From ............... Associated Press

September 26, 1987


NEW YORK (AP) - These times are being called the "Catholic moment," not because of Pope John Paul II's roving the country, but because a maturing of U.S. Roman Catholicism has put it into a pivotal role.

Not only is the church of 53 million the country's largest, but through the past century's waves of immigration, Catholics have moved ahead of Protestants in educational and economic achievement, acquiring key social influence.

Suggesting "this is a 'Catholic moment" in the ongoing and never-to-be- completed evolution of the American experiment," Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford writes in a recent pastoral letter:

Catholicism's advance into that greater responsibility in shaping the nation's character also has been pointed up by various other cultural analysts, including Protestants.

In a forthcoming book, The Catholic Moment, being published by Harper &Row, a prominent Lutheran scholar, the Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, says:

While the American ethos once was "very Protestant," including past prejudice and hostility against Catholics, Neuhaus says those attitudes faded as a remodeled, rejuvenated Catholicism moved to the forefront.

Detailing statistics of it, priest-social researcher Andrew Greeley says the "transformation from immigrant to professional upper-middle class" has come mostly in the last 20 years - "an enormous transformation."

In that period, Catholics have "achieved economic and occupational superiority" over Protestants, he reports, and now are half-again more likely than Protestants to attend college and choose managerial-professional careers.

While only a generation ago, doubts were raised about the presidential candidacy of a Catholic, the late John F. Kennedy, numerous potential presidential contenders now are Catholics with no questioning of it.

Catholic bishops also have moved vigorously into the public arena, abandoning past hesitancies, holding hearings across the country on social issues, measuring them by church moral principles.

Archbishop Stafford says reinforcing the Nation's moral compass is essential to protect American democracy against threatening tendencies to degrade freedom into license and to set individualism against "the common good."

He says the time has come when Catholics, a large and "increasingly affluent, highly educated" group must no longer shun "leadership in helping to lay the moral-cultural foundations of our national life."

Neuhaus says that as old-line Protestantism gradually lost its prevalence in American culture as the denominational "main line," Catholicism has emerged as a central, coalescing force.

Stafford, in his unusual June teaching letter, makes similar points, saying mainline Protestantism seems to be losing the "profound influence" it exerted from colonial times to the mid-2Oth century.