majority” of the cases of clergy sexual abuse occurred within the 20-year period of “maximum dissent.”
"Like all damaged ecosystems, this damaged ecology of the Church eventually produced diseases and wicked mutations, and that is what we have seen," Weigel stressed.
Thirdly, concurrent with this phenomenon, many bishops “began to think of themselves as discussion group moderators,” said Weigel. In their attempts to try to “keep the peace,” they created a model of episcopacy that is part of the problem that we face now,” he said.
"The net result is a spiritual malaise -- a spiritual malaise among priests, a spiritual malaise among Catholic intellectuals, a spiritual malaise among theologians, a spiritual malaise -- dare I say -- among bishops."
Looking to the future, Weigel indicated the need “for all of us to live more authentically and integrally Catholic lives.”
He noted that “Catholic Lite” — a term he uses in his newest book, “The Courage to be Catholic,” to describe the dilution of Catholic teaching — “cannot be the answer to these problems because ‘Catholic Lite’ is, in part, responsible for these problems.”
"This is everybody's problem and, therefore, everybody has to contribute to the solution," Weigel remarked.
"What I want to underscore tonight is that what you are doing here, leading integrally Catholic lives, you are being part of the solution. I believe that from the bottom of my heart."
"The answer to the crisis of fidelity can only be fidelity," he said. "The answer to this crisis... is saints. I don't think God will be parsimonious in His grace, in raising up saints to lead us."
Weigel reiterated, “Authentic Catholic reform can only mean becoming more thoroughly, radically, integrally Catholic day-by-day, step-by-step.”
"The ultimate story line of the Catholic Church is that God will be vindicated. God has won already," he said. "We are confident that in the Resurrection God has shown us how the story is going to end up."
This is not the first time Weigel has found himself in the company of Legatus members. Within the past four years, he has addressed close to 30 Legatus groups throughout the country. “I have a great respect for this organization and the people who make it work,” he declared.
Thomas Monaghan, former owner of Domino’s Pizza and the Detroit Tigers baseball franchise, began Legatus in 1987 in order to bring Catholic business leaders and their spouses together to foster personal spiritual growth.
According to the Legatus website, its mission is to “study, live and spread the faith in our business, professional and personal lives.” Currently, there are 58 chapters of Legatus throughout the world.
According to Bill Hobbib, who is responsible for the Boston chapter’s operations, the Archdiocese of Boston currently boasts 45 members. For the past five years, the members have gathered monthly to celebrate a vigil Mass followed by a dinner and guest speaker.
"We are fed spiritually, nourished with ideas and prayers. This is a great source of support for me," said Paula Vercollone of Pembroke, a Legatus member since the Boston chapter's inception. As a mother of 11, she admits, "Socially, I love getting together with fellow believers and listening to speakers. I also love the time out with my husband."
Westborough resident Vic Melfa, Legatus member for close to two years, praised the organization. “We all have business in common and a love of the Catholic Church. This group promotes that. The strong speakers we listen to promote, proclaim and explain Catholic teaching.”