Fr. Richard John Neuhaus defined them, long after modern liberalism
took over academia, politics and the media and set the terms of public
It was RJN who, in fact, kept civility in the public square by
breaking from his former colleagues in liberal activism and
establishing a new version of the civil rights struggle…..the Christian
ideal for the human person. Whereas they declared the battle was
between the ‘peace and social justice’ crowd and the ‘pro-life’
(actually, they call it the ‘anti-choice’) crowd….Neuhaus saw it all of a piece, as Christianity does.
Rachel Zoll of The New York Times tries to get it right today by describing Fr. Neuhaus’ life as moving from left to right…
“He was active in the civil rights movement and other liberal
causes. In 1964, he joined the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the
Rev. Daniel Berrigan as the first co-chairmen of the anti-war group
Clergy Concerned About Vietnam.
But he eventually broke with the left, partly over the U.S. Supreme
Court’s 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. In 1990, he
converted to Catholicism and a year later was ordained by New York
Cardinal John O’Connor.”
But Fr. Neuhaus did not break with the left in order to become a
conservative: as he saw it, he broke with the left in order to continue
being an authentic Christian.
Christianity compelled him to denounce segregation and bigotry and
Christianity compelled him to denounce Roe v. Wade. He saw the many
parallels and acted on them.
That’s the honesty of the great Catholic intellectual tradition, and
Neuhaus was one of its purists. He was a most prominent disciple.
I can’t believe he’s gone. But at the start of the year this
is going to be, in these historic times in the struggle for universal
human rights versus a dishonest and shallow…no, vacuous…secular
humanism, he’s a great witness for how to launch into a new activism in
the public square.
As his hero John Paul II told the people of Communist Poland in Victory Square,
‘You are not who they say you are.’ That homily was the beginning of
the end of Communism, when the Party realized they had lost control
over the peoples’ collective mind and heart and soul. Neuhaus has given Catholic Americans abundant inspiration to realize the same, hopefully with the same result. It’s time.