The Next Pope with George Weigel

In his new book The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, theologian and papal biographer George Weigel explains that, although the eventual successor to Pope Francis will face uncharted territory, the Catholic Church’s experiences during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis suggest a clear path toward a vibrant Catholic future.

As someone who has been in conversation with every pope of the last four decades, and who has worked with Catholics from every continent, George Weigel offers a unique perspective on the future of the world’s largest Christian community and the challenges its leadership must confront and meet in The Next Pope.

Join George Weigel and Joe Capizzi to discuss what the Catholic leaders of the future, especially the next pope, must do to remain faithful to the Holy Spirit’s summons to renewed evangelical witness, intensified missionary fervor, and Christ-centered reform.

Catholic Social Teaching in Our Time: A Leaven of Hope for a World Befuddled by Pandemic and Politics

By Msgr. Anthony R. Frontiero, S.T.D.

The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World offers a poignant reflection on the plight of people in a contemporary context and on how the Church “weighs in,” if you will, on the realities facing us as individuals and as a human family. The document gives a historical overview of the triumphs of human advances and technology. It rightly celebrates the wonders of the human genius as well as the progress we have realized and of which we are capable. It also, however, recognizes the tragedies and sorrows that plague us (and perhaps that have always plagued us), and asks some questions that need to be answered if we ever hope to live fully and with hope. The wisdom of this document is as precious today as it was when it was published:

“Nevertheless, in the face of the modern development of the world, the number constantly swells of the people who raise the most basic questions or recognize them with a new sharpness: what is man? What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress? What purpose have these victories purchased at so high a cost? What can man offer to society, what can he expect from it? What follows this earthly life?

The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, now and forever. Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time.” (GS, no. 10)

When the Church “weighs in” on human and social problems, she does so with the mandate of Christ himself. Indeed, the body of Christ, which is the Church, has something to say, something to teach, and something to witness. At its core, the message is this: God creates, and for this reason, we are made in his image and likeness, we are fallen but redeemed, and we are not alone.

Sadly, the basic truths about who we are and to Whom we belong have become blurred. The potential for this blurring, or even the deliberate attempt to smash these truths completely on the part of individuals and entire cultural, political, and social systems has been and is currently a particular challenge for us. As history attests, we are susceptible to such challenges both in times of prosperity and pain and suffering, such as we are in the midst of natural disasters, pandemics, and moral chaos.

More than a decade before the election of Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II commissioned the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. In the lead up to its publication, John Paul was at pains to have Catholics and, indeed, all people of good will, embrace the truth about themselves in God, mainly so that we could resist what seemed like an all-encompassing “culture of death,” or what Pope Francis has more recently called a “throw away culture.”

In two parts, the Compendium pulls together the major themes of Catholic Social Teaching, beginning with God’s Plan of Love for Humanity (the Church’s mission and social doctrine; the human person and human rights; and the principles of the Church’s social doctrine). Part Two treats The Family as the First and Vital Cell of Society (human work, economic life, the political community, the international community, safeguarding the environment, the promotion of peace, social doctrine and the commitment of the lay faithful, and building a civilization of love).

Recently, Ignatius Press has published selected writings of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). In Faith and Politics (2017), Ratzinger surveys the Gospels on the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate and poses the question: “Is truth a political category? Or has Jesus’ kingdom nothing to do with politics? . . . Can, indeed, politics accept truth as a structural category, or must truth be thought to be unattainable, or be relegated to the subjective sphere, and its place be taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power?”

