Posts with the tag: Richard John Neuhaus

The Archivist’s Nook: The Pope’s Bombshell

Mary Ann Glendon tends to inspire contradictions.

The Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University and a former United States Ambassador to the Holy See, Glendon has been labelled a modest “water-and-soap type” at one extreme and “the Pope’s bombshell” at the other (see Notes 1 and 2).

Much of the confusion about Glendon stems from the fact that she doesn’t blend in with her surroundings—either as a pro-lifer at Harvard or as a woman in the male-dominated circles of the legal profession and the Catholic Church.

Mary Ann Glendon (seated at lower right), the only woman on the Board of Editors of the University of Chicago Law Review (1960-1961).

Twice she has been the very first woman in her role; in 1968, she became the first woman to serve on the faculty of Boston College Law School, and in 1995, the first woman to head a papal delegation (3). On the latter occasion, The Irish Times reported:

The slight, blond 56 year old Harvard Law professor does not match any stereotypes. With a background in civil rights in Mississippi and an interest in new economic approaches to the third world, she is a feminist and she is a radical, but she is not a radical feminist” (4).

Ironically, the one label that faithfully describes Glendon is the very thing that makes her so “iconoclastic” (5). She is first and foremost a devout Catholic.

Nowhere is Glendon more of a misfit than in American politics; she routinely self-identifies as politically “homeless” (6). As a champion of Catholic social teaching, her views often straddle progressive and conservative party platforms—rendering her inscrutable to many Americans accustomed to thinking in binary.

Leading the Holy See’s delegation to Beijing for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in September of 1995 was a turning point for Glendon—not to mention a historic moment for the Catholic Church. That September in Beijing marked both the first time a woman had been appointed to represent the Vatican and the first time a Holy See delegation had been composed of a majority of women (14 out of 22 members).

Clockwise from right: Mary Ann Glendon with Pope John Paul II (1997); with Pope Benedict XVI (ca. 2006); with Pope Francis (ca. 2016); and with her husband Edward Lev, First Lady Laura Bush, and President George W. Bush (2005).

For Glendon, Beijing was at once the culmination of her pro-life activism (rooted in Catholic social teaching and comparative law scholarship) and the springboard for her subsequent papal and presidential appointments. During the George W. Bush administration, Glendon was asked to serve on the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics (2001-2004) and was later appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See (2008-2009). Meanwhile, in 2004, Glendon was appointed President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS)—becoming only the second woman ever to occupy such a high-ranking post in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy (7).

Beijing raised Glendon’s profile beyond Boston in dramatic fashion. Journalists reporting on the 1995 Women’s Conference relish her emergence as a foil for another prominent blonde American woman: then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who made a cameo appearance at the Conference.

Mary Ann Glendon juxtaposed with then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (1995).

Other journalists take it upon themselves to reconcile Glendon’s appearance with her anomalous backstory. A front page article in Catholic Exponent attempts to scuff up the popular, whitewashed portrait of Glendon—one that leaps to conclusions based on her blonde hair and her ivy league office—by divulging some of the messy details of her personal life:

“She knows problems of single and working mothers first hand. After a civil marriage in the 1960s ended in divorce when her daughter Elizabeth was 2, she was a single mother for three years before she married attorney Edward R. Lev, who is Jewish, in a Catholic ceremony in 1970. They had a daughter, Katherine, in 1971, and adopted another daughter, Sarah, a Korean orphan, in 1973” (8).

Complicating Glendon in this way preemptively dispels the holier-than-thou air of which she has sometimes been accused by those to whom she comes across as prim.

The Catholic University Archives holds a number of collections related to women’s organizations and famous figures like Mother Teresa, but markedly few that document the careers of individual Catholic laywomen. The Mary Ann Glendon Papers fill that gap—providing valuable insight into the Boston Catholic intellectual milieu; American politics; the development of neoconservative Catholic thought; the Church’s position on so-called women’s issues; and the life of a contemporary.

To learn more about the Mary Ann Glendon Papers, please see the newly-created Finding Aid.

Mary Ann Glendon and the neoconservative Catholic thinker Father Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) at the 1992 Erasmus Lecture. The CUA Archives holds The Richard John Neuhaus Papers; follow the link to his finding aid for more information.


