Book (cover) review: God's Choice


Bitter irony may well be the last refuge of the desperate. In this case, that means desperate to retain a vestige of their Church as having a connection with reality.

The title of papal biographer George Weigel's new book, "God's Choice -- Benedict XVI and the future of the Catholic Church" -- can be taken in many ways. Given Weigel's reverence toward B16's predecessor, John Paul II, one could reasonably assume that this book is another exercise in papolatry, making it as much an exercise in piety as in propaganda. But other interpretations are possible.

Without having read the book, my first reaction was that this book would only embolden those who see God’s hand in every action of the Church. These poor lost souls cannot imagine that the Church can be sinful, or that its leaders can be anything less than paragons of holiness and virtue. They will admit that, Sure, way back in the Middle Ages their were so very bad people on Peter's throne. But lately? Not so much.

Of course, Churchmen are more than eager to presume participation in God’s mighty plan of salvation. There is more than a whiff of infallibility in the actins and attitudes of priests and bishops. They act as though ordination gives them an invisible shield against error. I do so hate to burst their bubble.

When that aura of invincibility is attached to a papal conclave, the results must always be assumed to be God's. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit does work in the election of a new pope (as it does in all things) but is that to say that the cardinals listen? Can it be said that the bishops whose papal candidates end up on the losing side were resistant to the Spirit’s urgings? And that those who won were attentive to it? Nonsense. Bishops are as prone to sin and error as an other son of Adam. Why should their choices be infallible? Can't they (as they did in the Middle Ages) make terrible mistakes? While the medieval Church was vulnerable to violence and outright bribery, aren't today's bishops and cardinals vulnerable to vanity, misplaced loyalty and plain mistakes in judgment?

I certainly think so, which is why I react viscerally to any intimation that equates the actions of a man or of a group of men with the will of God. In my world view that is not only dangerous and presumptuous, but blasphemous.