The Neoconservative Catholics' Dramatic Change of Direction

October 1998By John F. Quinn

John F. Quinn is Associate Professor of History at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

In the early 1980s a small cadre of thinkers emerged on the American Catholic scene. With just three principals -- Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, and George Weigel -- this group, who came to be known as "neoconservatives," challenged the American Catholic bishops for being overly critical of American foreign policy and unduly attached to the welfare state.

At the same time, they took pains to distance themselves from Catholic conservatives whom they labeled "restorationists." They declared that any efforts by Catholics to resegregate themselves from American culture would be counterproductive. Instead, what was needed was for Catholics to enter into a constructive dialogue with American culture. They hoped that Catholic leaders would take up the "Murray Project" -- the work of the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who died in 1967. Murray had firmly believed that faithful Catholics could be loyal Americans. He had claimed that America's commitment to religious freedom and church-state separation had allowed Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and secularists to live together more or less amicably. In his view, the American experiment had been good for Catholics. At the same time, since Catholics were well versed in the natural law, he was convinced that they had unique insights to offer their fellow Americans.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Neuhaus, Novak, and Weigel continued to promote the Murray Project, convinced that restorationist Catholics were overly pessimistic about America. In the past half-dozen years, though, their rhetoric has changed considerably. They have adopted a much more negative tone about America and its institutions. The enthusiasm for all things American that had animated them throughout the 1980s has fizzled out.

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Wow, was he wrong-All 3 of these fellows are lined up now, waving their Chinese made flags and worshiping at the altar of Bush. Posted by: catholicresistence
January 17, 2007 12:49 PM EST
Yes. It's saddening. They must have thought the Catholic moment had come with Bush with whom they worked to help him get the Catholic vote.

He ran on a foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements but we have heard from former members of his admin that he was out to do Iraq from the start, even before the 911 pretext.

The above three it seems were obliged to honor their commitments to the neocon institutions with which they're connected/employed by backing the war. They found themselves, in the odd position of instructing JPII in understanding the
Catechism of the Catholic Church. I feel for them waiting for it all to blow over and talk of many other things.

I suppose I'm not the only former readers of First Things who has lost interest in what they have to say about anything...until they repent, of course.

Posted by: Henry Patrick
July 04, 2007 06:15 AM EDT
As a former subscriber and reader of First Things, I second Henry above. It really is amazing that this article was written in 1998 describing the trio of "neoconservatives" before their truest "moment" of 2003 with the so-called "War on Terror" carried on in Iraq. All of this blind support and deference to America and its ancient Puritan regime in the face of opposition to American foreign policy by two Popes and the Holy See. This trio of Catholic neo-conservatives remind this reader more of rebellious "made in our image" Protestants than humble longersuffering faithful Catholics forever obedient to Jesus Christ and His Church. Perhaps a simple lifespan would breed clarity: America--less than 250 years old, Christ's Church--over 2,000 years old. And America is "first?" Posted by: scottik
June 09, 2008 11:07 PM EDT
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