Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009)


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.


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.


Neuhaus would later recall that the trigger for his break with the left was the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, legalizing abortion in America. He became an outspoken voice for pro-life causes, helping craft the policy of the Bush administration, for example, on embryonic stem cell research.

Neuhaus converted to Catholicism on September 8, 1990, and was ordained a priest one year later by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York. In a letter to his Lutheran friends at the time, Neuhaus said he had become persuaded that the Reformation-era logic for separation from Rome was no longer justified, and that Lutheranism no longer saw itself as a reform movement within the broader church of Christ but rather as one denomination among many.


Though keenly interested in politics, Neuhaus was at heart a theologian rather than a politician, and even critics of his social views often admired the depth of his spiritual convictions. In 2001, for example, Neuhaus published a widely praised volume of reflections titled Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross.

Neuhaus’ other books include Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth(2006); The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America(1997); Appointment In Rome: The Church in America Awakening(1998); Doing Well & Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist (1992); and The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World(1987.)

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