“I think Pope Francis embodies the Church’s turn into the Evangelical Catholicism of the future in a profound way,” Weigel told CNA on March 15, just two days into the new papacy.
“If he can reform the Curia and turn it into a more effective instrument of the New Evangelization, while concurrently being the Church’s principal evangelist, he will have done precisely what the Church needs in these first decades of the new millennium,” he said.
Weigel, who is the author of the official biography of Pope John Paul II and numerous other books on contemporary Catholicism, has just released “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church” (Basic Books, $27.99).
In a March 8 interview with CNA before the election of the new Pope, Weigel explained that he was motivated to write the book because it “seemed to me two years ago that a number of things were beginning to come into focus.”
“I had been thinking about the long trajectory of modern Church history for a long time … and it finally came clear to me that this ‘Church of the New Evangelization’ or ‘Evangelical Catholicism’ was the prism through which all of that deep reform that had been underway since Leo XIII was being focused,” he explained.
In fact, Weigel asserted, the Church was and is at “a hinge moment” in its history, a time when “a new mode of being Catholic was being born, and that this was not dissimilar from other such transition points in Catholic history.”
His aim in writing “Evangelical Catholicism” was to describe a future that “is already being born,” and to offer “some very specific suggestions on how to accelerate that.”
Weigel spends the first half of his latest work explaining his vision of Evangelical Catholicism which “is being born out of 120 years of Catholic reform.”
It places “friendship with Jesus Christ at the center of the Christian experience, a friendship nurtured by an intensified sacramental life and a deeper encounter with the Bible, all of which lead to a Church in mission,” he explained to CNA.
In the second half of his book, Weigel looks at the numerous vocations, institutions and apostolates in the Church and offers his ideas for how to carry out an Evangelical Catholic reform.
Some of the areas he addresses are: the episcopate, the priesthood, consecrated life, the liturgy, the lay vocation, the intellectual sphere, the Church’s public policy advocacy, and the papacy.
In the interview, Weigel offered his thoughts on the “Global South,” the area where the Church has grown the most in the recent decades, which also happens to include the new Pope’s homeland of Argentina.
“I think there is real opportunity now in Latin America to move in this direction,” he said, pointing to a 2007 document issued by the bishops of Latin America that “marked the real turning point from institutional maintenance, Counter-Reformation Catholicism, in Latin America, which had counted on the ambient culture to carry the faith for 500 years.”
“That’s not there anymore, so it has to be proposed and proposed and proposed again.”
Weigel also reflected on the “developed world,” where the vital areas of Catholicism “are the Evangelical Catholic parts.”
In his view, “‘Catholic Lite’ is finished. It’s going to take another 20 years for some people to figure that out, but it’s over.
“And it’s over for a very simple reason. It doesn’t work,” he stated.
“It’s incapable of engaging this toxic culture and it’s incapable of inspiring people to embrace the full symphony of Catholic truth and then share that.”
When it comes to Pope Francis, Weigel believes that he understands this reality well.
“He has lived a Gospel-centered ministry in Argentina. He knows that a ‘kept’ Church – ‘kept’ in the sense of legal establishment, cultural habit, or both – has no future, given the acids of secularism.”