The Catholic University of America

 Todd Scribner Defense

Final Examination of Todd Scribner

For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

April 15, 2011 at 3:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125


The Neoconservative Catholic Thought of Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak and George Weigel as a Form of Public Catholicism during the Reagan Era, 1980-1988


William Dinges, Ph.D.

Disruption and disagreement within the American Catholic Church followed in the wake of Vatican II and the political and social upheavals of the 1960s.  In the following decades a diversity of opinions on a variety of political and religious questions found expression in the Church, leading to the emergence of different forms of public Catholicism. This study examines the state of public Catholicism in post Vatican II America by focusing on one group of Catholic intellectuals in particular: the neoconservative Catholics. 

Discussions about the neoconservative Catholics often focus on the level of policy, particularly in light of debates that raged over such issues as the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letters, the Soviet Union and communism more generally, and the political struggles taking place in parts of Latin America. While this is an important element in their thought, the neoconservative Catholics also provided a critique of the bishops and church leadership that extended beyond the purely political.  Their criticism of post-Vatican II American Catholicism is multilayered, with the political level being the most visible stratum for critique and discussion, albeit not the only one and perhaps not even the most important. A more fundamental disagreement was reflected in the neoconservative Catholic concern that large swaths of Catholic leadership had, during this period, embraced a flawed Catholic theology and, in particular, a deficient and misguided ecclesiology.  Understanding how their political and theological perspectives interconnect is a crucial, and often overlooked, approach to understanding their distinctive form of public Catholicism.  Throughout the dissertation we amplify and examine the dominant themes and motifs germane to neoconservative Catholic thought and analyze their relevance to American political thought and the American Catholic Church.