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Paleocon? Neocon? None of the Above--Catholic!

Paleocon (servative)? Neocon (servative)?... How about none of the above?

Liberating Catholic Social teaching from some American intellectuals.

(c) Third Millennium, LLC
By: Deacon Keith A. Fournier
National President Your Catholic Voice Foundation

I vividly remember watching the "Wizard of Oz" every year when I was a child. I am of the generation that sat, as children often do with films, "star struck" when the movie turned from Black and White to color. My brother, sister and I would anticipate the broadcast each year and plan our little lives around being in front of the tube, snacks in hand!

Classic lines from that film still form a backdrop in the creative framework of my brain; lines like "there's no place like home", "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...", "Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore" and the famous response of Dorothy to the inquiry of the allegedly "good witch" "Are you a good witch or a bad witch", ... Why, I'm not a witch at all."

It is this last line that came to my conscious mind immediately upon reading a recent column by a prominent Catholic lay leader protesting ("me thinks a bit too much" to borrow from the bard) that he was not a "neo-con." He is one of the more prominent of the intellectual members of the group that leads the neo-conservative movement among conservative Catholics and an apologist for the close affinity between the political "neo-cons" and popular "neo-con" Catholics in the national political scene in America.

There is no doubt that the intellectual framework of American "neo-conservativism" has greatly influenced the viewpoint of this subset of prominent Catholics and forms the backdrop (or at least it colors) their communications organs. The editorialist in question feigned that there really is no influence of neo-conservatism on this group of Catholics or on his publication. Well, frankly, I disagree.

It has taken me quite a few years to discern what it is that has long disturbed me about the analysis and popular political positioning of many of these folks. First, let me clarify for my readers. I am not saying that they are unfaithful Catholics. To the contrary, they are among the staunchest allies of all "orthodox" Catholics and other Christians in the United States. Nor am I saying they are not intelligent or profoundly influential -they are both!

In fact, it is their huge influence among the "elites" that forms part of my decision to write about this issue. I am concerned about the continued failure of other thinkers, writers and activists to gain some traction in the so-called "culture war" in America. This group of people is so tied in right now to current popular "conservative" and republican politics that many people think they are actually presenting the "Catholic" position. Well... not always. I also fear that their current political ties and prominence has also lost them the ability to speak with prophetic impact on some serious issues.

Finally, I am concerned that they are casting confusion over just what the Catholic Church really teaches about the person in society, economic and social justice, war and peace and the common good. Their writings are becoming so influential among some emerging young Catholic thinkers that they actually end up sounding more like these folks than they do Pope John Paul II. When one reads this Pope, and his spokespersons, no-one would cast him (or them) as a "neo-con."

These folks of which I write, because they are so well positioned, seem to have a significant influence in the current political administration nationally. They have apparently billed themselves as representing "Catholics in America". Their influence in some circles and segments of intellectual influence in America today has led to their being perceived as a kind of new lay "magisterium" (with a small "m") for far too many people.

There are many emerging wonderfully faithful Catholics who are fresh thinkers, and who, with other Christians are seeking to influence the culture -by exposing the lies of the contemporary culture of death and use and building a new culture of life and civilization of love. They too often either have to tow this neo-con line or they are not given a hearing.

Many people, in many parts of our culture and our Church are beginning to question the near captivity that this segment of folks has had on popular Catholic thinking and activism. The neo-conservative movement in America, and this subset of Catholic neo-conservatives, is not the only voice in popular activism any longer. They are being questioned, with charity, and many are realizing they are not as influential as they may have once thought.

For me, it was further theological studies under some brilliant men and women, formed in the full teaching of Pope John Paul II that helped me to grasp what I instinctively knew was at best incomplete, if not seriously errant, about the neo-conservative analysis. As I engaged in the deeper study of Pope John Paul II and the social encyclicals, in totality, I came to understand more fully the incongruity of much of this popular movements' thought and positions on some vitally important issues. Additionally, the reading of the great classics of Catholic Social Thought (Belloc, Chesterton, Ousset...) further opened my eyes.

To the question "Are you a "neo-con" or a "paleo-con" (which by the way is not prehistoric creature but rather a "traditional" American political conservative), I respond emphatically, "I am neither. I am a Catholic. I am deeply grateful for Catholic Social Teaching. I believe that it truly provides a framework and set of principles that must form the core of all of our efforts in the political, cultural, economic and social arena. It is time to reject the narrow political labels and to build a new Catholic action."

