Much of the disastrous showing of Catholic politicians in relation to the dogma of the Church over the past several decades, received a huge boost from the unholy bargain the first Catholic presidential nominee made to become president, in a speech to Protestant ministers, examined in this article from Catholic World Report.
What is heartening is that some Catholic leaders at the time, spoke out against the bargain, but what is disheartening is that more have not, continuing to today.
“So, what did Kennedy say to the ministers a half-century ago in Houston?
“Part of it was pandering of the kind politicians running for office frequently indulge in. As a young congressman for the Boston district once represented in the US House of Representatives by his own grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, and also by legendary Boston mayor James Michael Curley, Kennedy was, in Maier’s words, “a stalwart supporter of the Church.”
“Now, to the Houston ministers he proudly cited his “declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools [what would be constitutional was left unsaid, but earlier he’d backed health services, transportation, and textbooks], and against any boycott of the public schools.” He also expressed support for “absolute” separation of church and state.
“None of this, however, was the heart of the speech. That distinction goes instead to the text’s powerful thrust toward privatizing religion. Father John Courtney Murray, SJ—the American theologian whose thinking about church-state relations, religious pluralism, and freedom of conscience was soon to be influential at Vatican Council II—called its position “idiocy.”
“Kennedy’s privatizing of religion operated on two levels: the macro level of politics and public life, and the private level of individual conscience. In both areas, the message was devastating.
“On the public-political level, the text employs the familiar rhetorical device of setting up straw-men in order to knock them down. “I believe,” Kennedy bravely affirmed, “in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source.” But what rational person believes in anything else?
“Far more dangerous, however, is Kennedy’s declaration of belief in an America “where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.” The unspoken but unmistakable subtext of this points to an America where religion has nothing to say to politics and politicians, and churches, docile and domesticated, keep their noses out of public life.
“As for conscience, Kennedy delivered this remarkable pledge: “Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject—I will make my decision…in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”
“Practically speaking, this reduces the criterion of right and wrong to national interest—a proposition that would have delighted Machiavelli. Still more, the appropriate instrument for determining where national interest lies is said to be the private judgment of a president, unhampered by objective moral principle, moral doctrine, or anything else.
“A few years later, commenting on Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, Father Murray said the idea that “I have a right to do what my conscience tells me to do, simply because my conscience tells me to do it” was a “perilous theory” that ended in “subjectivism,” and was not at all what the Council taught.
“And, many more years after that, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, justified her support for legal abortion and gay rights by appealing in a 2009 Newsweek interview to that perilous theory: “I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that is that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.”
“History records that JFK’s speech worked. Kennedy won the election, collecting 80 percent of the Catholic vote and becoming, in the words of Notre Dame historian Jay P. Dolan, a “symbol of success” for his coreligionists.
“The race to embrace positions like those that he enunciated in the 1960 Houston text was much sped up by the Supreme Court’s January 1973 abortion decision in Roe v. Wade. Soon the Democratic Party became the party of legal abortion, and Catholic Democrats scrambled to accommodate their views to the new regime of abortion rights.”