I wonder how many ROFTers [readers of First Things] there are who, upon receiving a brand new issue in the mail, tear off the plastic, give a cursory glance to the table of contents, and then rush headlong to Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus' "The Public Square: A continuing survey of religion, culture and public life" in the back? -- Fr. Neuhaus has been "blogging" in such a manner for over a decade, and for me his keen humor and insightful commentary are the highlight of every issue.
Here, from the June issue, is Fr. Neuhaus' take on Senator Kerry's proclamation that his "freedom of conscience" -- i.e., freedom to promote abortion -- is rendered immune from criticism by an "oath privately between me and God [as] defined in the Catholic Church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II":
We had better tread lightly here [says Neuhaus]. We're dealing with the inner sanctum of the conscience. This is a man who apparently has taken a private oath under the tutelage of a pope of whom most of us have never heard. Rumor has it that members of the very secretive Society of Pius XXIII are taught to be so careful about not imposing their religion that, just to be safe, they do not impose it upon themselves. It has also been said that "Pius XXIII" is a pseudonym used by Father Robert Drinan, a Jesuit who has contrived a moral rationale widely employed by Catholic politicians inconvenienced by Catholic teaching. I have no idea whether such rumors are true, but I have a strong hunch that during the course of this campaign we may be learning a great deal about Catholicism that nobody knew before.
On a more serious note, Neuhaus' is very impressed with the report of the National Review Board (NRB): “A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States" seeing in it a welcome challenge to the Bishops to bring about genuine reform and renewal, restoring confidence in our priests and in the leadership of our bishops -- that is to say, if the USCCB doesn't "congratulate themselves on the public relations success of having commissioned an independant study, thank the NRB for its labors, and inter the report indirectly by referring it to a committee for further study or, more directly, by consigning it to the archives."
Here is the first part of his review of the NRB's report (and the response of the bishops): "The Catholic Reform" (First Things May 2003). Check out the June issue on the newstands for the second, and we'll be sure to expect more commentary on the bishop's assembly a month from now.
P.S. It seems that I am not the only one who has recently picked up Jacques Maritain's Peasant of the Garonne; browsing the FT archives from last year I came across this review by Neuhaus. Apparently Ralph McInerney's The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life had prompted him to pick up what he had at one time dismissed as "the reactionary ramblings of a disgruntled old man." ;-)