Ratzinger asks some very important questions about truth and its place in political decision-making and discourse. “What happens when truth counts for nothing?” “What kind of justice is possible?” The question Pilate poses to Jesus, “What is truth?” is a critical one. Bearing witness to the truth means giving priority to God, and to His will over and against the interests of the world and its powers. (Faith and Politics, pp. 45-61)

Five years ago, Pope Francis published the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ (2015), and renewed the appeal of the Church to the human family to embrace an integral ecology in the face of global climate change. In a world befuddled by pandemic and politics, The Holy Father’s wisdom is even more important today: “We are not faced,” Francis teaches, “with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (No. 139). Hence, we need an ‘integral ecology’ that sees all these concerns as part of one interconnected whole (No. 138). Indeed, a renewed, honest, and integral understanding of the truth and of what is good and beautiful, is a pre-condition for the healing, well-being, social harmony, and peace in our time. I submit that Catholic social teaching can help us to get there.

Monsignor Anthony R. Frontiero, S.T.D., is the Vice Rector and Director of Human Formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland and a Fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology.

What Am I to Say?

As for man, his days are like the grass;

he blossoms like a flower in the field.

A wind sweeps over it and it is gone;

its place knows it no more.

—Psalm 103:15–16

by Joseph E. Capizzi

My friend David Baer and I recently wrote a piece in which we suggested that our current crises present an opportunity for theologians to reconsider how they speak to a world they hope might be paying some attention. We counseled theologians to abandon the offices of pundit and scold: in our opinion, theology has more than finger-wagging and “takes” to offer. Though the temptations of scolding are difficult to resist, and punditry by definition finds a ready audience, theologians can take consolation in knowing their job well done involves turning their hearers’ eyes toward God, even if only for a moment. In this piece, I speak to my colleagues, to the theologians and academics who find themselves seduced by easy forays into topical and timely speech.

Within Catholicism, the language of the “signs of the times” has been a popular and sometimes effective means of signaling the intention of theologians to speak meaningfully to their communities. We theologians use the language of the signs of the times as a mechanism by which to try and locate—and compete about—this or that social phenomenon deserving special attention. It typically ranges across a spectrum of political and social issues (poverty and inequality, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, this or that sense of social “progress” or decline, and so on). The power of invoking the signs of the times consists in attaching gospel language to important social concerns. Its weakness, however, is built into that strength. By attaching the gospel to contemporary concerns theologians can lose sight of that horizon toward which Jesus directed his disciples. The horizon of the signs of the times is the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). “See to it that you are not alarmed,” Jesus counsels the disciples: do not be misled by false messiahs or become alarmed by events. Stand firm, he tells them, because they know the events point to his return.

Read More Here at Breaking Ground.


Whither Humane Economics? In Defense of Wonder and Admiration in Natural Science

by Catherine Ruth Pakaluk

Mary L. Hirschfeld’s volume on economics, Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy, has been long awaited. This is for good reason. While she is not the first to raise thorny questions about the nature and use of the rational-choice framework in economic thought, and not even the first to propose that economics belongs to moral philosophy and not to positive science, she is the first to attempt a systematic integration of the economic model with Aquinas’s treatise on happiness. And she’s well-qualified to do it: after obtaining a PhD in economics and working for several years a professor of economics, she went back to school and earned a second PhD, this time in moral theology, and now teaches both theology and economics at Villanova.

Her project is ambitious, and while I find myself ultimately unsympathetic to the integrative portion of her project, it is nonetheless a serious work. Though it has several serious faults, the book has the potential to open many nuanced conversations about the nature of economic science and its role in the acquisition of human knowledge.

What’s Wrong with Economics?

It doesn’t take a theologian, or even an economist-turned-theologian, to observe that there is something fishy about mainstream economics—as it is taught, as it is studied, and as it understands itself. Economists without any theological instincts whatsoever have been saying this for more than a century, spurring great debates over the nature and meaning of economic science.

Read more here.

Originally published on 27 March 2019 at Public Discourse, the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute.

Duty To Protect

by Lucia Ann Silecchia, Ordinary Professor of Law


Next month will mark ten years since Pope Benedict XVI addressed the United Nations General Assembly, following in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II who also spoke hopefully, cautiously, critically, and passionately about their aspirations for the family of nations.

In the decade since, there is one phrase in Pope Benedict’s address that strikes me as particularly worthy of reflection both in the international law context in which he expressed it but, perhaps even more so, as a succinct guide for a life lived well.

