I recently attended a meeting of the Philadelphia Society and found myself speaking with an elderly gentleman named John Howard, who is the head of the Howard Center and once was the president of the Rockford Institute. Somehow, we got on the topic of Richard John Neuhaus' passing and Dr. Howard mentioned with pride that he had once hired Neuhaus after watching him debate mainline liberals from the World Council of Churches on television.
As we spoke, it suddenly occurred to me that Dr. Howard was the man who fired Neuhaus from the Rockford Institute and locked him out of his office in New York two decades ago. So, I asked, "How did it come to be that you fired Richard John Neuhaus?" I probably sounded a little arch, but I was smiling and Dr. Howard seemed to be a very personally secure man. He didn't get angry.
Neither did Dr. Howard back off an inch. "Well, [Neuhaus] got too big for his britches." (This would have been the late 1980's.) I had to know what that meant, so he elaborated saying that Neuhaus had been given a specific budget for a given number of New York based conferences. The Institute decided it couldn't do all of the conferences and told Neuhaus not to hold two of them. He held the events anyway, thus causing budgetary distress to the institute. According to Dr. Howard, this was the reason Allan Carlson shut Neuhaus down in New York and locked the icon-to-be out of his own offices.
That day, Neuhaus called Dr. Howard to complain about being locked out. Howard informed Neuhaus he was locked out for holding the conferences he'd been asked to cut. Neuhaus (according to Howard) claimed it had merely been suggested he reduce the number of conferences. Howard, countered Neuhaus by saying he'd been in the room when Carlson had made the phone call ordering him not to hold the conferences.
Thus, we discover some explanation for why the Rockford Institute would have so suddenly ended their alliance with Neuhaus. In other accounts I've heard, the Rockford people's intervention always seemed completely mysterious.
We continued to speak pleasantly and it was clear Dr. Howard maintained his appreciation for the great Neuhaus.
The only thing wrong with the story is that it can now benefit from hindsight. Richard John Neuhaus never got too big for his britches. It only appeared to Dr. Howard that he did. If Neuhaus understood himself to be something special, then he understood correctly. He just got too big for his budget at Rockford back in 1989.