After nearly 47 years of political observation, I am delighted that I "boycotted" JFK—even though I came from a tightly knit Catholic "ghetto." In 1960 there was an almost cosmic adoration of "Jack" which was sprawling across the Nation. He was an idol who drew a huge Catholic vote. However, these voters had no real way of knowing or assessing what his election would mean, not only to Catholicism in this country but also to the spiritual nerve of the Nation. By some kind of unconscious peasant instinct of mine, I voted against my whole family's political tradition. I, a Catholic, voted Republican.
I knew that Jack was a very bright, self assured, handsome, extremely rich young fellow who went to exclusive educational establishments. He played rough and tumble touch football at his family's "upper crustt" Cape Cod home. He sailed classy yachts off the Massachusetts coast. He was a World War II hero in the South Pacific and had (I thought) a beautiful wife. He was telegenic (which quality would eventually win him the Presidency) and was a polished public speaker.
My own little world in the tenement area of Manhattan's west side resounded with the battle cry: "He is Irish and Catholic. How can we not vote for him? We, the downtrodden, despised, undereducated, dumb Irish will be lifted up as a class—once Jack is elected—to great new levels. New respect. New opportunities. New horizons, We can stand very tall. We will have finally really made it. Don't think any further. Just vote for one of our own."
Still, I smelled some kind of "rat."
We had all heard of the Protestant fear that a Catholic President would trash the First Amendment, establish some kind of Romish state Church and probably have some kind of Vatican ammunition dump in the basement of the White House. There were lOmillion homes receiving anti-Catholic tracts in 1960. The nine-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, among others, launched big anti-Kennedy campaigns. Protestants were asked to stand up and be counted on Reformation Sunday, October 30,1960. It recalled for me the bitter, vitriolic anti-Catholic election year when Al Smith, an open and vigorous Catholic, was the Democratic candidate for President. In his case, his Catholicism played a significant but not exclusive part in his defeat to Herbert Hoover. Although I was seven years old, I learned very early about religious discrimination—which was not only anti-Semitic but viruulently anti-Catholic. Consequently, in spite of my discomfort with Jack, I did identify with him to some degree.
However, Colleen Carroll Campbell, a Fellow of the Ethics and Public Forum writes in the Catholic World Report (Feb. '07) that Kennedy was anything but a devout and vigorous Catholic like Smith. He had poor catechesis, gave "not a whit for theology", never mentioned any view of man's relationship with God. Cardinal Gushing openly acknowledged that Jack was never very religious. His own wife, Jackie Kennedy, claimed to be mystified by the religious controversy about her husband because she said "Jack is such a poor Catholic." Episcopalian Bishop Jim Pike saw Jack's position aas that of a "thorough going secularist who really believes that a man's religion and his decision -making can be kept in two watertight compartments..." Robert McAfee Brown saw JFK as "…a rather irregular Christian." Martin Marty, Lutheran theologian, saw him ..."as "spiritually rootless and, politically, almost disturbingly secular."
Although I did not know all this in 1960,1 did read his talk at Houston about Church-State Separation on September 12th of that year. Before an audience of several hundred Protestant clergy, he made his case for disavowing the influence of his Catholic Faith on his political choices. Basically, he said." I will make my decisions in accordance with what my conscience"1 tells me....and without regard to outside religious pressures....no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise..." Campbell writes that many Catholic Bishops feared JFK as President because of his hard line positions against Church policies.
JFK's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, claimed that the Jesuit priest, Fr. J.C. Murray was a consultant for the composition of the speech. But, Campbell claims that Murray disapproved of Jack's strident separationism since the Constitution does not call for a Public Square" stripped of all religious rhetoric. This stripping is what Fr. R.J. Neuhaus has called "the Naked Public Square." The Constitution does allow politicians and voters to engage in faith-based social activism and to defend their religiously derived principles...in that very Public Square. Yet, JFK made a pledge to "expunge" all traces of religious influence from his governing decisions.2 It was interesting to me that at a recent luncheon, a priest-friend, a respected and older Jesuit informed me with great confidence that Murray dictated that speech to JFK over the phone".
In any event, it was that speech that alarmed me and formed my resolve not to back Handsome Jack, but holding my nose, to vote for tricky Dick. It is only with hindsight that my visceral instinct or psychologist's nose makes sense. Kennedy was, de facto, more of a Deist than Catholic. Though he attended Mass regularly, his Catholicism was more cultural and familial than anything else. His thinking didn't reflect any involvement of God with His creatures. Jack's God kept His distance from them. They were on their own. Once He created them, they were "...masters of their fates and captains of their souls." Jack said: "Our problems are man-made—therefore they can be solved by man...."
