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Catholic Moment Kaput

Ross Douthat has a column in Sunday's Times looking back to the funeral of John Paul II, which he sees as "The End of a Catholic Moment" at least in the U.S."The mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Pauls death, the Republican Partys agenda was still stamped by George W. Bushs compassionate conservatism, which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, was looking for ways to woo the values voters (many of them Catholic) who had just helped Bush win re-election, and prominent Democrats were calling for a friendlier attitude toward religion and a bigger tent on social issues."The phrase is Richard Neuhaus's (from his 1987 book of that title). Douthat does not suggest that the mid-2000s is what Neuhaus had in mind. Nor does he think we should expect another "Catholic Moment" of a political sort any time soon.What a relief! An opportunity for us to engage in serious reflection. Someone tell the bishops.

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"Douthat is a convert and seems to have latched on to an era now passed. We could say its a kind of nostalgia.."Converts are perhaps a two edged sword. They appreciate what cradle Catholics take for granted while they may look for a false Catholicism that faulty RCIA programs had offered them.

It seems to me Douthat overlooks a lot that only begins with marking a Catholic moments beginning in the mid-80s, a total misreading of the cultural influence of Catholicism that we see in politics and the reciprocal influence of American-style modernity on the Church. Judge Noonans argument about an American imprint on the Councils Declaration on Religious Liberty begins to make the point that a Catholic moment involves something subtler than the question of whether we achieve nuclear disarmament or require insurers to provide access to contraception. Indeed, I would say Douthats understanding of post-VatII divisions as a mirror of political arguments points to the problem in his analysis much as the bishops increasing partisanship (which suggests they share Douthats analytical framework) lies at the root of whatever frustrations were experiencing about a Catholic moment. This is the work of the Kingdom were talking about, not a struggle for political hegemony. Its a slow process. Were getting there. Catholic Christianity seeks eternity, not moments.

I'd like to know where Douthat finds "a strident social liberalism" in the Democratic party. In extending unemployment? In rebuilding infrastructure? In investing in education? The Democrats hardly even talk about poor people anymore. It's all middle class, all the time.

It could be said that Douthat's characterization of the last Catholic Moment in 2005 is not accurate. Was it one more faux moment at least in the political realm with both Democrats and Republicans using and abusing Catholicism for political purposes? Of course, each had groups of Catholics on their bandwagons in hopes of garnering the famously centrist Catholic vote. Though it seemed to be touch and go in the 2008 campaign, the majority of Catholic-identified voters went for Obama. As a candidate he appeared to be more sympathetic with Catholic issues (it turns out he is not) than McCain (who also is not). Obama also seems to lack the political skills Catholics have come to expect of Catholic politicians. But McCain doesn't have them either.I say one more faux moment, because the first, the Ronald Reagan-John Paul II connection, never seemed quite the Catholic Moment that the neo-cons saw.

Clearly there is hardly any consensua about what a Catholic Moment is. Since Neuhaus originated it he may have the right to define it. But Neuhaus showed his charlatan hand when he insisted that the RCC's stand on contraception was the greatest thing since slice bread. Someone forgot to tell 90% plus of Catholics, who practice birth control, about this great find. Ross Douthat with his every move is showing his superficiality. Just because Reagan and W. Bush courted the pope and American bishop's support does not mean anybody was buying their monarchical, aborion/contraception, led morality. And if Douthat thinks that pushing universal health care and raising the minimum wage is not in accordance with the gospel then he needs to make a serious biblical retreat and find out what the "captives" mean. He might then get some idea of what a genuine Catholic moment looks like.Douthat's flippant bandying of terms shows a certain shallowness. The Catholic moment he seems to prize was more one of power mongering than spiritual uplift and helped fuel the effort toward the Iraq war as Neuhaus, Novak and Co. spurned the effort by John Paul II (his singular moment that he did not support a preemptive war) against the war. So what is Ross talking about. Maybe it is the pressure of having to opine so often. Maybe he needs to take some time off and hope for some semblance of maturity.

