While writing a review of George Weigel’s new work Lessons In Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II, I came across a number of interesting tidbits. The book itself serves as pot boiler, running on the fumes of the popularity of John Paul II’s papacy and is a way to try to jump start the magic of Catholic neoconservativism in the wake of Francis’ very liberal papacy, which is causing Catholics to hemorrhage from the Church. Weigel is a master of making the same repetitive points (and jokes) in slightly modified form in new books with goofily sentimental titles. Perhaps actually literally copying and pasting from his other works, Weigel revisits the same issues in Lessons in Hope that he did in earlier biographies, providing some of the background information for how he wrote his Witness to Hope and repeatedly emphasizing that he is a Vatican insider and exclusive source for any biographical information on John Paul II. One of the most interesting sections is Weigel’s revisiting of the influence of Polish expatriot and American statesman and founder of the Trilateral Commission, Zbigniew Brezinski on John Paul II.
One of Weigel’s main purposes in his second major biography of John Paul II, The End and the Beginning, was to disprove any conspiracy theories that John Paul II worked with KGB or CIA–this topic is not approached with the same intensity in Witness to Hope. However, as I have written on this blog, in Witness to Hope, Weigel does feel obligated to explain away the theory that the now recently deceased Zbigniew Bryzezinski pushed for John Paul II’s election through Cardinal Krol in order to bring the Vatican under tighter control of American intelligence. If this theory is so outrageous, why does Weigel feel obligated to bring this up and over and over again?
Weigel repeatedly ridicules conspiracy theories and theorists in his writings as if they were manifestly beneath him. Nonetheless, he feels obligated to “refute” these conspiracies in every one of his works. In Lessons in Hope, Weigel lets us know that Brzezinski was happy that Weigel was writing Witness Hope in order to clear up “attempts by several authors to suggest some sort of collusion between John Paul II and the United States government in the collapse of European communism” (176). Why does Weigel feel the need to bring this issue up if it is only circulated among fringe lunatics? Furthermore, we see (at least in Weigel’s view) the goal of collaborative efforts of American statesman and John Paul II in toppling the Soviet Union is to bring about the triumph of democracy, freedom, and liberalism, not the the triumph of Christ the king and Christian civilization. According to Weigel, both John Paul and Brzezinski thought that a “cultural resistance…emphasizing human dignity” could overturn Soviet Communism (176). So, in this case, it is not the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary but rather the human spirit that will triumph over totalitarianism.
In Lessons in Hope, Weigel even feels obligated to defend Brzezinski’s alleged Catholic identity, saying “Brzezinski did not wear piety on his sleeve, but he never thought of himself as anything other than a Catholic and a Polish Catholic that” (177). This is a clear response to the enormous evidence of Brzezinski’s totalitarian and eugenic views. Again, it is very strange that Weigel feels any need to defend Brzezinski at all who was much more part of the Democratic circle than Weigel’s own Republican crew. Weigel, who, to speak charitably, is no genius, reveals more than conceals by his fumbled attempts to hide the clear Western intelligence connection to the Vatican and perhaps John Paul II himself.
Interestingly, having read much of what George Weigel has written on John Paul II, I feel as though I have no idea who John Paul II. It is difficult to believe that Weigel himself has a window to John Paul II’s heart and mind (as he tries to prove in the book), but it is very likely that Weigel’s role in the grand scheme of John Paul’s papacy was to act as interpretive conduit who would help neutralize Catholic traditionalism and defuse liberation theology.