The Common Good

As John Carr, Catholic policy adviser, retires, Catholics worry who will replace him

Date: September 1, 2012

For the typical American Catholic, seeing Cardinal Tim Dolan, the country’s top bishop, give the closing prayer at the GOP convention was the big political event of the summer. But for Catholics who know how the church really operates in Washington, something far more significant went down last week: John Carr retired.

For the past quarter-century, Carr has been the most important policy adviser to the country’s Catholic bishops, their Karl Rove on everything from health care to clergy sex abuse. He describes himself as “a 62-year-old, white, round, church bureaucrat,” but Carr’s career is a road map for how Catholicism and politics have mixed in Washington for a generation.

“Whomever they choose is really important,” said Jim Wallis, founder of the progressive evangelical group Sojourners, “. . . whether that person will prioritize Catholic social teaching in a prophetic way and not a political way on the right or the left. Or if the new direction will be more politicized. John is so trustworthy, we’re all praying for who will replace him.”