The return of Catholic anti-liberalism

Catholic anti-liberalism is back.

Of course, it never really went away. The norms, practices, and beliefs that prevail and thrive in liberal democracies have never perfectly meshed with the dogma, doctrine, and theology of the Roman Catholic Church. Still, there has been an undeniable rapprochement between the two sides in recent decades — until now.

Back in the mid-19th century, popes furiously denounced liberalism, modernity, democracy, secularization, toleration of religious diversity, the separation of church and state, and even “Americanism.” But by the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the outright hostility to liberal modernity had softened. A reconciliation seemed possible, provided that liberal modernity was recast in broadly Catholic-Christian terms.

Thirteen years after the conclusion of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II began his pontificate with the ambition of developing and applying the reconciliationist themes of the council. He and his successor (Benedict XVI) did this over the next 35 years with various papal pronouncements, and above all in a series of encyclicals (teaching documents) that reinterpreted liberalism, democracy, capitalism, and modernity in such a way that they seemed broadly (or at least potentially) harmonious with the church.

The monthly magazine First Things, founded by Richard John Neuhaus in 1990, quickly became the place where John Paul II’s reconciliationist ambitions would be championed and applied to questions of public life in the world’s most powerful democracy. In the pages of the magazine (which I edited for a time in the early 2000s), the pope was routinely described as a liberal, while the encyclicals were interpreted (with varying degrees of persuasiveness) as broad endorsements of the Republican Party’s center-right governing agenda.

What a difference a decade can make.

In the years since Neuhaus’ death in 2009, the magazine has moved sharply away from its earlier reconciliationist position. Detecting signs that Pope Francis aims to assimilate the church to modern trends it considers deeply at odds with unchangeable Catholic doctrine, the magazine now regularly runs pieces that express dismay and displeasure at the Roman pontiff (something its editors never would have contemplated doing under John Paul or Benedict). Likewise alarmed by the Obama-era evolution of American liberalism in the direction of an increasingly intolerant deployment of state power to enforce policies that run afoul of the church’s moral teachings, editor R.R. Reno came out in favor of President Trump in 2016 and has since written and published numerous pieces exploring the …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics

      

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