A Voice in the Relativistic Wilderness
Theologian and social critic Richard John Neuhaus gave us the phrase the naked public square, in a 1984 book of that name, to describe the secular ideal of civic discourse without the benefit of religious and moral insight. First as an inner-city Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, and more recently as a Catholic priest, Neuhaus has served as a rallying point for moral and theological conservatives from a variety of backgroundsCatholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Jewishto reintroduce religion into the cultural debates.
Toward that end, Neuhaus, now editor-in-chief ofFirst Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, here explains for Christians outside the Roman church the significance of John Paul II's recent writing on morality.
"You guys have a pope who sure knows how to pope." That is the admiring comment of a friend, a Southern Baptist who is surprised, and just a bit uneasy, about finding that he and John Paul II are on the same side in the great moral conflicts of our time.
My friend does not agree with Catholic teaching about the continuing office of Peter in the church, and he is not sure what to do with his childhood belief that the pope is Antichrist; but he will accept help from wherever he can get it, and, increasingly, he discovers he is getting it from this pope. The recent encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) is a case in point. The encyclical has provoked widespread and generally favorable comment from sources not usually sympathetic to Catholic moral teaching.
When it appeared in October, some newspapers blazoned that the pope is clamping down on sexual ethics. And it indeed turns out that he has not changed his mind on, for instance, fornication and adultery; but that is rather ...