Where does one see in his thinking any reference to the fallen world through Original sin3 or reliance on and trust in the power and grace so emphasized in Christian life views?
Those who have followed him, politically, have absorbed his separationism and hence have departed from the notion of public religion. When one studies the American beginnings, it is obvious that the Founding Fathers believed in the separation of any established (or particular) Church and the State. They did not believe in the separation of religion and state. This is a substantive and essential distinction. Yet, in modern thinking (read: JFK) religion, as such, should be kept out of sight. Perhaps, in the home. Or in the Church. Or in one's own soul. But not in Public discourse or decision making. Does not this ultimately lead to moral relativism? Such a possibility leads someone like me, a Jew, to become afraid.
We dread that relativism finally means Dachau! This terrorizes me and others like me because then it is consensus that matters, not eternal fixed truth.4 Yet, this practical relativism (or Kennedy logic) finds a congenial home in the modern American political world (and probably elsewhere). This is appalling to me. But it is even more appalling when it is mouthed by some alleged Catholic politicians. This is particularly appalling because the public debate often touches on core meanings of life, such as embryonic stem cell research, physician assisted suicide, abortion/partial birth abortion, same sex marriages—on the very value of life itself. At, least, the Catholic notion of life! To exclude religion from such debate is not only un-American but dumb.
Mario Cuomo, a brilliant speaker and thinker, in a series of tortured intellectual maneuvers set out (using the Kennedy relativistic thinking) to make a case for the Pro-choice9 Catholic politicians. New York's Cardinal, JJ O'Connor, himself extremely bright and political science literate, had bluntly stated that he did not believe a Catholic in good conscience could support legal abortion. His statement created a huge turbulence in the world of politics. Geraldine Ferraro, the defeated candidate for the Vice Presidency (a declared Catholic as well as a Pro Choice or Pro abortion supporter) was, in my opinion, furious with the then Archbishop who was doing nothing more than his basic job in pointing out the evil of complicity.
Cuomo stipulated in a startling speech at Notre Dame University, 24 years after Kennedy's Houston speech, that there are "no final truths". I, personally, became very disappointed in Cuomo— particularly with this statement. He had written in his Diaries how much he valued his soul—more than anything else. He wrote how much he admired St. Thomas More who stood against the government when it was against his Faith. More who was prepared to be decapitated rather than compromise his Catholic conscience. This was the More who said: "I love my King but I love my God even more..."
In my disappointment, I felt that Cuomo, instead of loyalty to God, used the Kennedy bifurcation to trumpet what to me was one of the more intellectually insulting stances of modern times. He argued that not only are Catholics not betraying their consciences by supporting abortion but they are, in accord with good American tradition, not imposing their view on anyone else6. This has a kind of "patriotic" tinge to it.7 This can be done, he said, in effect, by interiorly holding that abortion is intrinsically evil but exteriorly supporting those who wish legally to abort babies. This could apply similarly to the barbarism of partial birth abortion. In effect, there is ultimately no moral principle which can determine or effect what our political conduct should be.
Cuomo incorrectly used the Bernadin schema of "seamless garment" as background insisting that abortion is just a single issue among many and has "no preemptive significance". This would surprise our Pope who, in 2004, as Cardinal Ratzinger, clearly points out that abortion has greater moral weight than war and capital punishment in which there is much room for dialogue. With an abortion there is none. Further, Cuomo argues that Government should simply carry out the will of the people Therefore, if the will of the people is for abortion, it should be done. On consensus. The interior belief of the government leader is, in a sense, irrelevant.
However, I was deeply disappointed with my fallen hero when Mario, in effect, says that it is legitimate to try to influence or even impose in other issues except abortion. Some concept of "consensus." It becomes most confusing when I recall that Governor Cuomo used his power of Veto against a strong popular desire to re-instate the Death Penalty. His Veto was a function of his personal disagreement with the essence of capital punishment.
It seems to me that contradiction is woven into these positions. In 2004 John Kerry had a 100% voting score from the National Abortion Rights Action League which he defended based on his Catholic "conscience" defined, he says, by Pius XXIII (who never existed) and Paul VI in his Vatican Council. Paul did not convene the Council. John did. Following his poorly formed conscience is no way to be a "good" Catholic.
