I Can’t Believe I’m Posting This… but here it is

Yes, I may finally take the unsolicited advice from members that I’ve been receiving for, now, six years since joining AQ and check into Bellvue. Yes, I, me, moi am actually POSTING a George Weigel column. Either His Holiness, Pope George, has finally gotten one right for the first time in six years, or I really am in need of serious help….

The Last Laugh of Alfredo Ottaviani

May 29, 2013

George Weigel

Despite his humble origins as a baker’s son from Trastevere, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, longtime curial head of the Holy Office (“successor to the Inquisition,” in journalese) and scourge of the nouvelle théologie of the 1950s, was a formidable figure in pre-conciliar Catholicism. Ottaviani’s approach to theology was neatly summarized in the Latin motto of his cardinalatial coat of arms, Semper Idem [Always the Same], and his fierce defense of what he understood to be orthodoxy made him a not-implausible model for the character of Cardinal Leone in Morris West’s novel The Shoes of the Fisherman.

Despite the caricatures of the world press, Ottaviani was no monster; indeed, he was reputed to be a man of considerable personal charm. Nor was he a dyed-in-the-wool conservative politically; he wanted the council to condemn all forms of modern war, another cause in which Ottaviani (whose Vatican II batting average did not rise above the Mendoza Line) failed. But perhaps his greatest defeat at the council came on the question of Church and state. For before and during the Vatican II years, Cardinal Ottaviani stoutly, and, ultimately, futilely, resisted the development of doctrine that led the world’s bishops to approve the council’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom.”

As a legal scholar considering the future of society, Ottaviani’s fear was that religious freedom would result in religious indifference and then a collapse of religious conviction, which would in turn lead to state hostility toward religious believers and religious institutions. His theological argument against religious freedom, widely held in the Roman universities of the day, rested on the proposition that “error has no rights.” The council’s response to that claim was that persons have rights, whether their religious opinions be erroneous or not, and that, in any event, states lack theological competence.

Alfredo Ottaviani lost virtually every one of the battles he fought at Vatican II, but from his present, post-mortem position he may be enjoying a last laugh (if of a subdued, even sorrowful, sort). For the notion that “error has no rights” is very much alive—and precisely in those quarters where religious indifference has indeed led to intolerance of religious conviction.

When a Canadian Evangelical pastor is levied a significant fine for advocating biblical truth about men, women, and the nature of marriage, or when a Polish priest and magazine editor is punished with even stiffer fines (these, like the Canadian fines, were later thrown out) by a Polish court for accurately describing in print what an abortion does, the forces of coercive political correctness (embodied in the gay insurgency and the global campaign for “reproductive health”) are using state power to nail down the notion that “error has no rights.”

When the present U.S. administration attempts to overturn decades of equal employment opportunity law by attacking the legal exemption that allows religious bodies to choose their religious leadership according to their own criteria, the same dynamic is at work. And that mantra—“Error has no rights!”—will, inevitably, be used to punish religious bodies that do not recognize any such thing as same-sex “marriage”: by taking away their tax-exempt status, denying their ministers the legal capacity to act as witnesses of marriage under civil law, or both.

An idea long associated with the farther reaches of Catholic traditionalism has thus migrated to the opposite end of the political spectrum, where it’s become a rallying point for the lifestyle left. There are many reasons why Kathleen Sebelius, the HHS secretary responsible for the coercive contraceptive/abortifacient/sterilization mandate currently being fought by the seriously Catholic elements of American Catholicism, is ill-cast in the role of Ottaviani redivivus. But in the oddities of history, that’s what has happened. The Catholic Church in the United States, which did more than any other local church at Vatican II to disentangle the universal Church from the notion that, in the civil order, “error has no rights,” is now being hard-pressed by aggressive secularist forces arrayed under that banner.

There are many ironies in the fire.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.

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8 comments on “I Can’t Believe I’m Posting This… but here it is

  1. Sorry, GPM, but I think Bellevue is in your future. [Aside: Did you like the Barney Miller show? They arrested several hilarious characters that needed to get checked into Bellevue.] Pope George is comparing modern liberal-nazi types to Cdl. Ottaviani as they share the same “error.” The answer is, of course, Vatican-II, i.e., tolerance. The lib-nazis should understand this, as it was their battle cry in the 19th Century.

