What are Commonweal Catholics?

Where are the Commonweal Catholics?

Mark Sargent raises an interesting question: Where are the Commonweal Catholics? They are all over the place; I meet them all the time (sorry to say, their numbers are larger than the Commonweal subscription listbut thats another issue). Maybe the question prior to where is what. What is a Commonweal Catholic? We might think about it first as a social and intellectual construct that has had different meanings at different times, constructs which were not necessarily synonymous with Liberal Catholic. If we were clear about the what maybe the where would emerge with greater clarity.

My impression is that Commonweals founding generation was most interested in looking beyond the sometimes narrow and constraining world of ghetto Catholicism. They were interested in art and architecture, literature and theater, politics and policy making on a larger scale than defined my the immediate needs of the vast majority of their fellow Catholics who were poor, or near poor, and many still of an immigrant generationwere talking the twenties and thirties. In the American context of their time, they sometimes seem conservative.

Post-World War II, more and more Catholicsassimilating, college educated, and moving into white collar jobscame to share some of those Commonweal interests. Many probably clung to the Democratic politics of their parents, but there were certainly Commonweal Catholics who were Republicans--gasp! But back then, some Republicans were often more liberal than most Democratsthink birth control. Commonweal Catholics should probably be seen historically as existing in a less polarized world and church than now obtains.

Vatican II, the civil rights revolution, the Vietnam war, Humanae vitae, and the womens movement probably definitively moved Commonweal into the liberal world, where it has mostly been over the last several decades. At the same time, a more radical and/or progressive faction within Catholicism has emerged, while an increasingly conservative and right-wing Catholicism has reemerged. This puts Commonweal Catholics in a centrist position. But, of course, liberalism itself has drifted from the social justice, social welfare issues that aligned Commonweal Catholics with Democrats and liberals after World War II.

Do we have a moving target here? Every issue of Commonweal, it seems to me, is concerned at defining and redefining what it means to be a Commonweal Catholic. Unlike the church itself, it has no need to speak definitively, only soberly and intelligently. And in that task, many Catholics and not just Commonweal subscribers can have a hand.

So back to the original question: WHERE are those Commonweal Catholics?

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

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