R.I.P. Father Richard John Neuhaus
From the early 1970s forward, Neuhaus was a key architect of two alliances with profound consequences for American politics, both of which overcame histories of mutual antagonism: one between conservative Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals, and the other between free market neo-conservatives and “faith and values” social conservatives.
In 2005, Time magazine took the unusual step of including the Catholic Neuhaus on a list of America’s 25 most influential Evangelicals, noting that in a 2004 session with journalists from religious publications, President George W. Bush cited Neuhaus more often than any other living authority.
“Father Richard,” the president said then, “helps me articulate these [religious] things.”
To Catholic insiders, however, it was Neuhaus’ writing rather than his political activism that made him a celebrity. From the pages of First Things, the unapologetically high-brow journal he founded in 1990, Neuhaus kept up a steady stream of commentary on matters both sacred and secular.
In broad strokes, Neuhaus was an unabashed supporter of the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and his commentary was prized in Rome. John Paul, for example, named Neuhaus as a delegate to the 1997 Synod for America. Yet he was no lapdog for ecclesiastical authority; he lamented the Vatican’s opposition to the Iraq war in 2003, and early in Benedict’s papacy Neuhaus voiced “palpable uneasiness” that the new pontiff was not clamping down on what Neuhaus saw as dissent from church teaching.
Over the years, even people who disagreed with Neuhaus’ politics or theology would devour his monthly essay in First Things, titled “The Public Square,” for sheer literary pleasure. His combination of epigrammatic formulae and occasionally biting satire often reminded fans of English-language Catholic luminaries of earlier eras, such as G.K. Chesterton or Cardinal John Henry Newman.