The novelty is that, for some time now, the most inner circle of Bush’s collaborators has included a very authoritative Catholic priest. He is Fr. Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor, who converted to Catholicism in 1990 and was ordained a priest the following year by the archbishop of New York at the time, John Cardinal O’Connor.
Fr. Neuhaus is among the most respected theologians. Even better: he is both a theologian and a political analyst, a bit like Reinhold Niebuhr was for Protestant Americans during the mid-twentieth century. He directs “First Things,” the leading magazine for Catholic neoconservatives, whose regular writers include George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Avery Dulles, all three of whom are well-respected in the Vatican. Weigel is the author of a monumental biography of Karol Wojtyla, much appreciated by the pope himself. Novak studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and still teaches in the theological faculties of Rome; last year, Bush sent him to the Vatican to illustrate the theological justifications for his decision to go to war in Iraq. And Dulles, a Jesuit, was made a cardinal in 2001; he is also a convert, and comes from a family of the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) establishment: his father, John W. Foster Dulles, was secretary of state during the Eisenhower presidency, and his uncle, Allen W. Dulles, was head of the CIA.
During his interview for “Christianity Today,” Bush addresses only one of the eight panelists confidentially, and by name: Fr. Neuhaus. And he does this twice, to attest to his great respect for him.
On one occasion, Bush recalls being indebted to Fr. Neuhaus for everything regarding the battle over the valuing of marriage and the family, a central feature of his domestic policy.
And on another occasion he says of him: “I need Father Richard around more, he helps me articulate these things.” The “things” are the religious sense of his mission as president, and more particularly the nexus between his responsibility for the nation and the prayers that the citizens offer to God on his behalf.