Richard John Neuhaus

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Richard John Neuhaus (May 14, 1936 – January 8, 2009) was a prominent Christian cleric (first as a Lutheran pastor and later as a Roman Catholic priest) and writer. Born in Canada, Neuhaus moved to the United States where he became a naturalized United States citizen. He was the founder and editor of the monthly journal First Things and the author of several books, including The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984), The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987), and Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (2006). A staunch defender of the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on abortion and other life issues, he served as an unofficial adviser to President George W. Bush on bioethical issues.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Pembroke, Ontario in 1936, Neuhaus was one of eight children of a Lutheran minister and his wife. Although he had dropped out of high school at 16 to operate a gas station in Texas,[2] he returned to school. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he earned his BA and MDiv from Concordia Seminary. In 1960[3]

Lutheran minister[edit]

Neuhaus was ordained a Lutheran minister, later serving as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, a poor, predominantly black and Hispanic congregation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.[4] From the pulpit he addressed civil rights and social justice concerns and spoke against the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s he gained national prominence when, together with Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, he founded Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam.[5]

He was active in the Lutheran "Evangelical Catholic" movement and spent time at Saint Augustine's House, the Lutheran Benedictine monastery, in Oxford, Michigan. He was active in liberal politics until the ruling on Roe v. Wade (1973) by the US Supreme Court, which he opposed and his perspective changed. He became a member of the growing neoconservative movement and an outspoken advocate of "democratic capitalism". He also advocated faith-based policy initiatives by the federal government based upon Judeo-Christian values.[5] He is the originator of "Neuhaus's Law",[6] which states, "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed."[6]

Neuhaus helped to found the Institute on Religion and Democracy in 1981 and remained on its board until his death. He wrote its founding document, "Christianity and Democracy". In 1984, he established the Center for Religion and Society as part of the Rockford Institute, which also publishes Chronicles. He and the center were "forcibly evicted" from the Institute's eastern offices in New York City in 1989 under disputed circumstances.

In 1990, Neuhaus founded the Institute on Religion and Public Life and its journal, First Things. This is an ecumenical journal "whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society."[7]

Neuhaus had belonged to and was ordained in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.[8] He subsequently joined the American Lutheran Church,[citation needed] a predecessor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as the denomination had certain interior changes.

Reception and ordination as Roman Catholic priest[edit]

Neuhaus was received into the Roman Catholic Church on September 8, 1990.[9] A year after becoming a Roman Catholic, he was ordained by John Cardinal O'Connor as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He served as a commentator for the Catholic television network Eternal Word Television (EWTN) during the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

As a Catholic priest, Neuhaus continued to edit First Things. He was a sought-after public speaker and wrote several books, both scholarly and popular genres. He appeared in the film, The Human Experience (2010), which was released after his death. In addition, Neuhaus' voice is featured in the narration of the film and in the film's trailer.

Political significance[edit]

In later years, Neuhaus compared the pro-life struggle to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During the 2004 Presidential campaign, he was a leading advocate for denying communion to Catholic politicians who supported abortion and voted against the church's teaching on life issues. It was a mistake, he declared, to isolate abortion "from other issues of the sacredness of life."[10]

Neuhaus promoted ecumenical dialogue and social conservatism. Along with Charles Colson, he edited Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission (1995).[11] This ecumenical manifesto sparked much debate.

A close, yet unofficial, adviser of President George W. Bush, Neuhaus advised Bush on a range of religious and ethical matters, including abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, and the Federal Marriage Amendment.[12] In 2005, under the heading of "Bushism Made Catholic," Neuhaus was named one of the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America" by Time Magazine:[12]

"Bushism Made Catholic:" When Bush met with journalists from religious publications last year, the living authority he cited most often was not a fellow Evangelical but a man he calls Father Richard, who, he explained, "helps me articulate these [religious] things." A senior Administration official confirms that Neuhaus "does have a fair amount of under-the-radar influence" on such policies as abortion, stem-cell research, cloning and the defense-of-marriage amendment. -- Time Magazine, Feb. 5, 2005[12]

Fr. Neuhaus was criticized for his political engagement as "theoconservatism."[13][14] In contrast, theologian David Bentley Hart describes Neuhaus as

"a reflective, intelligent, self-possessed, generous, and principled man," "is opinionated (definitely), but not at all spiteful or resentful towards those who disagree with him; words like “absolutist” are vacuous abstractions when applied to him. His magazine publishes articles that argue (sometimes quite forcibly) views contrary to his own, and he seems quite pleased that it should do so."[15]

Neuhaus died from complications of cancer in New York City,[16] on January 8, 2009, aged 72.[17]





  1. ^ Dennis Sadowski, "Fr. Neuhaus, adviser to George Bush, dies aged 72.", The Catholic Herald, London, January 16, 2009, p.6
  2. ^ George Weigel: "An Honorable Christian Soldier", Newsweek, January 19, 2009
  3. ^ Sadowski, Fr. Neuhaus ...dies. Prior to ordination, Neuhaus served his vicarage at Pilgrim Lutheran, Chicago. In: The Catholic Herald 1-16-09, p. 6.
  4. ^ "Rev. R. J. Neuhaus, Political Theologian, Dies at 72", New York Times, January 8, 2009
  5. ^ a b Sadowski,Fr. Neuhaus ...dies, The Catholic Herald, 16 January 2009
  6. ^ a b First Things. "The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy", First Things, February 2009
  7. ^ "Mission Statement", First Things
  8. ^ Neuhaus, Richard John (2007), The Best of the Public Square 3, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-8028-2720-9 .
  9. ^ Neuhaus, Richard John (April 2002), "How I Became the Catholic I Was", First Things 
  10. ^ Sadowski (January 16, 2009), "Fr. Neuhaus ...dies", The Catholic Herald .
  11. ^ Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, Thomas Nelson, 1995, ISBN 0-8499-3860-0 .
  12. ^ a b c Time Magazine. The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America – Richard John Neuhaus 2005
  13. ^ Linker, Damon (2007). The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. New York: Anchor Books. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  14. ^ Wooldridge, Adrian (September 24, 2006). "Church as State". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  15. ^ Hart, David Bentley. "Con man". The New Criterion. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Richard John Neuhaus, 1936–2009.
  17. ^ "News of Fr. Neuhaus' death", First Things, January 2009.

Further reading[edit]

George, Robert P. (March 20, 2009). "He Threw It All Away". First Things. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 

External links[edit]