Some conservative Catholics have blamed Pope Francis for sowing division among the members of the Body of Christ. But the charge is more properly lodged against one of the heroes of conservative Catholicism: the late Richard John Neuhaus.
It was Neuhaus, after all, who advanced the view that conservative Roman Catholics have more in common with orthodox Jews and Evangelical Protestants than they do with progressive members of their own religious communities. In fact, that view was an operational premise of First Things magazine under his leadership. This approach is based on a thoroughly distorted view of religious realities and commitments.
It is not unlike the charge often labeled at religious conservatives across the board -- they are nothing more than loud Tea Party types whose incessant rant of "no" impedes progress and unity. So you can pretty much guess that the author then accuses Neuhaus of being barely religious and mostly political -- a ridiculous assertion for anyone who knew him or has actually read any of the many things he wrote!
Ultimately, Neuhaus’s focus was on nurturing these commonalities in the American political context—he was building a political movement. For a variety of partially overlapping reasons, conservative Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, and orthodox Jews were inclined to vote Republican in political elections. Along with George Weigel and Robert George, Neuhaus coached Republican politicians in Catholic-speak to win national elections.
Again, it is a charge often applied to the religious conservatives all over the place. They are not really religious or spiritual at all but merely curmudgeonly naysayers who want a political revolution more than anything else. I would certainly not deny that there are folks like this but the great majority of those who raise questions about the liberal drift of their church bodies and the emptiness of a Scripture whose truth cannot be ascertained are legitimately complaining about the wholesale hijacking of their churches by those who do not believe in objective truth, morality, or values. Against this vacuous character of the modern public square Neuhaus certainly did rally the troops to take back their churches and to enter the political debate anew.
I am extremely tired of those who try to paint every conservative theological position as one born of fear, with a desire to stifle learning and progress, and to repristinate some long lost glimpse of time. The vast majority of us do not want to raise up a particular moment to return to (not in the 1950s or 1550s) but we do take seriously the call to pass on faithfully the sacred deposit once delivered to the saints within our own generation, lest the confidence of faith be replaced with an unrealistic hope built largely upon the myth of human progress.
Pope Francis isn’t trying to drive conservative Catholics out of the church. But he has decisively put a stop to their efforts to eject everyone else.
Ah, now we come to the final condemnation -- pursuing doctrinal certainty and moral conviction is a smokescreen for kicking people out of their church. Yup, you got it. That was the agenda all along. We who agitate for truth only use this as a guise for eliminating folks we don't like. Except that the most intolerant voices in the church and in the public square come from those who claim diversity and toleration! Indeed, the only true unity worth having is a positive unity built upon truth and conviction -- the truth of God's Word, the conviction of creed and confession, and the resonant morality that flows naturally from them. Anything else is a sham like those who claim that open minds and questioning hearts are the keys to authenticity in church and state. Oh, well, rant off and now I can go back to working to boot out of the country and the church all those who disagree with me! Ha!