Ms. Steinfels - don't particularly care for much of what Douthat writes and his thesis and examples in this article just don't ring true, IMO. For one thing, US catholicism is not one, singular, unified block - it is diverse and living.So, currently we have catholics in some of the most significant roles in government:- plurality on SCOTUS (and no unity in opinion there)- executive - number of cabinet heads; key presidential leaders on Obama's team- legislature - again, lots of catholics but no unified *catholic moment*So, what is Douhart talking about here?Would suggest that from a catholic social justice angle - key catholics have been pushing *pro-life* decisions e.g. gun control, immigration, minimum wage, more equitable economic system, pre-school education, unions, climate control, housing, PPACA, growth of Medicare/Medicaid, gender equality in terms of addressing violence against women; equal pay; etc.; stopping wars. These are all historical and key catholic ideas.Now, if Douthat wants to conflate everything down to a few cultural war themes - gay rights, abortion, contraception (can't even believe this would be on a list in the year 2013) - is that a *catholic moment* or something in his mind. If memory serves, actual published data from Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama would indicate that pro-life achievements (touted by Republicans) decreased during Republican terms and pro-life achievements (supposedly not touted by Democrats) increased during Democratic terms. So, yes, don't understand his thesis or his article. Seems like he is just shooting from the hip and making up his own categories.

Bill deHaas: A complicated picutre.When I read Douthat, I am sometimes reminded of a certain mid-century Catholicism (20th century) mindset that took pride in a moral-political coherence and its importance in public debate (okay, you can include the sixties and seventies as well). Douthat is a convert and seems to have latched on to an era now passed. We could say it's a kind of nostalgia...though I don't know him so maybe that's not entirely fair. But of all the "Catholic" NYTimes columnists (Dowd, Collins, Keller, Bruni), he signals a kind of affection for a Catholic past that these cradle Catholics have long left behind. You also write: "US Catholicism is not one, singular, unified block it is diverse and living.'So, currently we have Catholics in some of the most significant roles in government:- plurality on SCOTUS (and no unity in opinion there)- executive number of cabinet heads; key presidential leaders on Obamas team- legislature again, lots of Catholics but no unified "catholic moment."Agree, not one, singular, unified block. But I think the diversity lies more in regional differences than in DC politics. The three branches have many Catholics, but they seem more aligned with their party than any religious or philosophical links to Catholicism. All of the conservatives on the Supreme Court are Catholic; the liberals are Jewish except for Sotomayor who I don't think considers herself any longer Catholic.Cabinet heads and key presidential leaders...seem strictly aligned with Obama and Democratic party policies (Brennan included and apparently Donohue [Correction: McDonough] as well; Sibelius, etc.).Legislative...yes, definitely no Catholic moment there, though Pelosi, Leahy, Durbin, and (former Senator) Biden echo the mid-century Catholicism I mentioned at the top. Libertarianism is making inroads in the Catholic Republican contingent; that is something I don't think we've seen before.

Peggy,you write: "The three branches have many Catholics, but they seem more aligned with their party than any religious or philosophical links to Catholicism."I thought that was a good part of what Douthat was saying.

Peggy,Just wondering what makes you think that Sotomayor no longer considers herself a Catholic anymore. I saw and heard her interviewed several times since the release of her new book and in one interview I thought I heard her say something along the lines that although she doesn't attend Mass regularly, she is a Catholic. But I may be wrong on that.Just wonderingThanks,Anthony

O Power that be, save us from a fill-in-the-blank Moment, Catholic or otherwise, if that means enjoying "real influence in U.S. politics." We finally have a country that spares churches a temptation they have never been able to resist, cozying up to potentates of the secular world to force their doctrines on dissentersever so gently at first, but with all the power of the state in reserve. If we can't win people with sound argument, good works, humility, and prayer, then what? Laws and thumbscrews?Let's be content with the middle way between persecution and prosperity.