Pope Benedict spoke eloquently of a concept called “the duty to protect.” He did this in the context of international human rights law, noting, “[e]very state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises.” He went on to say that there is an important role for the international community to play should individual states be unable – or unwilling – to offer such protection.  Likewise, he affirmed that the duty or responsibility to protect has, since ancient times, been regarded as an essential function of government. He observed that it “was considered by the ancient ius gentium as the foundation of every action taken by those in government with regard to the governed.”

In his statement to the United Nations, Pope Benedict’s message was clear: the obligation to protect the dignity of the human person against all that may threaten it is the raison d’etre of national governments and international organizations. When they fulfill this function, governments serve their noble purposes.  However, when they are indifferent to this obligation – or worse – they can justly be regarded as failures.

Yet, on the personal level, the “duty to protect” might rightfully be seen as a guide to life itself — not merely a guide to good governance. To each person, many opportunities are given, each and every day, to serve as “protector.” In a single day, a person may be called to protect the innocence of a child, the safety of a frail elder, the hope of a friend in despair, the life of an infant in the womb, the faith of a stranger battered by life’s sorrow, or the soul of a brother facing temptation. That same person may be called to protect the reputation of one who is slandered, the beauty of God’s creation, the fragile peace of a volatile truce, the truth when it is distorted or mocked, or the sacred bond of a marriage in crisis. That person may also be asked to protect the freedom of someone enslaved by circumstances or choices, the dreams of someone who is discouraged, the dignity of someone who is vulnerable, and the courage of one who is fear-filled.

This duty to protect is a weighty responsibility that calls for a courageous selflessness and a willingness to put one’s strength at the service of others. Yet, Pope Benedict’s words of warning to the family of nations are also words of inspiration to the human family: “it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage.”


Professor Silecchia, IHE Faculty Fellow, has taught at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law since 1991. She has been an ordinary professor since 2004, and served as the law school’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in 2004 and 2005. She also directs Catholic University’s Summer Law Program in Rome. From September 2015 to August, 2017, she served as Catholic University’s Vice Provost for Policy.

Author George Weigel Shares Thoughts and Stories on Pope John Paul II in Book Q&A

By Thomas Dompkowski

Acclaimed Catholic author and NBC News Senior Vatican Analyst George Weigel addressed a group of about one hundred students, faculty members, and visitors about his newest book on Pope St. John Paul II, Lessons in Hope. The lecture, Q&A, book signing, and reception took place on Monday, January 22nd, at 6 PM in Heritage Hall, and was sponsored by Catholic’s Institute for Human Ecology

Weigel, best known for his acclaimed biography of Pope St. John Paul II, Witness to Hope, wanted this new book to tell the stories of the saint rather than provide another analysis of his life and teachings. Weigel, however, never intended to write the book he discussed before the audience. As the pope’s biographer, Weigel became the closest of friends with John Paul II and the two had an annual Christmas dinner. On December 15th, 2004, the last dinner he shared with Pope John Paul II passed away, Weigel promised the pope that he would continue to tell his story. This book, Weigel hopes, is the fulfillment of that promise he made to the pope more than thirteen years ago.

As a completely anecdotal work, Lessons in Hope is meant to “illuminate facets of this extraordinary life.” The book itself is divided into two sections based on statements by the Holy Father. The first section of the book is organized around what Weigel calls “an extraordinarily rich interior life.” In March of 1996, Pope St. John Paul II and Weigel were discussing a book about the history of the pope’s pontificate. In a fashion Weigel described as “whimsical,” the pope said to him, “I can only be understood from the inside.”

Weigel told the audience that all of Pope John Paul II’s actions and decisions were the fruits of his powerful prayer. The pope’s bold ecclesiastical appointments and his proposal of a World Youth Day, which is attended by many Catholic University students annually, were just some of these fruits. The pope could not just be understood by looking at his actions and prayer life, so Weigel needed to seek out John Paul’s friends to fully understand the pope’s “inside.”

