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For the last fifty years, from the Second Vatican Council onward, it made sense to speak of an American Catholicism fully reconciled to liberal democracy. On the fringes there were still some noteworthy anti-liberal and radical Catholic periodicals and writers, but the mainstream was defined by the opposition between a “liberal Catholicism” and a “conservative Catholicism” that were broadly aligned with the Democratic party and the Republican party, respectively—even if the bishops and popes sometimes argued for a different synthesis: a political Catholicism beyond the existing American categories of left and right.

In partisan politics, the more liberal Catholicism found its most famous embodiments in figures such as Mario Cuomo and Joseph Biden, who attempted to sustain the easy, New Deal–era relationship between Catholics and the Democratic party while downplaying or effectively privatizing those elements of Catholic teaching—on abortion, above all—where the Democrats and the Church increasingly diverged.

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