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What is this "Catholic" version of neo-conservatism? You can probably best define it by its faces, past and present, in the media: the late Fr. John Neuhaus of First Things and lay theologian George Weigel (see link). Neo-conservatism is exhausted as a Catholic project because, as Cardinal George said about liberal Catholicism, it no longer gives life. Why is that? Many answers could be given. In my opinion, this one stands out: a fundamental misreading of the Gospel with the result that the capitalist market economy is viewed as central to human flourishing.
A vigorous, life-giving Catholicism never associates itself with either left-wing or right-wing ideology. The neo-conservatives made the fundamental error of doing just that with the right-wing. The Gospel is too subversive to ever be so closely aligned with human political ideologies of any stripe. The result of this misreading of the Gospel is a misreading of events and of the signs of the times.
The biggest example of that misreading was the uncritical embrace for years of the extremely conservative Legionaries of Christ run by its sociopathic founder. You can imagine the howls of self-righteous indignation if that disaster could have been pinned on liberal Catholics. Even today, the misreading of the signs of the times continues. In a recent interview, Weigel as an NBC "Vatican analyst" focused on curial (read: Vatican bureaucratic) reform as central to the next pope. Oh, really? See my other recent post quoting a Nigerian cardinal who puts this nonsense to rest (link). The next pope must project the Gospel, not be immersed in bureaucracy. Others should and can do that.
Another trait of the Catholic variety of neo-conservativism in the U.S. is its own updated version of the "ugly American" who will lecture the world. The Catholic Church in the U.S. is in no position to lecture the rest of the universal Church about anything. A humble approach is the right approach, not soft-pedaling woeful mismanagement on our own shores.
The lesson is old, but we fail to apply it in every cycle and generation: no human political project of any stripe comes even close to the life-giving power of the Gospel. True piety means not skirting those political boundaries.