While the pope was a priest in Stalin-era Poland, he befriended young Catholics from his area. He took them into the mountains so they could discuss Catholicism, away from the ever-listening Communist authorities who were determined to stamp out religion from the culture of Poland. It was in this “network of friendship” that some of the pope’s major ideas and initiatives were born, some of those being Theology of the Body, the book he would later author called Love and Responsibility, and the concept of World Youth Day. Weigel summarizes, “as he formed them, they formed him.”

The second section of the book came from a statement by the Holy Father to a gathering in Fatima, Portugal, on May 13th, 1982, exactly one year after the assassination attempt in Rome which almost took the pope’s life. Pope John Paul II stated, “In the designs of providence, there are no mere coincidences.” This was a direct reference to the assassination attempt, as the Holy Father believed that one hand fired the shot, but another hand, that of the Blessed Mother, guided the bullet; if the bullet had been mere millimeters in a different direction, the pope would have died. Weigel states that the pope viewed the attempt on his life as a “facet of divine providential plan.”

Weigel closed his lecture with advice to students and the need to reject the “tyranny of the possible,” the restriction that people feel to accept the status quo.

“Trust the instincts that seem right and after you’ve prayed over them, still seem right,” Weigel said. On the topic of vocations, he tells young people not only to pray, but to seek the counsel of friends and family. He ended the evening with a question and answer portion that involved questions about the current state of the Catholic Church and the role students can play.

This article was originally published in The Tower, The Catholic University of America’s Independent Student Newspaper.

Social Generativity: Envisioning a Future Beyond Consumer Society

by Brandon Vaidyanathan, Associate Professor of Sociology


We live in consumeristic societies today in which we’re encouraged to formulate life-goals and identities by perpetually acquiring goods we don’t need for subsistence. The consumerism enshrined in all our institutions today—educational, medical, commercial, political, scientific, and even religious—leaves us mired in a kind of social adolescence, a short-termism that jeopardizes the well-being of future generations.

Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have equally lambasted such consumerism. The various economic, social, and environmental crises of our times underscore the urgent need to envision a future beyond consumer society.

What might a future beyond consumer society look like?

In a new book, edited by Prof. Mauro Magatti at the Catholic University of Milan, my colleagues and I propose an answer this question, which we call “Social Generativity.”

Psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term “generativity” to describe the stage of maturity in psycho-social development. In contrast to adolescence, when the personality is focused on identity and is incapable of caring for those around oneself, generativity denotes the stage of maturity in which one can make commitments even to future generations. The answer to the problem of consumer society requires looking for how this capacity might be institutionally cultivated.

Since 2012, the project team has been studying organizations in Italy that suggest a way out of the mess we’re in. This has produced a video archive of more than 100 case studies of organizations. Analyzing these data, we have identified three dimensions of socially generative action:

  1. Authorization (the I-Other axis): Asymmetry in social life need not always lead to domination. Consider a model of parenting in which a child is brought into the world not as a project to control and dominate, but rather as a new life that one nurtures, so as to mature to generate and nurture life of his or her own. Generativity obtains under conditions of social asymmetry when something new is initiated, nurtured, empowered, and let go, so it can to thrive and even generate. This process is exemplified in organizations such as the Loccioni Group, a manufacturing firm that actively incentivizes employees to develop independent spin-offs.
  2. Inter-temporality (the Past-Future axis): The generative logic bridges past and future. To be generative, one has to recognize that one is always generated. Sustainable contributions to the world are aided by one’s history, tradition, and cultural identity. This means not simply learning from ongoing experiments and mistakes, but from our history and tradition. Brunello Cucinelli, spurred by the humiliations suffered by his father as a factory worker, strove to create a business that places human dignity and justice at its core. Today his successful clothing brand donates 20% of company profits to charity; pays workers 20% higher than the industry standard; and pays for the training of young local artisans in the local region. Cucinelli’s projects operate on various time horizons: some 5, others 20, still others 200 years.
  3. Exemplarity (the private-public axis): The generative initiative bridges private and public. It is a proposal to a community; it depends upon validation from and accountability to that community, which can assess whether their real needs are being met. A generative contribution isn’t necessarily a recipe or model to replicate, but can empower and inspire others to act. An example here is 24Bottles, a successful start-up from Bologna which produces multipurpose steel bottles for urban lifestyles. The firm invests heavily in the reduction of plastic bottles in schools, and has received significant recognition in national and international media.