It seems to me (a latter-day Scholastic who doesn't know a great deal of history) that there has not been a notably Catholic Moment at least since the High Middle Ages. At that time the Spanish Jesuit Scholastics were developing natural law theory, a rich theory of human rights, and the beginnings of economics. After that Catholic thought no longer led the pack in social and individual morality except in a few areas at certain times, e.g., when Catholic social thought was a strong influence on the New Deal. Luther hated the Scholastics and despised reason The Enlightenment over-valued reason and the natural sciences. Later, extreme individualism grew out of Luther's thinking and some Enlightenment thought. Individualism had its own varieties and permitted hedonism and political selfishness to take hold in many people. Later they were challenged by the individualism of the Romantics who insisted that goodness and truth are grasped somehow through feeling, not through knowledge, and it often encouraged empathy with those who suffered. All those currents are still very strong in the U. S. Some people oversimplify by saying that conservatives are the extreme individualists/the selfish ones while the liberals are the touchy-feely ones (the Romantics)/the empathizers with the poor, and I must admit I think there is something to that polarity. But I think that most people's intellectual under-pinnings are pretty well fractured and diced these days. It's why neither Democrats nor Republicans can seem to establish solid, stable bases. Ironically, the Church has de facto abandoned its own classic intellectual heritage together with its dialectical method. That method (which I never cease to remind you of) requires one to consider all viewpoints and relevant evidence and then to answer challenges explicitly. Worst of all, the official Church has withdrawn into a cave and not only does not allow diversity of thinking (much less value it), but it even prohibits asking questions about disputed religious and moral issues. (If Jesus had not resurrected, He would be spinning in His grave.) Small wonder we have trouble putting our own thoughts in order. We get no real help. As I see it, until the official Church has the courage to stop merely reacting and to actually lead -- to support the same sort of high quality theological and philosophical thinkers whom it supported in its long-sgo past, and until it allows those thinkers to grapple with the real contemporary problems of both social morality and individual morality, especially, sexual morality, there can be no Catholic Moment.Intellectually the Church is a fossil. Its structure remains, but it is dead. It cannot possibly influence its surroundings.P. S. Maybe Cardinal Ravasi has stepped out of the cave a bit. If so, may he be elected pope.

John Prior ==What's wrong with prosperity? I think that deserves a whole thread. The issue was really raised on one of JAK's Augustine thread about whether we should reject the world as good, but it has huge ramification in politics and economics.

AO: You mean THE THIRTEENTH? The greatest of centuries! I have a good friend who thinks it was the nineteenth... We could agree, I think, that the twentieth probably was not.But to be serious: thank you for reminding us that there is a Catholic Intellectual Tradition, and whatever we have now, bishops, etc., are not practicing it. Also some clergy and lay persons. But you, yes!Anthony: Like you I probably read an interview or article in which she seemed to demur from saying she was a Catholic. In your case, she only said she didn't go to Mass. Well, it's a biggish church. If you say so, she's a Catholic.

The Catholic Moment in the Americas was to be "preferential option for the poor' but it never crossed the Rio Grande.

I am still trying to figure out what the Sam Hill Douthat thinks he is talking about. As I recall, the mid-2000s were when the nation fixated on a stained dress, and some people took Kenneth Starr seriously while the "socialist" in the White House trash-canned Glass-Steagall with effects we are still suffering from. Poppy Bush's "compassionate conservatism," which stamped itself on the public mind with the demonizing of Willie Horton, lasted less than an election cycle. And if any of this was "Catholic" it might have been fascination with the dress stains because sex always has been problematic in the Church, but it still didn't add up to a "moment." I am quite impressed by how much good thinking was generated here by Douthat's effort at profundity, though.

Ann Olivier: By the High Middle Ages, do you mean the 12th and 13th centuries?If you do, then I have to tell you that there were no Jesuits doing anything in the 12th and 13th centuries, because the Jesuit order was not founded until later.

Oh, and the abortion rate went down but the wrong party was in office when it did. So the pro-life people who, one would think, should have been interested in what was causing the decline never investigated it, so sure were they that it couldn't happen with a Democrat in office.

Ann O,I thought it was clear from the tenor of my comment that by "prosperity" I meant close connection and collaboration, or even identification, with secular power. It's bad for both kingdoms, though they need not be always at war.

Thomas F. ==No, I mean the 14th century in Spain -- Vittoria, Suarez, etc. But they were the last of the great medievals. Augustine has been called the last of the ancients and the first of the medievals. I've seen those Spaniards referred to as the last of the medievals and first of the moderns.

