I can’t do any better in analyzing the self-serving argument presented by George Weigel than my confrere Joe Feuerhard did. But, I do want to add a note of personal horror at his dismissive remarks towards the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and to defend the president against the charge that he was inserting himself into an intra-Catholic debate.
The president did not say that Cardinal Bernardin was a good guy and that today’s bishops are bad guys. He did not even address -- how could he -- the debate about the Catholic identity of our universities. He did emphatically, and properly, defend democracy which, in a pluralistic country like our own, means you are always standing next to someone who is not like you and recommend that we engage in sympathetic and hopefully fruitful dialogue about important national issues. Weigel prefers a culture war and he is entitled to stay at his barricade but it is an increasingly lonely post.
President Obama's reference to Bernardin was biographical. He recalled meeting the cardinal in his earlier career as a community organizer and said he was moved by his evident goodness. What's wrong with that? Cardinal George, who does many good works, might also have encountered a younger Obama had he been Chicago ’s archbishop at the time. The President did not slight Cardinal George in any way and it is disingenuous of Weigel to suggest that he did.
What is truly stunning is the dismissive way Weigel writes of the late cardinal, as a kind of beknighted dupe for the abortion lobby. De mortuis nil nisi bonum applies to all, but especially to a man whose leadership within the American Church inspired so many and whose defense of life was second to none. I have in my library a small book of reflections that Cardinal Bernardin sent me with a personal note and it is one of my proudest possessions. Of course, since his death, some have invoked his memory in ways that Bernardin would not have approved, in the same way some have invoked Vatican II in ways the Council Fathers did not intend. But, that is not Bernardin's fault. Weigel should be ashamed of himself, if he has any shame.