As part of our anniversary celebration, Commonweal has been reexamining some of the magazine’s founding ideas, liberal Catholicism being a central one. We were prodded along in our resolve by a sermon that soon-to-be Cardinal Francis George gave on January 17, 1998 at Chicago’s Old Saint Patrick’s Church. As it happened I was at the liturgy. What’s more, I was actually listening to his sermon. There came that now semi-famous moment when he said, "liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project."
There was a little buzz among the congregation, and then a little hum. It was like being back in second grade: You could hear people thinking, "Uh-oh, what does he mean by that?" Following a brief conversation after Mass, Cardinal George agreed to explain what he meant. And so he did at a Commonweal Forum held on Wednesday, October 6, 1999 at Loyola University (Chicago).
The forum was a sell-out event with more than three hundred people thoughtfully attending to the words of the cardinal, the second speaker, Peter Steinfels, and the three respondents, John Noonan, John T. McGreevy, and E.J. Dionne, Jr. Three hours later, everyone came out alive! Even a few liberals. The speeches and comments make up this special section.
For more than a decade as editor of Commonweal, I have struggled along with my colleagues to examine and, when necessary, reframe the kind of questions we ask in linking the Catholic tradition with the American political and cultural scene in which liberal values continue to play the dominant role. The clarifications and criticisms of this forum have contributed greatly to that effort. We look forward to the responses of our readers in continuing this important conversation.
More from the Commonweal forum "The Crisis of Liberal Catholicism":
How Liberalism Fails the Church by Cardinal Francis George
Reinventing Liberal Catholicism by Peter Steinfels
Liberalism Doesn't Exist by John T. Noonan
An Exhausted Project? by John T. McGreevy
We're All Liberals Now by E. J. Dionne Jr.