Oops -- make that the 15-17th century Spain.

I'm sorry. My bad. I read mid-2000s and thought mid-1990s. But the mid-2000s were even less likely than the mid-1990s, for different reasons, to constitute a chance for a "Catholic moment." Even in the right decade, I think he's fantasizing.

Ann Olivier: The Jesuit order was founded in the 16th century.At St. Louis University in the 20th century, the Jesuits in philosophy there did not admire Suarez at all. He was much maligned by the Jesuits in philosophy at SLU. As a matter of fact the Jesuits in philosophy at SLU thought that they were salvaging St. Thomas Aquinas' thought from the detrimental influence of Suarez. But perhaps at Catholic University Suarez was admired.

There is a story that I recall reading but can not source at the moment concerning the papal nuncio just after the American revolution contacting Ben Franklin or some other figure in the government requesting permission to build schools and churches. This, was of course, a reasonable request since historically in Western Europe and even in the Byzantine empire the state granted permission for churches to practice faith. And, even, funded some of their schools.What was unique with the United States, however, was that the American official never actually granted permission because it was outside of the scope of their powers for the government to grant permission to religious bodies to practice. The official was "officially" neutral. The United States was unique precisely because the constitution explicitly limited government and the value of government was seen precisely in its limitation and not its powers. This was a unique arrangement for the Roman Catholic Church in terms of its relationship with the state. In the United State, Roman Catholic institutions flourished precisely BECAUSE of the constitutional prohibition against favouring any religion over another. The religious character of Americans was something that fascinated Alexis de Tocqueville precisely because it was so counter-intuitive.It took a long time for the Roman Catholic church to understand the United States. Pope Leo condemned "Americanism" and it was not until the Second Vatican Council that the basically American understanding of church-state relationship became something that the Church saw as benefiting her mission. Not surprisingly, John Courtney-Murray was one of the major architects of the Declaration on Religious Freedom at the Council.I don't know if there has ever been anywhere a so called Catholic moment where Catholics could celebrate. If you want an example of a so called Catholic moment consider Quebec (where the next Pope may come from). It was 100% Catholic owned and operated from labour unions to schools to hospitals. Is that the model we want? It has been tried. I doubt it.The Church is always best when it does not impose but proposes. That requires work in crafting a coherent gospel message that Catholics can live out. In many respects, all Catholics, lay, religious, and clerical, are still in process of digesting the Second Vatican Council and the implications of it for public life. It will take a while to discern and sift through what it means.As an aside, but not unimportantly, Jesus refused Caesar's sword offered to him by the tempter in today's gospel. The Church needs to be very careful about climbing in bed with Caesar. Sharing a house, sure...sharing the intimacy of the bedroom...maybe not. The children of this world are better dealing with their own kind than the children of light!

Footnote to all : Gibbons' history of medieval thought was for a long time the accepted one, and still is in many quarters. But as I understand it it began to be revised with such books as Henry Adams' "Mont Saint Michel and Chartres" and the history of medieval science by a physicist, Pierre Duhem who showed the beginnings of empirical/experimental science to have happened back in the 12th-14th centuries. (He himself made an important contribution -- the notion of scientific paradigms, though it didn't call them that).I don't really know if the Spanish Scholastics had a continuous line of fine social and political philosophers from the 14th century, but some were Thomists and certainly they argued directly with his positions, and their method of argument was the same -- highly rationalistic, and they derived from the same old sources. So I don't see how you can dissociate the two great streams of thought.In other words, if social and political thought of that period in Spain wasn't medieval, I don't know what was.(Footnote to footnote: even the calligraphy of Spain maintained many of the characteristics of Gothic script for centuries after the rest of Europe had abandoned it.).

Thanks, Ms. Steinfels - agree and find your clarifications helpful. Also, agree with what Fr. Imbelli added.Not sure if you watched Meet the Press this morning but the Republican Party leader made a statement about Obama's inaugural and state of the union and described it as a community leader's mandate for social justice change. He meant in a negative way but found his description to ring true - and what does that say about some of Douthat's comments or our Republican bishops?

