Kennedy to Kerry: Catholic Candidates in Strikingly Different Times
When Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts ran for president in 1960, he faced a barrage of questions from a predominantly Protestant public, like, "How do we know you can separate your Catholic beliefs from your political responsibilities?" Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, on the other hand, who is seeking the White House in 2004, is being asked by the media about his annulment, his reception of Communion at non-Catholic churches and, most important, about the difference between his views and the views of the U.S. Catholic bishops on abortion.
As only the second Catholic major-party candidate for president in history, Kennedy faced, before the Second Vatican Council, a voting public in need of reassurance that the pope was not going to be running the American government. Kerry, on the other hand, is being asked to explain why he does not pay more attention to the church in the way he votesspecifically regarding his support of legislation to keep abortion legal.
In 1960, the Southern Baptist Convention unanimously passed a resolution voicing doubts that Kennedy or any Catholic should be president. Kennedy tackled the Catholic issue in a televised speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960. He said that Communism, poverty, education and the space race were far more critical election issues, but that they had been obscured by debate about his Catholicism. He described his belief in an America where the separation of church and state is absolutewhere no Catholic prelate would tell the president [if he were Catholic] how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.
A new Catholic issue exploded in 1984 involving two New York Democrats, Representative Geraldine Ferraro and Gov. Mario Cuomo. From the first day of her campaign for vice president, Ferraro was challenged about how she could be a good Catholic and vote as she did in support of legal abortion. Cuomo and New York’s Archbishop John J. O’Connor, later named a cardinal, publicly sparred over the governor’s support of state funding for abortions for the poor and over his explanations for why he thought that was not a conflict for a Catholic.
A widely reported speech by Cuomo that year at the University of Notre Dame provided the basis for other Catholic politicians since then, who have described themselves as pro-choice and distinguish their personal acceptance of church teaching from their public role as legislators. With some variations in phrasing, they say, I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t believe I should legislate my beliefs, when abortion is legal in this country. In 1990 Cardinal O’Connor said such justifications from Catholic politicians puts them at risk of excommunication by treating church teaching on abortion with contempt.
More recently, shortly before being named head of the Archdiocese of St. Louis last December, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke told priests in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., his former home, to refuse Communion to local Catholic politicians who are not in line with church teaching against abortion and euthanasia. Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M., of Boston said last summer that Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should stop receiving Communion of their own volition, though he also said the church does not deny the sacrament to people who approach the altar, presuming that they do so in good faith.
Two Vatican documents issued in 2003 said Catholic politicians have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that violates church teaching on the right to life or same-sex marriage. Last fall, the U.S. bishops’ administrative committee created a task force to draft a set of guidelines for how the bishops should handle relationships with Catholics whose actions in public life are not in accord with church teaching. Its report is not expected until after this year’s elections. In the meantime, with John Kerry poised to become the first Catholic nominee for president in two generations, some pro-life groups already are pressuring Archbishop O’Malley and other bishops to bar him from receiving Communion because he does not follow the church’s lead on abortion.
In his book A Call to Service, published in 2003, Kerry described himself as a believing, practicing Catholic. He and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, regularly attend Sunday Mass. He was divorced from his first wife in 1988 and later spoke publicly about applying for an annulment. His campaign staff has not responded to questions about whether the annulment was ever finalized, and Catholic dioceses do not release information on annulments.
In recent Senate votes, Kerry has opposed bills to ban partial-birth abortion and supported a resolution affirming that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided - positions contrary to those supported by the bishops. On other issues, Kerry’s positions more closely resemble the church’s lobbying stances.
Last year Senator Kerry echoed what Kennedy said four decades ago in response to a very different type of religion-based criticism. The Associated Press quoted Kerry in August responding to the Vatican document that called on lawmakers to oppose same-sex marriage. "I believe in the church, and I care about it enormously," Kerry said. "But I think that it’s important to not have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in America."
U.S. Bishops Question Vatican Officials
U.S. bishops visiting Vatican congregations shared general concerns, but also asked specific questions, including some about when U.S. seminaries would undergo a formal visitation and what would happen with proposed Mass translations.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services said the congregation that deals with seminaries indicated it could be possible to begin the formal review of U.S. seminaries in 2005. When the U.S. bishops adopted their charter for child protection in 2002, it included a commitment to collaborate in a visitation of each seminary, under Vatican oversight, that would focus on the quality of programs of human formation for celibate chastity.
As part of their ad limina visits on March 28-April 3, the bishops from the military archdiocese and from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina met on March 31 with Archbishop J. Michael Miller, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminary education. The two main topics of the meeting were Catholic colleges and universities, asking, are they clearly Catholic, and the U.S. seminary visitation, Archbishop O’Brien said.
The handling of cases of sexual abuse by clerics, which are reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was only one of the topics covered during the bishops’ meeting on March 31 with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of that congregation. Bishop John J. Nevins of Venice, Fla., said there was a general overview of how cases are being handled, but mainly a focus on encouraging us to follow through on the charter and to always be true, honest and fair to the victims and to the accused priests. Vatican officials, he said, know we have gone through a real difficult time and we are doing our best.
Archbishop O’Brien said each of the issues discussed with the doctrinal congregation could have taken up the whole hour. In addition to the discussion of sexual abuse cases, Cardinal Ratzinger asked about the public reception of his office’s 2003 doctrinal note on the duty of Catholic politicians to follow church teaching on moral issues when they vote.
The cardinal was pleased to know that a committee of U.S. bishops is working on guidelines for relations with Catholic politicians in the United States, Archbishop O’Brien said, but there was no discussion of specific actions taken against individual politicians by individual bishops.
The bishops met on April 1 with Cardinal Francis Arinze and other officials of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. Archbishop O’Brien said the congregation confirmed a late-April date for publication of a document on liturgical abuses, although he said the congregation had a much more positive approach, presenting it as a document on the proper celebration of the liturgy.
With Cardinal Arinze, he said, some bishops voiced concerns about the draft translation of the Order of the Mass, which the International Commission on English in the Liturgy began circulating for bishops’ comments in February. Some bishops felt the proposed translation of the main prayers used at Mass relied on jargon which will not be understood by most people, Archbishop O’Brien said.
He said Cardinal Arinze encouraged the bishops to express their concerns and offer their suggestions to ICEL so the commission could produce a text acceptable to most countries. The cardinal said the congregation would not impose a text, although it also would offer suggestions to ICEL, Archbishop O’Brien said.
Pope John Paul II expressed his confidence in the U.S. bishops’ handling of the sexual abuse crisis, saying their willingness to address past mistakes and failures would ultimately make the church a more credible witness of the Gospel. At the same time, the pope said the problems generated by the crisis should not silence the bishops’ prophetic voice in a society marked by materialism and a diminished sense of the sacred.
The new U.S. Unborn Victims of Violence Act is a juridically and ethically important law that finally recognizes the fact that a fetus is a human being, said Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
A growing, subtle form of religious discrimination can be seen in attempts to exclude anyone from speaking out on social issues from the perspective of their faith, a Vatican diplomat told a U.N. agency. While respecting a healthy sense of the state’s secular nature, the positive role of believers in public life should be recognized, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.