There are American Bishops who bravely point out, regardless of political pressures, that social leaders who knowingly depart from Church teaching pay a price. By scandalizing the Church-going Faithful in such a public way, they forfeit their right to receive the Eucharist. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, for example, incurred the wrath of liberal personalities, including some Catholic religious for such brazen statements. He has been called "ineffectual" in his position implying, apparently, that silence in the face of evil is a better course to follow. Yet the "tolerant" stance seems demographically to do nothing but reinforce the slide away from the practice of the Catholic faith. Can some of contemporary "lukewarm-ness" of certain Catholics be linked to this style?
Yet as inexplicable as is the bifurcation stance in laity, the twist in the minds of clergy is even more astounding. One of the worst appears to be the Jesuit ex-Congressman (D. Mass.) Robert Drinan. His fellow congressman, Robert Dornan, himself a spiritual/religious/political storm center, wrote "I fear for his immortal soul." Fr. Drinan was a strong advocate of abortion campaigns who approved of President Clinton's veto on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. We learn that Drinan appeared as a character witness for Clinton during the impeachment hearings, advised Pro-abortion John Kerry during the 2004 election year and turned a Mass in January, 2007 into anti American politics. He called the Amendment to ban Federal funds for abortion "uncharitable." Fortunately, he was forced to leave politics by the Pope himself. But, more sadly, how could this happen to a priest of God? Sexual molestations by priests are bad enough, even if done from weakness or psychological distortion. But Drinan was an intellectual and his plans were calculated and thought out. And much more evil in the long run. Again, is there some kind of linkage with the thought of John F. Kennedy?
The present Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is the ultimate (hyperbolically predictable) outcome. She is called by Dornan "....maybe the most dangerous leader in the long campaign by anti-Catholics within the Church who mislead Americans, get elected and advance the culture of death..."8 In a personal conversation with her in which Dornan urged her to follow the Church's teaching, she replied (with a laugh): "Oh, come on, Bob. What would you do if one of your daughters was raped by a black man?" Does Racism justify slaughter of little human fetuses? Nothing will deter her from being an accessory to every type of abortion according to public record. This year she promised: “I will continue to work to ensure a woman's right to choose..." This means her energy will be directed to death goals—as her leading the charge to kill the defenseless embryonic persons in ESCR. She makes the unscientific statement that "…this research has the biblical power to cure..." For fuller discussion on the falsity of this statement, the reader is referred to my lengthy article "The Catholic Church Supports Stem Cell Research.”
It is encouraging to read that her own Pastor in San Francisco, Fr. John Malloy SDB released an open letter to Nancy urging her to cease calling herself "Catholic" and refrain from receiving the Eucharist because he said "you are fooling yourself and many good Catholics..." Would that other Catholic leaders had his courage and Faith. The battle lines are drawn between life and death. I trust that John Kennedy was not fully responsible for what he set up. Perhaps in God's mercy his "ignorance" will be his salvation. Nevertheless, the consequences of his thought have been enormously negative for the Nation. In my own mind, I am content that I did not vote for him. Scripture does teach that we are to choose life. Not death. I am content to pray for Jack and Mario and Kerry and Nancy and Ted and Biden and Daschle and Fr Drinan and Leahy and other "Catholics" who refuse to follow their Church's Teaching (Read: the Lord's) and who opt rather to destroy.
St. Michael, Archangel, lead us in the Battle for Light and Truth and Life.
1 Catholic system, conscience must be informed by God's revelation and the teachings of Christ's church. Deciding for one's self means moral relativism—each man for himself. One might consult the writings of Pope John Paul II on conscience formation and the 1998 statement of US bishops on gospel of life.
2 Jack opposed federal aid to parochial schools and the appointment of an ambassador to the Vatican, positions he h ad previously held. Why did he reverse his positions?
3 Peggy Noonan reports that an agnostic friend of hers explains the existence of war (and presumably other manmade evils) by saying "...because there is something wrong within us." JFK didn't seem to understand this.
4 “Inalienable” in the Declaration of Independence means “from God". It can not be taken away by a majority vote.
5 Many commentators consider that the term pro-choice is a kind of “cop-out” or euphemism to avoid the blunt and more truthful term pro-abortion.
6 Do not all politicians and lobbyists try to influence others to their point of view? Is this imposing? Catholics use moral suasion, to try to alert others to the revealed will of the Lord. This is not imposition.
7 Supreme Court Judge John Noonan (Calif.) has, in the past, seriously questionned the validity of such janus-like, two headed, cognitive behavior as have many other serious thinkers.
8 Celebrate Life March-April 2007 (p.2)