    You see, Pope George is laughing at lib-nazis, and thinks that Cdl. Ottaviani laughs WITH him, for stodgy Alfie surely saw the light after passing to his reward.

    For future immunity, always approach Pope George with jaundiced eye. He invariably writes about the wonder of being George, or the wonder of being a Post-Vatican-II enlightened Catholic, but I repeat myself.

  2. Weigel is mocking Cardinal Ottaviani and defending religious liberty, by arguing that the urge to suppress what one believes to be erroneous, the prerogative of a traditional Church that Weigel hates, is precisely a font of evil from which flows the Left’s hegemonic regime of totalitarian political correctness.

    Because Weigel is not really a believing Catholic, but first and foremost a liberal Enlightenment demagogue, he can only see and compare tactics, rather than being able to judge whether something is true or not.

  3. G. Weigel wrote:

    “Alfredo Ottaviani lost virtually every one of the battles he fought at Vatican II, but from his present, post-mortem position he may be enjoying a last laugh (if of a subdued, even sorrowful, sort). For the notion that “error has no rights” is very much alive—and precisely in those quarters where religious indifference has indeed led to intolerance of religious conviction.”


    They shut you up
    But not our wombs
    Our babes kept safe
    From cardinals’ plumes –

    Red lily France
    Once first born daughter
    Learned to swim Rhine’s
    River water –

    But Catholic wombs
    Filled homes with laughter
    Rosaries heard
    To top of rafter –

    Where silent lambs
    Grew strong and bold
    The Truth they shout
    No mic they hold-

    Where by the Tibre banks
    They swell –
    Christ’s vox Alfredo!
    Christ’s vox Marcel!!

  4. Cyprian, as per usual, is probably and right. A nice, long rest might be just the ticket. That, or another visit to my opthamologist.

    Yeah, this was one of those hall of mirrors moments for me. It “kinda, sorta, maybe, well – if you look at it sideways standing on one foot it….” APPEARED as if in some backassward way Wiggles had out-“smarted” himself and inadvertently admitted that Cd. Ottaviani was actually correct in his ruminations.

    Ummmm….. okay. Didn’t happen.

    Well, off to a nice brunch of ashes and pond water for moi! Merci, mon ami, for zee correction an’ zee medical advice! Adieu!

    • You mustn’t be so hard on yourself, GPM, ol’ chap. It is to Pope George’s gross oversight that, indeed, one could interpret him as speaking well of the good Cardinal. To borrow Howl’s allusion to Lewis Carroll below, you were Alice in Phenomenology-land. You strove for meaning rather than feelings — to your credit, of course.

      In the long run, you shall fare better than I. You gave George the benefit of the doubt. I practically despise him. O Good St. George, pray for his Weigelness.

      • Very kind of you Sir Cyprian!

        I shall toss out my paper cup filled with pond water immediately and head for my favorite local tavern, the “Chez When”, to celebrate!

        Cin cin!

  5. In order to be fair, it is important to pull rank here and point out some of the differences.
    There is no evidence that Cardinal Ottaviani was acting out of crankiness due
    to a low estrogen level, as clearly seems to be the case with Sebelius.
    Also, Sebelius is acting tyrannical on behalf on an immoral agenda.
    Ottaviani was defending what had been accepted for centuries as the deposit
    of the Catholic faith and the established form of worship for the Catholic Church.
    A better separated at birth twin for Sebelius would be the Red Queen from
    the Alice in Wonderland sequel Through the Looking-Glass.

    Red Queen: Now, you see, Alice, you MUST use these pills
    and your church MUST pay for them, to stop you from having babies
    while hooking up with multiple lovers through high school and college
    at which point no sensible man would marry you and you will be unable
    to maintain a monogamous relationship with any one man.
    Alice: But the Church cannot pay for them, Your Highness.
    Red Queen: And why not, you foolish girl?
    The Sultan hath issued a decree that the Church MUST pay for them.
    Alice: But the Church cannot pay for them, Your Highness.
    Red Queen: Off with her head! Off with her head!

  6. www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2013-0531-p-crenshaw-weigel-ottaviani.htm

    “…this crazed ideology, that which Pope Gregory refers to as an “insanity” is exactly what Mr. Weigel persists in defending. He does so, even as the results of this insanity play out before his eyes. Ironically, the same day Mr. Weigel’s column hit the press, the Holy See released a statement warning that prejudice against Christianity is growing in Europe, often under the guise of “tolerance.” “

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