John P.. ==I would really like to discuss the notion that "prosperity" is bad. Aren't we supposed to help the poor prosper? Or what? (But what does "prosperity" MEAN?)That's a whole different thread or ten, I think.

I do not follow the conversation on the blog well, I suppose. Beyond parties and sense of belonging to the church (defined as going to Mass) doent' the words "common good" wether 13th,19th or any century, mean more to a catholic psyche than defining "prosperity"?

Thomas F. --At Catholic U. when I was there in the 60's under the influence of Msgr. John K. Ryan, we admired whichever thinkers we found admirable and criticize them as we saw fit. Not being a man, I have no need of one single intellectual hero to lead the charge to the philosophical and theological battlements. (I never would have done at a Jesuit institution.)

Ann O,Prosperity could be a long thread indeed. For a Christian, I think it involves helping the poorbut why stop with them?to lead first more human and then more Christlike lives. But it doesn't mean making everybody a banker, I hope.

JOhn P. ==We are all part of the banking system, at least to the extent we put any of our money in them.

The WSashington Post's major article today is quite indicting. I'm sure tit doesn't rival intrigues of the past, but nevertheless points out the systemic dysfunction whatever one's eccelsiology. I'm betting they'll bbe some Xavier Rynne at this conclave or some other device to break the silence. Good or bad?

All in all it is refreshing that this thread let Ross Douthat realize that he needs to word things or think them through more reasonably. We certainly game him something to think about if he is listening.

David Paskinski: Is this the WashPost article you're talking about?http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pope-struggled-to-lift-sacred... so, the NYTimes reported this on the subject of the Vatican bank:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/world/europe/pope-names-von-freyberg-t...!!

I resurrected the "Catholic moment" idea back in November, at Religion & Politics, and my sense is that this could very much be a Catholic moment -- though many Catholics may not be part of it:http://religionandpolitics.org/2012/11/02/is-2012-americas-catholic-mome... feel that even more so now, though I do think there are signs of a coming together. But on fiscal policy, gun control, immigration reform, health care -- all the many aspects that point toward the common good and Catholic teaching -- there is a real prospect for the U.S. to channel its Catholic heritage (future?) more than its Protestant rugged individualist past (libertarian future?).

David G - an excellent point.Also very good was Douthat's observation that it may not be the parties' rank and file voters, but its leaders, who are particularly uncongenial to Catholicism at this moment.

As a follow-on to my previous comment about party leaders whose views are misaligned with Catholic principles: the leading headline in my NYTimes email this morning is that Governor Cuomo is now sponsoring legislation to remove late-term limits on abortion in NY State. I know I'm not the only one who finds it distressing (to say the least!) when the party leaders who are sponsoring anti-Catholic legislation are themselves Catholics. It may be pointed out that Republican Catholic leaders also do this. I accept that. But I'd say that, right now, the Democratic Catholic leaders are far, far worse in this respect. Part of the reason for that may be that comparatively more Democrats happen to be in power at the moment. But another part is just the qualities of the policies and legislation supported by Democrats. Paul Ryan may not know the definition of "subsidiarity", but I don't believe he is an out-and-out enemy of subsidiarity. I can't say that Andrew Cuomo isn't an out-and-out enemy of Catholic moral teaching on the sanctity of life. Andrew Cuomo is sponsoring vile, evil legislation. Catholics of all stripes, but especially progressive Catholics, must call him to account. They must make him pay in the currency that politicians understand: donations and votes.I'd like to see a few Catholic heads roll - metaphorically speaking. By all means, lop 'em off from both sides of the aisle. But let's see some axes fall. Bishops and their canonist advisers, do your duty.

The story in Sunday's NYTimes on Cuomo's proposal was probably a trial balloon that the rest of the story suggested might not get by the state legislature. Still, I agree, Jim Pauwels, that this seems a wholly unnecessary change in the NYstate law, which is already one of the most liberal in the country, and was before Roe v. Wade.The justifications offered in the story for the change seem lame. This is probably meat for pro-choice supporters in advance of a possible Cuomo for the Democratic nomination in 2016. I doubt he will get it (he should consult with his much smarter father). Here's the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/nyregion/cuomo-bucks-tide-with-bill-to...

