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Is John Paul II too liberal?

The question cuts against most conventional wisdom. If the man who said “no” to women’s ordination, gay marriage, and decentralization of power isn’t a conservative, many people would insist, then there’s no such animal.

But what if one has in mind not the sense in which Ted Kennedy is “liberal,” but in which virtually all Westerners are “liberals,” i.e., the classic notion of liberalism as belief in democracy, human rights, and free markets? If that’s the standard, then John Paul, though not uncritically, stacks up as a basically “liberal” pope.

Witness his proud claim that Christianity actually shaped the core tenets of liberalism in his August 17 Angelus address: “The Christian faith gave form [to Europe], and some of its fundamental values in turn inspired ‘the democratic ideal and the human rights’ of European modernity,” the Pope said.

Not everyone in the Catholic world approves. Although the movement has largely flown under media radar, John Paul faces a growing conservative opposition to this embrace of liberalism, understood in the classic sense. . . .

From: Is John Paul II Too Liberal?, by John Allen Jr. "Word from Rome", National Catholic Reporter August 22, 2003.

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It was this column by John Allen, Jr. which inspired this website, and an exploration of the following questions and more:
  • What are the religious and philosophical foundations of the 'The American Experiment'?
  • Is the liberal tradition (understood in the sense of democracy, human rights and the free market) a help or a hinderance to the life of the Church and evangelization?
  • Is capitalism and the free market compatible with Christian morality and the social teachings of the Catholic Church?
  • What is the proper role of religion in the public life of America today and how ought we to interpret the 'separation of Church and State'?
  • What is the proper understanding of freedom, conscience and religious liberty in Catholic tradition?

This debate has occupied two prominent groups of Catholics -- loosely classified as the Whig Thomists or Catholic neoconservatives (Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, George Weigel and Michael Novak, prominently featured in the journal First Things) and the "Communio School" (or Augustinian Thomists -- among them David Schindler, Dr. Tracy Rowland, Alisdair MacIntyre). [See The Church's Response to Modernity Zenit News interview with Tracy Rowland].

Please note that the focus of this website is (chiefly) limited to articles and resources available online, and to other helpful websites pertaining to this important discussion -- a depository of pertinent information for those interested in these issues.

As always I welcome comments and criticisms. If you encounter online articles I may have missed, please don't hesitate to email me.

Please note: Due to its complexity and the amount of material involved, the issue of the Catholic Church and the Just War tradition, while involving many of the same participants in the debate over the liberal tradition, is addressed by way of its own exclusive website here.


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Practical suggestions regarding the application of Catholic social teaching
  • Education - Read and have good, precise knowledge of the Church's social teachings, to be able to expound them with assurance and clarity, and make sure that what we teach in the name of the Church is effectively what the Church teaches, and not our own personal opinions.

  • Humility - So as not to have to jump from general principles to definitive concrete judgments, especially when expressed in a categorical and absolute manner. We should not go beyond the limitations of our own knowledge and specific competence.

  • Realism - in assessing the human condition, acknowledging sin but leaving room for the action of God's grace. In the midst of our commitment to human development, never lose sight that man's vocation is above all to be a saint and enjoy God for eternity.

  • Caution - So as to avoid the temptation of using the Church's social doctrine as a weapon for judging "others" (entrepreneurs, politicians, multinational companies, etc.). We should instead concentrate first on our own lives and our personal, social, economic and political responsibilities.

  • Cooperation - Know how to closely cooperate with lay people, forming them and sending them out as evangelizers of the world. They are the true experts in their fields of competence and have the specific vocation of transforming temporal realities according to the Gospel.

    by Fr. Thomas Williams, Theology Dean at Regina Apostolorum

"Among the many admirable values of this nation there is one that stands out in particular. It is freedom. The concept of freedom is part of the very fabric of this nation as a political community of free people.

Freedom is a great gift, a great blessing of God. From the beginning of America, freedom was directed to forming a well-ordered society and to promoting its peaceful life. Freedom was channeled to the fullness of human life, to the preservation of human dignity, and to the safeguarding of all human rights. An experience of ordered freedom is truly a part of the cherished history of this land. This is the freedom that America is called to live and guard and to transmit. She is called to exercise it in such a way that it will also benefit the cause of freedom in other nations and among other peoples.

The only true freedom, the only freedom that can truly satisfy, is the freedom to do what we ought as human beings created by God according to His plan. It is the freedom to live out the truth of what we are and who we are before God, the truth of our identity as children of God, as brothers and sisters in a common humanity."

-- Pope John Paul II, 1987 Visit to the United States.

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Catholic Church and Liberal Tradition

Other Sites of Potential Interest:

Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club
Pope John Paul II
Catholics in the Public Square
Ratzinger Fan Club
Hans Urs von Balthasar
Cardinal Avery Dulles
Catholic Just War Tradition
Pope Pius XII
Fr. John Courtney Murray
Richard J. Neuhaus
George Weigel
Michael Novak
George Weigel
Walker Percy
Christopher Lasch