Trigesimo Anno: Continuing Crisis

In its thirtieth year, Crisis could rest on its laurels. Across three decades it has been a leading participant in thoughtful Catholic engagement on the subjects of politics, business, culture, faith, and family life.

In its thirtieth year, Crisis could rest on its laurels.  Across three decades it has been a leading participant in thoughtful Catholic engagement on the subjects of politics, business, culture, faith, and family life.

The pages of Crisis over the years witness to authors and editors who viewed Catholicism as a way of living out life in all its fullness, not just as a “religion”—at least not a “religion” as many ideologues wish to define it: that is, something in an individual’s head; something perhaps with some truth, but something to be contained and kept as a private matter.

Catholics have always vexed powers and potentates by their refusal to throw up walls of separation between the part of their heart that prays and the part that protects and feeds, between the part of the mind that ponders the stars and the part that contemplates the heavens. The hearth and the altar, the market and the monastery, the lecture hall and the chapel are all linked for a Catholic—distinct scenes of action, perhaps, but all united within one play.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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In November of 1982 Michael Novak and Ralph McInerny founded Catholicism in Crisis: A Journal of Lay Catholic Opinion, which quickly became one of the leading voices—often the only voice—in support of Catholic laymen and their essential role in the marketplace, the public square, and the domestic realm.

Novak, under the pseudonymn of “Acton” and McInerny under the nom de plum of “Ralph McInerny” set down their thoughts about “the crisis” of their age.  For Acton the crisis had many levels and manifestations.  There was Communism, “a worldwide” crisis “far more formidable in military and police power than the juggernaut build by Adolph Hitler.”  There was the literary and academic crisis in which debate was “reduced to shooting slogans at one another along partisan lines.”   There was the penetration of the clergy by a commitment to materialist ideology (most egregiously for Acton, liberation theology and its cousins).

Most of all Acton felt that the crisis was a crisis of birth—the birth of the new Catholic laity.  The epicenter of this crisis for Catholic laity, Acton argued, was that “clerical power—not only in the bishops and in their administrative staffs—[had] become overweening”  and interfered with the laity taking up their distinct role.  In Novak’s view this clericalism would lead to an erosion of episcopal authority and a diminishment of the very teachings about of faith and holiness that the bishops were to foster and guard.

McInerny argued along similar lines, expressing his central concern that after the Second Vatican Council the laity were plowing into deep liturgical waters previously reserved for the priesthood, while the clergy literally took up the mantle (or neckties and suits) of the laymen and spoke on every aspect of the temporal order—whether or not they had any expertise in the matters.  The result was chaos—the crisis.  It was a crisis of roles, of confidence, of secularism and clericalism not abolished but cross-fertilized and each more destructive in their assaults against society and the Church.

Catholicism in Crisis, McInerny argued, had as its mission to “provide evidence of the special knowledge and authority of lay people in a wide range of areas.”  The journal was not meant to be dominated by an ideological position—McInerny recognized the variety of views that could be generated and the complexity of decisions when action was required:

Intelligent Catholics differ on the many issues that press upon us now, and in these pages they will do so with civility and charity. There is seldom a single Catholic solution to vexed issues.

That statement will remain a cornerstone of the new Crisis moving forward.  The current editorial staff affirms the initial intent to provoke a conversation which rises in charity above partisanship and seeks to rejoice whenever and wherever the truth is discovered.  And as so often in the temporal realm it is hard to determine the success of a prudential policy, the staff of Crisis wish to emphasize the extra-ordinary care, civility, and openness that readers and writers must cultivate if the temporal realm is to be anything other than a hellish muddle in which spiritual allies slit one another’s throats over some prudential shibboleth.

In 2007, Crisis made a dramatic shift and became, solely, an online magazine.  Under its determined leadership, it succeeded at responding to the call to evangelize and carry the conversations about Catholicism into the new media.  That strategy shall be upheld and expanded, while at the same time the editors will consider in what manner the old medium of print can be revived.

In early 2012, Crisis magazine was acquired by Sophia Institute—one of the great Catholic publishing houses in America.  Sophia Institute serves as the publishing division of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, New Hampshire), and Holy Spirit College (Atlanta, Georgia).  Both colleges are recognized for their liberal arts education and fidelity to the Church.    Together, these institutions are committed to promoting a journal of lay Catholicism for the benefit of the Church and our society.

What of today?  Has the crisis changed?  After all, when Acton and McInerny drew inky weapons against the glowering sky, John Paul II was only in the fourth year of his pontificate, Joseph Ratzinger was completing his first year as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, and “the role of the laity” more often meant something about lay preaching or liturgical dancing than constructing a renewed social order.

Today, there is a new crisis, spawned by the older—a crisis of rupture. Throughout the culture—and even in some parts of the Church—we see growing separation from our heritage and guiding principles.  The crisis whirls around the Catholic laity’s difficulty in standing by Catholic tradition and letting it animate ideas and action in the temporal order.  The clerical-secular discombobulation of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s nearly shattered our ability to draw upon the wisdom and experience of the past.  The age upon us now combines a virulent hostility towards tradition and faith.  Rupture, the eldest child of the secular-clerical liaison, marks the new age.  Both as cardinal and as pontiff, Benedict XVI has described the mentality of this crisis as a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and called for the faithful to challenge this with a “hermeneutic of continuity.”  The Holy Father’s recent discourse on Catholicism and the public square to American bishops places the severity of issue squarely before us:

It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres…

 Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.

We can practically build a mission statement around this speech: Crisis magazine will foster a conversation so as to form “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.

Each day, Crisis will remind countless Catholics of their heritage, give them the confidence to defend the common good, a just society, the teachings the Church, the family, the dignity of work and the sanctity of life.  Our authors hope to help the new laity (and clerical readers) form both their intellect and their spirituality in a scholarly, but accessible, way.

Crisis will analyze, discuss, and propose—from a variety of prudential positions— sane solutions to social and economic problems. We hope not merely to arm our readers with the arguments necessary for navigating the ideological (and theological) minefields of the day, but to do so by proceeding into the temporal order with charity and humility.  As Novak and McInerny stated there is seldom a single Catholic solution to the challenges that beset us.

We hope that the new staff will display all the doggedness and the fidelity of the original editorial architects and contributors.  Our Catholic Faith and our society demand no less.
William Edmund Fahey, Ph.D.
Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
& Sophia Institute

Crisis Magazine



  • William Edmund Fahey

    Dr. Fahey is president and fellow of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hamphsire.

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