by Stephen Schneck, U.S. Catholic
Loosely orbiting the journal First Things, since the late 1980s a handful of Catholic intellectuals have systematically promoted what they believed to be an inherent compatibility—if indeed not actual fusion—between American-style neoconservatism and Catholicism. Sometimes called theocons, the first generation of the movement included Father Richard Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Michael Novak, who sided with the Reagan administration to oppose the US bishops’ 1986 letter on the economy.
Marrying Catholicism to trickle-down economics might have been an initial inspiration for the movement, but in time the theocons came to insist that the entirety of the American neoconservative agenda—from its stances on social issues and militant Pax Americana to its climate change denial and defense of torture—was congruent with Catholicism. This was no easy task; much wiggling was required. So over the years, church teachings, Thomas Aquinas, and interpretations of natural law were bent toward American-style conservatism. Cherry-picked American political history, Chicago School economic theories, and conservative Constitutional interpretations were bent toward Catholicism.
For decades the wiggling seemed to work. Several important American prelates became regular visitors in theocon circles. A second generation of leadership for the movement developed, including Catholic professors at prominent universities and well-known journalists. What has now become evident, however, is how much of the movement’s ecclesial allowance traded on claimed links to the papacy of Saint Pope John Paul II. Today, with Pope Francis as the Bishop of Rome, that allowance is more constrained. Theocons are using words like “crisis” pretty often…