Thanks David Gibson for the link. Fully lays out the 2012 campaign "Catholic" moment. But now?

Addendum to yesterday comment by Margaret Steinfels at 3:03 p.m.I bet that practically all of the Democratic Party Catholics in all levels of our government now are cradle Catholics (exception: Chris Christi). However, it seems to me that a significant number of prominent converts are Republicans (Conservatives). (In addition to Fr. Neuhaus and Ross Douthat, I name Robert Novak, Robert Bork, Newt Gingrich.) I am trying to think of a prominent Catholic convert who is a Democrat (Liberal). There must be some out there. I notice that he lineup on EWTN has quite a few converts, e.g. Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, and former hosts, Fr. Corapi and Deal Hudson (exception Raymond Arroyo, who is a cradle catholic whose cradle must have been rocked too much.)

Margaret Steinfels: There is another Washington Post story - it was front page and center with a huge photo of the Vatican lightening strike (the Sunday edition of the Post).http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/pope-benedict-xvis-leaked-...

Do you think it might have been a small meteorite?

On the convert question: There are, of course, converts that fall on the liberal side of the universe. Our parish RCIA seems to attract such people, and there are some among us here at dotcommonweal. But I have often thought about the propensity of very public converts to be conservative on religion as on politics. Some, of course, are already politically conservative when they join the Catholic church. Changes in mainline Protestant practice has attracted some who support the Catholic bishop's resistance to such changes. They are often quite vociferous in their views giving the impression that the Catholic Church is more conservative than it is.Of course, Paul Ryan, libertarian, is our very own cradle Catholic.

Tony Blair is a convert.. and not a Con.

Right, not a conservative. But a bit of a con man! No?

There are many conservatives who think that liberal Catholics who approve of medically necessary abortions and stem cell research really are also for abortion on demand. I think that Gov. Cuomo has made this same mistake, a very bad one politically. I can't imagine his getting my vote. It's one thing to tolerate abortion because opposing it can ultimately do more harm than good. It's another to actively make it possible, which is what he is doing. Shame.

Helen - exception Raymond Arroyo, who is a cradle catholic whose cradle must have been rocked too much.) - right on!!!

Did anyone hear read the whole article about Cuomo? The point is that there are laws on the books in NY State which intimidates many physicians even if the laws are superseded by the Federal Law. While so many states are limiting women's right to abortion Cuomo leaves it up to women where it should be. But, of course, it is so generous of all of you to want to control women and form their choices whether they agree with you or not. The battle is with persuasion not the law. At least many of you do not make it your number one issue like the bishops do.

Public converts.The Orneryariate.Conservative indeed!Need more be said?When I was a wee one (1940s & early 1950s) the face of US Catholicism was defensiveness writ large. We had a Catholic version of everything ... because those bad old prods thought us inferior and we were going to show them!Well, the children and grandchildren of those 1940/50s wagon circlers have come to the fore and ..... Were the prods correct or wrong?

Bill M: Did you notice that the Cuomo/late-term abortion story was virtually fact free. How many doctors live in fear of doing a late abortion? How many women have died as a result? Hmmmm!How about as much skepticism in reading the NYTimes as dotCommonweal?

Peggy, I attended Mass this past Sunday at a Norther New Jersey parish (Metuchen diocese). Postcards were distributed to be sent to Senators and Representatives to object the health care law because of abortion and contraceptives. Practically every person signed and all cards were collected. One would think a like petition would be circulated lowering the minimum wage. Not a chance. Because bishops would lose many rich patrons and could not build excessive cathedrals to enhance their legacies. People are actually working a forty hour week in this country and living in homeless shelters because the pay is not enough. The official Catholic church's position is silence with nominal exceptions. The mandate is to set the captives free. Not to dramatize zygotes and be numb to the sufferings of millions of people. One tangible way we can address this is to demand that the bishops send all the Nigerian and Indian bishops home to their homelands where people are in the most inhumane conditions.

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.