By Jesse Russell
On June 3, 1997, members of the neoconservative think tank the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) met to sign the white paper titled "Statement of Principles" advocating continued American global hegemony in the 21st century. Worried that an extended period of peace had settled in after the end of the Cold War and that the Clinton administration's much-vaunted defense cuts had jeopardized the readiness of America's military, the "chicken hawks" at PNAC set forth a plan that they hoped would "shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests."
One of the signatories of the now infamous "Statement of Principles" was the Catholic commentator and papal biographer George Weigel, a man who has made a career of advocating for a rapprochement between a conservative brand of American liberalism and a very specific Americanist brand of Nouvelle théologie Catholicism.
In fact, PNAC is just one of many neoconservative think tanks of which Weigel has been and part and for which Weigel has attempted to woo Catholics to the neoconservative cause.
However, there is something especially eerie about Weigel's association with PNAC.
One of the best known documents produced by the Project for a New American Century was its 2000 report "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century" in which, just one year before Sept. 11, 2001, PNAC mysteriously expressed hope for a "catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor," which would further the reach and power of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex" in his January 1961 farewell address.
PNAC got what it was looking for on 9/11 when World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked by Muslim hijackers. Since the beginning of the Afghan War on Oct. 7, 2001, American troops have been fighting a seemingly never-ending War on Terror which continues to this day.
As the war spread to Iraq on March 19, 2003, Weigel lent his aura as theologian and his role as what many Catholics at the time viewed as the American spokesman for John Paul II in support of the war, crafting a host of articles in journals such as First Things in which the papal biographer advocated for unconditional Catholic support for a war that John Paul II himself opposed.
Sixteen years after the Iraq War's commencement, the void left by Saddam's dictatorial rule has allowed the flourishing of mysteriously well-funded and supplied terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS who have successfully purged much of the Middle East of its ancient Christian population. Moreover, it is difficult to see how any of these wars have benefitted the United States, the people of Iraq or Christians throughout the Middle East — in fact, one wonders if it was really "American interests" for which PNAC and its neoconservative satellites like George Weigel were advocating.
As a result of the general discontentment and sense of betrayal among many American Catholics — many of whom have seen military friends and family killed or permanently damaged by the war — George Weigel, the Iraq War's most vocal Catholic supporter, has lost a tremendous amount of credibility.
Indeed, since the election of Donald Trump, who ran on an America first, noninterventionist campaign, the overall neoconservative movement in America has largely been discredited.
However, still perched at First Things and a host of other well-funded and glossy Catholic publications, Weigel still has a relatively large audience. Largely shedding his previous image as a hawkish Cold Warrior turned into an even more vocal advocate of the War on Terror, Weigel has dedicated himself in recent years to protecting the brand of post-Vatican II (neo-) conservative Catholicism or what he called in a now-famous 2013 work "Evangelical Catholicism."
As abuse allegations and evidence of wide-scale corruption continue to pour in from both conservative and liberal news outlets, it has been Weigel's Sisyphean task of making it seem like, despite every appearance to the contrary, there are only a few bad apples in the Church whose minor peccadillos have caused some turbulence.
With continued revelations of the tremendous influence and power that disgraced cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick wielded in the Church, Weigel, in a recent Catholic World Report piece titled "'Uncle Ted' and Me," attempts to regain control of the narrative of American Catholic ecclesiastical politics that he dominated in the 2000s, framing the notorious serial clerical abuser as an odd liberal outsider within a fundamental sound and conservative American episcopacy.
Weigel, citing the recent viral Crux investigative piece "McCarrick correspondence confirms restrictions, speaks to Wuerl and China" — itself a summary of "The Figueiredo Report" — attempts to recast McCarrick as a Scooby Doo-esque villain who had hoodwinked the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Vatican and not as being one of many (both liberal and conservative) homosexual predators in U.S. hierarchy.
Although the Crux article itself notes that McCarrick's crimes were known to "senior Church officials, including the Vatican's Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope's ambassador in the U.S," Weigel does not blame Church authorities for not taking more serious action against "Uncle Ted"; rather it is because of, in Weigel's words, Cardinal McCarrick's "relentless self-promotion, even in retirement; his sycophancy with many superiors; his interference in Vatican diplomacy; and his brazen defiance of the orders of Pope Benedict XVI that he cease and desist from public activity" that the former head of the Washington, D.C. diocese was able to evade justice.
Even though Theodore McCarrick was made a cardinal and head of the Washington, D.C. archdiocese by none other than John Paul II himself, Weigel depicts the now-laicized "Uncle Ted" as a lone wolf liberal out of place in the new firmly conservative and morally rock solid post-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin USCCB.
Weigel writes that McCarrick, in his later years, was led "deeper and deeper into the slough of ecclesiastical despond during the latter years of John Paul II's pontificate and the entirety of Benedict XVI's, as he saw the liberal dominance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops dismantled by a generation of bishops who took their lead from John Paul, Benedict, and their authoritative interpretation of Vatican II."
In Weigel's oddly inaccurate description of McCarrick's final years of power, it is difficult to gauge who these conservative prelates are.
It certainly could not be McCarrick's friend and (now disgraced and departed) successor in Washington, D.C., Donald "La Donna" Wuerl, himself consecrated a bishop by John Paul II and made a cardinal by Benedict XVI.
Nor could it be Weigel's own good friend Cardinal Timothy Dolan (who is pictured here sharing a laugh with Uncle Ted), who Weigel is also keen to exonerate in his Catholic World Report piece.
In his piece, Weigel attempts to spin the 2010 election of Cardinal Dolan as head of the USCCB as a triumph of the new conservative bishops who were going to clean house, telling the following odd story:
At the November 2010 meeting that eventually elected then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan as conference president over the liberal-establishment candidate, conference vice-president Bishop Gerald Kicanas, McCarrick buttonholed Dolan and, in his inimitable and gratingly avuncular way, demanded that "Timmy" not allow himself to be used by a "right-wing plot" to deny "Gerry" the conference presidency.
There is no need to point to the innumerable scandals to the faithful as well as spiritual and financial corruption and chicanery under Cardinal Dolan's reign in the New York archdiocese, for these crimes and errors are all too well known.
If George Weigel thinks that Dolan is a reforming and conservative bishop who was unaware of Uncle Ted's depravity, then there is a bridge on the moon that I want to sell the Catholic neoconservative godfather.
Ultimately, however, in 2019, the laity's eyes are open, and, dear Mr. Weigel, the old tricks won't work anymore.