I recently re-read Peter Maurins' wonderful book of prose entitled "Easy Essays". He, along with Dorothy Day, was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. It is MUST reading for anyone who is serious about building a new "Catholic Action".

Repeatedly Peter Maurin wrote the following:

"(The Catholic Worker) believes
in creating a new society
within the shell of the old
with the philosophy of the new,
which is not a new philosophy
but a very old philosophy,
a philosophy so old
that it looks like new.

Though Peter Maurin was addressing the movement that he helped to found, I believe the sentiment is apt for any Catholic serious about the "social question" and our current obligations to build an authentic movement of Catholic Action for America and the rest of the world.

Catholic social teaching is one of the "treasures hidden in the field". It must be rescued from those who seek to use it as a kind of "proof text" to legitimize any political theory or economic system that fails to spring from its' fundamental view of the human person, solidarity, and authentic human freedom and economic and social justice. This is true whether these theories come from the "left" or the "right" or anywhere in between.

Our task as Catholic citizens is not to put literal or figurative proof texts from Catholic Social Teaching on, as a cloak around political, social or economic theories rooted in a flawed or limited notion of the person, the family, our obligations to the poor and war and peace and the common good. That kind of an approach is always "outside in"; as I have written before "Catholic is the noun." We must always start with Catholic teaching! This kind of an approach, starting with political, economic or social theories and trying to "make them sound Catholic" is wrought with danger.

Such an approach can do a serious injustice to the absolute beauty of Catholic Social Teaching as a unified whole, It fails to recognize that the Church is both a mother and a teacher and, in the wonderful words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, an "expert in humanity." Whether these are efforts to legitimize economic theories rooted in a seriously flawed anthropology (understanding of the nature of the human person) or efforts to squeeze global military strategy into a just war theory, they too often put the proverbial cart before the horse, starting with a political or economic position or theory and putting Catholic language on it in an effort to make it sound "Catholic" when sometimes it is anything but. Unfortunately, some of the flawed and limited efforts bearing the popular name of "neo-conservative", come at a time when, in both our national and international history, the fullness of Catholic Social Teaching is our only real hope.

I was taken aback over the last few years by the fact that some of the same voices that argued so stridently (and correctly) for the "competency" of the Church to speak to moral issues such as the intrinsic evil of every abortion were quick to imply that the Church had no "competency" to speak on issues of war and peace. Of course, as they often insist, we are to exercise our "prudential judgment" in many areas of political concern. We all know that already folks. We are questioning YOUR exercise of prudential judgment.

Prudence should compel us to listen first to the real Magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church on these issues and then inform our personal "prudential judgment." If Jesus were really here, on the earth, in the flesh, today, would we think He was competent to raise concerns about war and peace? Of Course! Well, He is really here, through the Vicar of Christ and through the teaching office of the Church that continues His redemptive mission.

As Catholic Christians we profess that the Holy Spirit did not leave us orphans. The Lord continues to speak to us in many ways, and in particular, through the Magisterium of our Church. Catholic Social Teaching is a beautiful part of that voice and the teaching of the Magisterium is the place we should go to first, not after developing our own pet positions - this teaching is neither "liberal", nor "conservative", "Democrat" nor "Republican", "Neo-conservative" or "paleo-conservative", it is true. So it must be with all of us!

Among all Christians we who are Catholics have the highest of obligations, precisely because we have such a rich body of teaching that is meant to inform our efforts to preserve, promote and protect the "common good" of all. We must not only understand this teaching but make it the core of all of our efforts, including our cultural, social, economic and political participation. We also must truthfully and clearly articulate it to others.

In my ecumenical work, I know that many other Christians, people of faith and people of good will are increasingly looking to Catholics to help lead them in the formation of their worldview. This is particularly true in the wake of the demise of the so-called "religious right" and the myriad of disillusioned folks who are left in its wake. They hear these neo-conservative spokespersons and actually think they are hearing the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, in many instances, they are instead hearing the personal views of these men and women dressed up in "Catholic looking" clothes.

It is time to liberate Catholic Social Thought from the grasp of some American Catholic intellectuals so that it can truly liberate us all and form a framework for authentic social change!


Deacon Keith Fournier is a constitutional lawyer, a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He is a long time policy activist, one of the founders of the Your Catholic Voice Movement and the President of the Your Catholic Voice Foundation.

Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on our four pillars of participation; Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice or Your Catholic Voice Foundation


Your Catholic Voice Foundation VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580



neo-conservatism or Catholicism

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