  1. Cesare De Carlo, “Mary Ann la tradizionalista sfida Hillary la liberal,” il Resto del Carlino (Bologna, Italy), September 4, 1995.
  2. Paul Sheehan, “Pope’s bombshell,” The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia), June 1-2, 2002; and Paul Gray, “The Pope’s Bombshell,” discovery (Melbourne, Australia), June 27, 2002.
  3. “Mary Ann Glendon Named 1st Woman Professor at BC,” The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA), May 6, 1968.
  4. Lorna Siggins, “Straight talker on the Vatican team looks to “third millennium feminism,”” The Irish Times (Dublin, Ireland), September 9, 1995.
  5. James Loeffler, “How Mike Pompeo’s Professors Hijacked a Scholarly Debate: Human rights and the academic right,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 31, 2019.
  6.  Dick Lehr, “Writing her own party line: Recruited by the Vatican, rebuffed by Bush, the Harvard Law prof defies definition,” The Boston Globe, December 11, 1996.
  7. The first predated Glendon’s appointment by less than a year: Letizia Pani Ermini, President of the Pontifical Academy of Archaeology.
  8. Cindy Wooden, “Harvard prof heads Vatican delegation to Beijing,” Catholic Exponent (Youngstown, Ohio), September 8th, 1995.

The Archivist’s Nook: To Agreeably Disagree – Two Priests in Modern Public Life

Monsignor George G. Higgins (1916-2002) and Father Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) were two public priests whose views differed on a variety of often controversial issues, but the two remained cordial friends for more than 20 years.

In 1986, Monsignor George Higgins wrote to his friend, Richard John Neuhaus, that it “would appear that we will simply have to agree to disagree agreeably about your report on the Synod,”¹ referring to their differing views of the 1985 Synod assessing Vatican II reforms. Theologian David Bentley Hart noted in 2006 that Neuhaus was “opinionated (definitely), but not at all spiteful or resentful towards those who disagree with him.”² Both priests were very active in public life, both held strong opinions about politics and religion, and neither stopped communicating with each other despite their differing views on the major issues of the day. Our new American Catholic History Classroom website explores the relationship between the two priests in the context of the times in which they lived.

Higgins was the older of the two men, born in 1916 in Chicago, and educated for the priesthood from his teenage years. He graduated from and eventually came to teach economics at The Catholic University of America, while serving as director of the Social Action Department, and later as Secretary for Research then Secretary for Special Concerns for what is today called the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Known as a “labor priest,” Higgins is most notable for his work representing the Bishops’ Conference on matters related to organized labor and interfaith relations. His work with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America, as well as his work as a labor mediator in a variety of other labor-employer disputes is well known, and you can read more about those activities here on our website on Higgins, the Bishops, and the United Farm Workers of America.

George Higgins (seated in front, middle) receives the Medal of Freedom at a President Clinton White House Ceremony in 2000.

Neuhaus, born in 1936, spent many of his years as a young Lutheran pastor working in anti-war and pro-civil rights work before embracing more conservative religious views in the late 1970s, when he became increasingly critical of what he saw as mainline Protestant Christianity’s accommodation to American secular liberal politics. After the publication of his book The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America in 1984, Neuhaus became an increasingly influential conservative thinker on matters related to the intersection of religion and politics. By 1990, he decided to convert to Catholicism, and in 1991 he was ordained a priest. Increasingly associated with the conservative thought of his friends George Weigel and Michael Novak, Neuhaus was sought after by nationally prominent political conservatives by the late 1990s, advising individuals such as George W. Bush on how to address matters such as abortion and military engagement from a religious perspective.

Richard Neuhaus confers with President George W. Bush at the Oval Office during the Bush Presidency, with Mary Ann Glendon and George Weigel present.

Higgins and Neuhaus disagreed on the meanings of a variety of Catholic teachings related to the economy, politics, and labor unions.  They never stopped corresponding when both were alive, however, and their dialogue offers a window into how two different Catholic public figures viewed the same world during their time.          

View the finding aid to the George G. Higgins Papers.

View the finding aid to the Richard John Neuhaus Papers.

¹ George Higgins to Richard Neuhaus, April 26, 1986, Higgins Papers, American Catholic History Research center and University Archives, The Catholic University of America.

² David Bentley Hart, “Con Man,” The New Criterion, September 2006, retrieved 8/27/18: