- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus traversed the entire political spectrum during his 40 years in public life, starting as a Lutheran pastor preaching fiery sermons against the Vietnam War and ending as de facto leader and inspirer of a generation of post-Vatican II Catholic conservatives.

That journey ended Thursday, as the 72-year-old priest and founder of the influential journal First Things died of complications from cancer shortly before 10 a.m.

“As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place,” First Things editor Joseph Bottum said. “The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.”

Father Neuhaus was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer in November. He was hospitalized with an infection over the Christmas holidays and deteriorated rapidly this week. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening and received last rites early Wednesday.

Tributes poured in Thursday, from pro-life and religious activists, from Capitol Hill and the White House.

“Father Neuhaus was an inspirational leader, admired theologian, and accomplished author who devoted his life to the service of the Almighty and to the betterment of our world. He was also a dear friend, and I have treasured his wise counsel and guidance,” President Bush said.

The funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in New York City. A vigil wake will be held at the same site at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Father Neuhaus was born one of eight children in Pembroke, Ontario, to a Lutheran minister and initially followed in his father’s footsteps - graduating from Concordia Theological Seminary and becoming a Lutheran minister.

He began political life as a liberal. An associate of Martin Luther King, he backed Eugene McCarthy for president at the 1968 Democratic convention and led, along with actor Paul Newman, a tumultuous Chicago news conference backing the minority plank against the Vietnam War.

But starting with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that declared abortion a constitutional right and running through President Carter’s 1979 White House Conference on the Family, Father Neuhaus began moving to the right and became a supporter of Ronald Reagan.

He converted to Catholicism in 1990, was ordained a priest by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York a year later and became one of the leading figures - along with Michael Novak and George Weigel - in advancing a type of neoconservatism among Roman Catholics.

In a 1991 interview, he explained that ecumenical dialogue in previous decades meant that “the original intentions of Lutheranism - to be a reforming movement within the Catholic Church - can now be advanced in full communion with Rome.”

“I believe there is no longer any justification for a separated Lutheran Church,” Father Neuhaus said then, though he acknowledged that most Lutherans “are happy to be just another Protestant church.”

By the 2000s, the Catholic TV network EWTN was using him as a commentator in Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

“When I was an undergraduate beginning to discover Christianity as an adult, there was Richard John Neuhaus, presenting a Catholicism that I found witty and intellectually engaging,” said Rod Dreher, a religion columnist at Beliefnet and former reporter for The Washington Times.

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