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Standing Up to be Counted: The Tablet interview George Weigel

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"Few Catholics are as loyal as George Weigel -- or as combative. The Pope's biographer talks to Austen Ivereigh about faith, war and the death penalty."

This time last year, I confess, I was persuaded of the case for the war on Iraq, especially as it was articulated from the just war tradition by the American theologian and papal biographer George Weigel. But not any more: Iraq is today hardly an example of the tranquillitas ordinis of which Augustine and Aquinas speak. So sitting down with Weigel the day after his recent Tyburn lecture in London, I invite him to join me in sackcloth and ashes. And for one delirious moment I think he might. ("I was wrong on Iraq", Weigel tells The Tablet.)

But he doesn't, of course. He still believes the moral case for war was compelling: Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, sanctions were immoral, the regime was uncontainable, and the discovery of mass graves only reinforces the humanitarian case for the invasion. The use of force was proportionate, and the intention remains that of creating a just peace. But he is not uncritical. The quality of post-war planning, he says, "raises serious concerns", while Bush has been bad at explaining properly how regime change in Baghdad fits into a larger strategic project. I ask him to explain that project.

"What 9/11 made patently obvious is that the politics of the past 60 years in the Middle East are too dangerous for the future of the world," says Weigel, "and therefore, unless you are simply going to throw your hands up in despair, the alternative is to try to accelerate a process of genuine political change in that region of the world. Iraq is part of that."

The Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington DC is Republican, conservative, and delightful company -- he seems to know everyone, has a fund of anecdotes and a mischievous sense of humour. He is thought of as one of the "Gang of Four" of formidable American Catholics -- the others are Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak and Mary Ann Glendon -- who vigorously fight the Church's corner in the American public square. Weigel has many academic books to his name, on public policy, the theory of just war, and so on. But he is better known for his robust apologias, whose titles -- The Courage to be Catholic, The Truth of Catholicism, and now Letters to a Young Catholic -- speak for themselves.

But he is most of all famous for Witness to Hope, his magisterial -- and obese -- biography of John Paul II, which has sold more than 450,000 copies in 11 languages. The extraordinary -- and for a layman unprecedented -- access to Pope John Paul and the Roman Curia over many years has made him one of the world's leading lay authorities on the Catholic Church, and John Paul II's most compelling apologist in the English-speaking world. Which is why, last year, while the Pope was on his balcony remonstrating with a world sliding into war -- mai pił la guerra! ("war never again!") he pleaded, week after week -- many wondered how Weigel felt writing a Catholic apologia for the invasion that was closely read in military and Republican circles.

Read the entire article on the Tablet Magazine website.

Posted: 6/28/04

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