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Catholic Right: Are the Neo-Cons Out and the Tea-Partiers In?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The American Catholic Right in recent years has been dominated by neo-conservatives.  But the Catholic Right now seems to be in transition as the neoconservative philosophy of empire and behind-the-scenes philosopher elites is sinking faster than a box of tea in Boston harbor.  There is also evidence emerging that movement conservatives now switching over to the bumptiously paleo-conservative Tea Party movement.

If the trend continues, it would constitute an historic shift for American politics as well as global Catholicism.

Ever since the 1970s when the troika of Irving Kristol, Antonin Scalia and John Richard Neuhaus began their lunchtime brainstorms at the American Enterprise Institute, Catholic conservatism has been deeply intertwined with the neo-conservative movement.  Scalia, the future US Supreme Court Justice had always practiced a traditionalist form of the faith, being an Opus Dei cooperator. Neuhaus, the former anti-war Lutheran minister had swung his politics to the hard -right and was on the road to converting to orthodox Catholicism.  Kristol, a non-religious Jew, nevertheless had lectured the Church on the supposed dangers of Vatican II.

Others preached have preached a Catholic variety of neo-conservatism as well, such as Michael Novak and Robert P. George, who as a group gained the ear of president George W. Bush. And into that ear they spokes of religious justifications for the invasion of Iraq, laissez-faire economics and the onerous restriction of funding for embryonic stem cell research.

But the poor execution of the Iraq War and the proof of the failure of self correction markets that emerged from the  2008 economic crisis, neo-conservatism finds itself on the ropes. Consequently, it is now a far less effective vehicle for the peculiar mix of religious and economic philosophies that comprise movement Catholic conservatism.

It is therefore no surprise that the Tea Party movement offers a potentially energetic alternative.

Among those leading the transition is long-time movement conservative activist Deal Hudson, who enjoys access to the highest levels of the Republican Party, having been charged with “Catholic outreach” first with the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and then-Senator John McCain. (It was during the 2004 Bush campaign when the story of Hudson’s sexual harassment scandal surfaced, forcing him to resign).  Hudson is also close to many stalwarts of the Catholic Right, including Catholic League president Bill Donohue who described Hudson as “the ultimate networker.”

Thus it is no surprise that Hudson has networked his way into Tea Partyism, going so far as to declare, at annual the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention:   “It’s time for a Catholic Tea Party.”

Catholic News Service reported, “Hudson’s remarks were made in the context of a campaign to “reform the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD)” that he is helping lead. The CCHD, which is under jurisdiction of the U.S. bishops, has recently come under fire for its alleged connections with a network of community organizations that have promoted abortion and the homosexual agenda.”

But CCHD’s mission has always been a  target for conservatives. Created in 1969 during the hey-day of Vatican II, its focus reflects a liberal economic efforts to empower the poor. The project’s mission statement, stating the desire “to address the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled, self-help organizations and through transformative education” while citing “modern Catholic social teaching” (read that as Distributive Justice) in and of itself reveals why it would be an anathema to the stridently libertarian Tea Partiers. Thus, Hudson’s appeal was actually part of a repackaged but ongoing assault on Church cooperation with progressive community groups such as ACORN.

Apparently Hudson’s tactics have paid-off.  The National Catholic Reporter recently reported that ten dioceses ceased contributing to the CCHD.

Hudson’s Tea Party raid on the CCHD should be noted for twomain reasons. First and foremost, it is proof positive the Religious Right – particularly the Catholic Right – is not a defeated movement – far from it. Instead, it is coalescing and recasting itself, probing for issues where it can win individual victories that in turn can be transformed into momentum.  Secondly, it provides us with evidence that for the leadership of the Catholic Right (and presumably the greater Religious Right movement) that its primary goal is the economic transformation of society as opposed to a spiritual one.

We need to remember that while there are significant philosophical differences between the empire-seeking neocons and the more nativist and isolationist paleo-con Tea Partiers, they both believe in laissez-faire capitalism; one flavored with a heavy dose of neo-platonic notion of knowing one’s place in society.

Thus it has been a no-brainer for much of the Catholic Right to go with this now more vibrant movement. And as I will discuss in the upcoming related posts, the only thing they fear more than a society devoid of orthodox faith is, ironically, one that embraces an actual Catholic approach to economics.

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7 Responses

  1. Thank you for this brilliant analysis, Frank.

    You say, “Secondly, it provides us with evidence that for the leadership of the Catholic Right (and presumably the greater Religious Right movement) that its primary goal is the economic transformation of society as opposed to a spiritual one.”

    I think this is absolutely correct. The other debates that the Catholic right wants to stir up–e.g., about abortion, women’s rights, and homosexuality–are secondary to the real, primary agenda. That is to mute and thwart Catholic social teaching about economic justice whenever and wherever possible.

    • Thank you Bill.

      The next few posts will be wonkish. I’m going to discuss how the classical “casino” capitalism that the Tea Party Catholic Right advocates is is rather wacky once one understands it in all its glory. It is actually John Maynard Keynes’s version of capitalism that is far more in line with Catholic theology.

      • Wonk on, Frank. I’m loving it.

    • Since the Church universal, at least in its public pronouncements since Leo XIII, has by any measure been a strong advocate of a more “social” view of economic systems, does the Vatican not know of the Tea Party Catholic movement, or does it not care because it is in the end advancing the more important agenda items of abortion opposition, homophobia, etc.?

  2. Brilliant overview of neoconservative Catholicism and analysis of current rightwing US Catholicism. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.

    • Thank you Betty. Coming from you that is high praise indeed.

  3. […] primary agenda. That is to mute and thwart Catholic social teaching about economic justice …Page 2 var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_localize = { Share: "Share", Save: "Save", Subscribe: […]

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