Perhaps not coincidentally, the mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, was looking for ways to woo the “values voters” (many of them Catholic) who had just helped Bush win re-election, and prominent Democrats were calling for a friendlier attitude toward religion and a bigger tent on social issues…

If this era is now passing, and Catholic ideas are becoming more marginal to our politics, it’s partially because institutional Christianity is weaker over all than a generation ago, and partially because Catholicism’s leaders have done their part, and then some, to hasten that de-Christianization. Any church that presides over a huge cover-up of sex abuse can hardly complain when its worldview is regarded with suspicion. The present pope has too often been scapegoated for the sex abuse crisis, but America’s bishops have if anything gotten off too easily, and even now seem insufficiently chastened for their sins.

The recent turn away from Catholic ideas has also been furthered by a political class that never particularly cared for them in the first place. Even in a more unchurched America, a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies could have a great deal of mass appeal. But our elites seem mostly relieved to stop paying lip service to the Catholic synthesis: professional Republicans are more libertarian than their constituents, professional Democrats are more secular than their party’s rank-and-file, and professional centrists get their encyclicals from Michael Bloomberg rather than the Vatican.