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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.

  • 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?

If you find yourself interested in these kinds of questions and the debate as recently described in the article by John Allen, Jr., join the club! -- I've put together this website is a compilation of articles (chiefly those which are available online) and a directory of links to other helpful websites pertaining to this important discussion. I hope it will become a means of introducing various contributors to this discussion, and something of a resource for others who are investigating this subject.

Please note that the focus of this website is limited to articles and resources available online. No doubt some of the authors mentioned have additional articles available offline in periodicals regretfully not in the habit of making their contents available on the web.

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

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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
George Weigel
Michael Novak
Walker Percy
Richard J. Neuhaus