To the Editors


The reviewer's task

As a fellow reviewer of George Weigel's Witness to Hope (for L'Osservatore Romano), I couldn't but wonder whether Eamon Duffy and I read the same book ["Wojtyla Writ Large, and Long," October 22]. It is, of course, tempting to use the book review format to air one's own views, but how much more helpful to the reader it would have been if a distinguished historian like Duffy had taken Weigel's interpretations of events seriously and told us why he disagrees with them.

Mary Ann Glendon

Cambridge, Mass.

The writer is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

A beautiful book

After reading Eamon Duffy's ungenerous review of Witness to Hope, George Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II, I went back to Duffy's own account of this pontificate in his history of the popes, Saints and Sinners, published two years ago. I found that the points covered in the review-for example, the suspension of the constitution of the Jesuit order in 1981, the defense of liberation theology, or the pope's garrulity (Duffy says that Wojtyla saw his role as pope to be an "oracle")-had already been set forth there, often in the same words.

Duffy much preferred the style and policies (except for Humanae vitae) of Paul VI to those of John Paul II, whom he considers harshly pessimistic, confrontational, authoritarian, and the like. Hence he sprinkles his review with phrases such as "doomed enterprise," "erodes the reader's trust," "sacrifices credibility," and "conservative" to suggest that the book is partisan and untrustworthy.

But any fair-minded reader will see at once that Weigel has not only gone more deeply into the life and work of this pope than anyone before him, he also tells the story with insight, understanding, learning, literary grace, and, let it be said, sympathy. Few readers will come away unmoved from the sections on Wojtyla's youth, the harsh years under Nazi occupation, his life as a young priest and bishop, or the gripping account of Wojtyla's spiritual turmoil during the month between the death of John Paul I and his own election.

Weigel gives the reader story after story, detail after detail, text after text to support his view that Karol Wojtyla is an extraordinary man, a priest of uncommon depth, a great pope, perhaps one of the greatest, and a historic figure on the world stage. Shouldn't his life be written so that readers can also appreciate his greatness? Let Professor Duffy continue to hold his views. My guess is that most readers will discover that Witness to Hope is a beautiful book, thoughtful, informed, carefully researched (and well-indexed), a pleasure to read.

Robert Louis Wilken

Charlottesville, Va.

The writer is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia.

Bright lights, plus shadows

Eamon Duffy's review of George Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II is masterly. Duffy's generous and well-merited praise of Weigel's major achievement lends credibility to the review's critique.

This long pontificate manifests wonderfully bright lights for which one can only be grateful. Duffy calls attention to the shadows. Especially interesting is his criticism of Weigel's "virtual silence about the pope's coolness toward figures like Oscar Romero." Following a lecture by George Weigel several years ago, I drew attention to the pope's "very muted reaction" to the assassination of Romero, and asked whether the same response was even remotely conceivable had an archbishop been shot at the altar in Poland or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. I added that "one of John Paul's cardinals" had personally confided to me his conviction of a "double standard" in this regard. The only response was a denial of any double standard. Earlier this year Father Avery Dulles, questioned about the same matter, admitted that he, too, had no answer. …

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