Preaching “thou shalt not consume” isn’t going to solve the problem of consumerism. Our hope is that highlighting such mechanisms and examples of Social Generativity will harness our desire to generate or ex-corporate—which is as natural as our desire to consume or in-coporate.

It simply needs to be activated.

Christianity & National Security: Exploring Church Teaching on Government’s Divine Vocation

IHE Executive Director Joseph Capizzi will be speaking next Saturday, September 30th at the conference: Christianity & National Security: Exploring Church Teaching on Government’s Divine Vocation.

Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy is hosting this groundbreaking two-day conference on essential historic Christian teaching about God’s purpose for government, starting with its vocation for security and public order. The conference will include leading scholars and practitioners of political theology and national security. They will address issues such as Just War teaching, nuclear weapons, Reinhold Niebuhr, Christian Realism, nationalism, international human rights, American Exceptionalism, torture, and terrorism. This event is open to all but is especially aimed at Christian young people who are graduate students or early career. More information can be found here.

What Exactly is Human Ecology?

What Exactly is Human Ecology?
Like all animals, we are embodied creatures. We need food and water and shelter to survive. But unlike other animals, which act mostly on instinct, we are also spiritual and social beings endowed with free will. We are born into families and raised by parents. We live in neighborhoods and cities and countries, whose customs and cultures shape our habits and outlooks. We are taught by teachers. We worship in parishes. 
Human ecology, then, goes beyond the clean air, water, food, and shelter we need to survive. It includes not just the laws of physics, but the natural law. It includes all those concrete institutions we need to become more than we were. To develop virtue. To be happy. To flourish.
The Paradox
There’s a paradox for those of us who live in the United States and Western Europe. In the last fifty years, we’ve become more concerned about natural ecosystems. And despite problem areas, the air we breathe and water we drink are cleaner than ever. Almost no one dies from the air and water borne diseases that beset our ancestors for millennia. Most of the industrial pollutants of the last century, from lead to sulfur dioxide, are gone. We continue to find clever ways to clean up after ourselves. And still, leading voices in our culture push the cause of natural ecology with life-and-death urgency.
In contrast, our culture has grown detrimental to genuine human flourishing. In the last fifty years, institutions most vital to human flourishing have been under assault. The first environment in which we enter the world—our mother’s womb—is now a high-risk zone. Roughly one in four American children are raised by only one parent. (That number is far higher for the poor and most minorities.) About half of marriages end in divorce. 
Governments around the world now deign to redefine marriage, an institution that predates every state and society. And fast on the heels of that assault is the attack on human nature itself. Even the existence of men and women, of male and female, father and mother, is up for grabs.
Any defense of human ecology, then, must seek to protect and preserve not just our natural environment, but our moral and cultural environment as well. 
Man cannot, and should not, live by clean food, water, and air alone; an ecology is needed that cultivates the mind, the will, and freedom.
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is Assistant Research Professor at the Busch School of Business and Economics and faculty fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology.

A theologian’s take on how to avoid conflict with North Korea

By Matt Hadro

.- Dialogue and prudent actions to uphold international resolutions are key to maintaining peace amid rising tensions between North Korea and the international community, one theologian said.

“Dialogue is critical to resolving this particular issue,” Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a moral theologian at the Catholic University of America, told CNA. “We have kicked the can down the road for 50-plus years, with regard to Korea.”

Click here to read the full article, originally published by Catholic News Agency.