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Father John, DC Evangelist
(Articles by Father McCloskey)
In a matter of
days, Father C. John McCloskey III will quietly perform rites in which two more
converts enter the Roman Catholic Church. This latest ceremony at Catholic
Information Center will not draw the attention of the Washington Post.
But that happened last year
when Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas entered the fold. Some of McCloskey’s earlier
converts also caused chatter inside the Beltway — columnist Robert Novak,
economist Lawrence Kudlow and former abortion activist Bernard Nathanson.
“All I am doing is what Catholic priests must do,” said McCloskey. “I’m sharing
the Gospel of Christ, offering people spiritual direction and, when they are
ready, bringing them into the church. ... It’s a matter of always proposing,
never imposing, never coercing and merely proclaiming that we have something to
offer to all Christians and to all people.
“Call it evangelism. Call it evangelization. It’s just what we’re supposed to
But words like “conversion” and “evangelism” draw attention when a priest’s
pulpit is located on K Street, only two blocks from the White House. The flock
that flows into the center’s 100-seat chapel for daily Mass includes scores of
lobbyists, politicians, journalists, activists and executives.
So it’s no surprise that McCloskey’s views have appeared in the Wall Street
Journal, the New York Times, USA Today and elsewhere. His feisty
defense of Catholic orthodoxy has landed him on broadcasts with Tim Russert,
Bill O’Reilly, Paula Zahn, Greta Van Susteren and others.
This is a classic case of location, location, location.
McCloskey feels right at home. The 49-year-old priest is a native of the
nation’s capital, has an Ivy League education and worked for Merrill Lynch and
Citibank on Wall Street before seeking the priesthood through the
often-controversial Opus Dei movement. He arrived at the Washington
center in 1998.
In addition to winning prominent converts, McCloskey has bluntly criticized the
American Catholic establishment’s powerful progressive wing, tossing out
quotations like this zinger: “A liberal Catholic is oxymoronic. The definition
of a person who disagrees with what the Catholic church is teaching is called a
Many disagree. Slate.com commentator Chris Suellentrop bluntly said that while
the urbane priest’s style appeals to many Washingtonians, ultimately he is
offering “an anti-intellectual approach. All members of the church take a leap
of faith, but McCloskey wants them to do it with their eyes closed and their
hands over their ears.”
It is also crucial that McCloskey openly embraces evangelism and the conversion
of adults from Judaism, Islam and other world religions. For many modern
Catholics this implies coercion, manipulation, mind control and, thus, a kind of
“proselytism” that preys on the weak. In recent discussions of overseas
missionary work many Catholics have suggested that they no longer see the need
to share the faith with others and invite them to become Christians.
The bottom line: Protestants do evangelism. Protestants try to convert others.
In the wake of Vatican II, Catholics have outgrown this kind of work.
“That’s pure trash. That’s a false ecumenism,” said McCloskey. “That’s simply
not Catholic teaching. The Catholic church makes exclusive truth claims about
itself and cannot deny them. It doesn’t deny that there are other forms of
religion. It doesn’t deny that these other forms of religion have some elements
of truth in them. ...
“But we are proclaiming Jesus Christ and where we believe he can be most fully
found and that’s the Catholic church. We cannot deny that.”
This issue will become even more controversial as America grows more diverse.
Meanwhile, the number of nominally Christian adults who have not been baptized
is rising. The children and grandchildren of what McCloskey calls the
“bourgeoisie Catholics” are poised to leave the church. Soon, their fading
ethnic ties will not be enough. Their love of old schools and sanctuaries will
not be enough.
“This country is turning into Europe,” he said. “People have gotten to the point
where they are saying, ‘Why bother even being baptized? We don’t believe any of
this stuff anymore.’ I am encountering more people that I need to baptize,
because their parent’s didn’t bother to do that, even though they were nominal
“In Europe that is normal and this is what is headed our way.”
at Palm Atlantic University and is a senior fellow for journalism at the Council
For Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes this weekly column for the
Scripps Howard News Service .