Fr. Richard McBrien CNS photo/courtesy University of Notre Dame

In Fr. McBrien’s passing, the Church’s liberal standard bearer moves on

  • January 29, 2015

The ranks of the priest-columnists are not few, but we are one fewer with the death of Fr. Richard McBrien on Jan. 26. He had both great longevity — more than four decades of syndicated weekly columns, with his home at the National Catholic Reporter — and great influence. In the 1980s, he was the go-to source for Catholic stories. The chairman of the theology department at the University of Notre Dame, he appeared constantly in the leading American newspapers and on television, an influence that extended into Canada.

He put that influence relentlessly toward the great project of his life, which was to argue that Vatican II ushered in a radical new age in the life of the Church. His admirers argued plausibly that no one did more to shape how the North American media understood Vatican II. He was the great standard-bearer for liberal Catholicism, passionately advancing the idea that the Church should deal with the sexual revolution — the dominant cultural reality of our time — by accommodating her teaching to it. Few did more to make the “pelvic issues” central to the Church’s public profile in the 1980s and 1990s, for he never stopped writing about them.

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