Religion & Liberty Online

Rev. Robert Sirico: What would Fr. Neuhaus think of ‘First Things’ now?

(Photo credit: Acton Institute)

First Things magazine has transformed radically from the days when Rev. Richard John Neuhaus established it as the foremost magazine of Christian engagement with the public square. Acton Institute President and Co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico discussed its devolution and the broader challenge of Catholic integralism on the Friday, May 15, edition of “The Federalist Radio Hour.”

Since Rev. Neuhaus’ death, the publication’s literary editor has called himself a “socialist Roman Catholic,” and its authors have erroneously described wealth as “an intrinsic evil.”

Podcast host Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, asked Rev. Sirico what his late friend, a convert to the Roman Catholic Church from Lutheranism, would think of what has become of the magazine he founded.

“I think Father Neuhaus would be agonizing over what’s happened to First Things,” Rev. Sirico responded.

“Catholicism is not sectarian,” he said. “You learn that in your first year in seminary, that the Church is a Church; it’s not a sect.”

That contrasts with the “bunker mentality” espoused by Catholic integralists:

We’re talking about a concept of the truth that is coercive. And it seems to me that truth of which the Church has spoken for 2,000 years … seeks to propose and not impose. And I think that’s got to be the method.

The resort to political coercion signals “a failure of confidence in the veracity and the persuasion of the idea,” Rev. Sirico said.

“I think the debate needs to be had,” Rev. Sirico said. “I’m waiting to have it.”

Rev. Sirico has twice debated First Things editor Rusty Reno, who once said wealth represents a spiritual danger that predisposes Christians to accept “gnosticism.” However, no one in the integralist camp has since expressed a desire to repeat Reno’s experience.

That portion of the conversation begins at approximately the 19-minute mark of the 44-minute interview.

Rev. Sirico also discusses what he thinks about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown orders (and their critics), his comments on Rep. Justin Amash’s short-lived flirtation with the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination, his opinion of The Young Pope and The Babylon Bee, whether a fusionist conservative perspective can return to prominence, and his favorite G.K. Chesterton quotation.

You can listen to the full program below:

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Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson (@therightswriter) is an Eastern Orthodox priest and served as Executive Editor of the Acton Institute (2016-2021), editing Religion & Liberty, the Powerblog, and its transatlantic website. He has extensively researched the Alt-Right. Previously, he worked for LifeSiteNews and, where he wrote three books including Party of Defeat (with David Horowitz, 2008). His work has appeared at, National Review, The American Spectator, The Guardian, Daily Caller, National Catholic Register, Spectator USA, FEE Online, RealClear Policy, The Blaze, The Stream, American Greatness, Aleteia, Providence Magazine, Charisma, Jewish World Review, Human Events, Intellectual Takeout,, Issues & Insights, The Conservative,, and The American Orthodox Institute. His personal websites are and His views are his own.