Category The Church in America

More Discussion on the “Catholic Moment”

Ross Douthat’s weekend column, in which he asserted that the sex abuse scandal and the Church’s poor handling of it effectively ended a unique period of Catholic influence in American politics, has generated quite a lot of discussion. Most of the responses agreed with Douthat that this Catholic moment had indeed ended, but argued that he placed too much blame on the shoulders of the clergy and the decline of the Church’s reputation in the wake of the scandal. These folks, such as Peter Lawler, contended that it’s instead the case that the decrease in salience of Catholic ideas about society is primarily due to the fact that both parties are more polarized than they were in 2000, more deeply entrenched in their own extreme forms of liberalism (economically on the right, socially on the left).

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative took this line one step further, not only arguing that this particular Catholic moment was the victim of the extremes of the American political spectrum, but that any Catholic moment would inevitably be living on borrowed time, given the deep incongruities of Catholicism and liberalism. In fact, Dreher questions that such a Catholic moment could ever really exist with any real vitality in a liberal society such as America.

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A Brief “Catholic Moment” in a Protestant America

In his weekend column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat declares the “end of a distinctively Catholic moment.” First articulated by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the Catholic moment was understood as a period in which “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.” Douthat points out that as recently as the mid-2000s, the Catholic Church and its ideas were at least partially embraced by both sides of the aisle, as the GOP and its “compassionate conservatism” agenda could be understood as a right-wing approach to Catholic social teaching, while the Democrats were concerning themselves with how to go about winning over “value voters” and appear friendlier to the religious.

But according to Douthat, those days are over. The Church and its ideas regarding society are no longer seriously considered in American politics, a development he attributes largely to the fallout from the sex abuse scandal and the hierarchy’s fumbling of the matter.

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