The Holy See and thug regimes

George Weigel

The list of grave issues that must be addressed during a future papal interregnum, and by the cardinal-electors in a conclave, continues to grow. 

The finances of the Holy See are arguably in worse shape than at any time since the papal interregnum of 1922; then, money had to be borrowed to pay for the conclave as Benedict XV had virtually bankrupted the Vatican in his efforts to aid refugees and POWs during World War I. Notwithstanding the reforms Pope Francis has put into place, the Holy See now faces a vast, unfunded pension liability; incompetent investment management (and worse) has done serious damage to the Vatican balance sheet; and contributions, not least to Peter’s Pence, are down dramatically. 

Then there is the Church in Germany, many of whose leaders seem bent on transforming German Catholicism into a form of liberal Protestantism. Is there any contested issue on which the great majority of the German bishops, and the lay leaders of the ongoing German “Synodal Way,” have not embraced the secular culture of lifestyle libertinism, rather than trying to convert it? Has the leadership of the German Church completely abandoned Vatican II’s teaching that Catholicism lives within certain doctrinal and moral boundaries? 

There is also the festering wound of clerical sexual abuse, made worse by inept episcopal leadership in responding to these grave sins and crimes. The past several years have demonstrated that this crisis is by no means confined to the United States. In that same period, it has also become clear that too few national episcopates have adopted the practices of transparency and accountability that, despite limits and defects, now characterize the U.S. Church’s response to this societal plague. 

And then there is the Holy See’s “foreign policy” and the assumptions that guide Holy See diplomacy.

How many informed Catholics and senior churchmen are willing to defend the Holy See’s current China policy, which has given the Chinese communist party a leading role in the selection of bishops? Very few, I would wager. Critical voices among bishops and cardinals may be muted, now, out of loyalty (or fear). But they are there, and they will be heard when a papal interregnum permits candor. And what those voices should (and likely will) say is that the current policy is an evangelical disaster. Irrespective of Vatican diplomats’ claim that “something had to be done,” the fact remains that what was done has violated the Church’s own canon law, demoralized Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome, failed to assuage the anti-Christian rancor of the Chinese regime, and created new opportunities for that regime to penetrate and control Chinese Catholicism. All of this has made Catholic evangelization in China far more difficult, even as Chinese Protestant communities continue to grow. 

Then there was the recent situation in Belarus. On August 31, 2020, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mogilev, who had been visiting family in neighboring Poland, was blocked from reentering Belarus (his native land) by the thug regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Kondrusiewicz had been supportive of the many Belarussians who were peacefully protesting what every objective observer knew was a rigged presidential election in early August of last year. Lukashenko and his thugocracy evidently took offense at this pastoral courage and cooked up excuses to punish Kondrusiewicz by keeping him out of his see. 

The situation seemed to have been resolved when the archbishop was allowed back into Belarus to celebrate Christmas with his people, who received him with enthusiasm and veneration. But then on January 3, the very day he turned 75, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz’s canonically mandated letter of resignation was instantly accepted and an apostolic administrator named in his place. Did the two Vatican diplomats sent to Minsk to negotiate the archbishop’s return to Belarus – neither of whom is renowned for a capacity to stand up to thuggery – agree to a deal in which the Vatican would remove an irritant to the Lukashenko regime, if the regime would provide the fig leaf of a last Christmas in Minsk for the archbishop? It seems more than likely; indeed, it seems probable.

The current Vatican practice of attempting to appease thug regimes in the name of dialogue is doing serious damage to the Catholic Church’s international reputation as a proponent and defender of basic human rights. Even more importantly, it is hurting the Church’s evangelical mission. A Church that will not speak truth to power is not a Church that can credibly proclaim Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14.6). Appeasement never works with thugs, politically. It doesn’t work evangelically, either. 

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright