The National Catholic Review
From CNS, Staff and other sources
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 decidedpositions 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.

News Briefs

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.

Comments

Michael Petrelli | 4/19/2004 - 5:40pm
With regard to Kennedy to Kerry in the April 19-26 issue, Signs of the Times, I have two thoughts I'd like to share:

(1) Those who would like to bar Kerry from receiving Communion because of his abortion stance need to have more confidence in the power of the Eucharist to help Catholic elected officials discern God's Will for themselves and to help them play the role He desires of them as His disciples in their public life. St. Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 11.27-29 is sufficient warning to elected officials regarding unworthy reception of the Eucharist. Efforts to bar them from Communion are an inappropriate effort to coerce them and reflects thinking that should have gone out with the Middle Ages.

(2) Is an elected official who is "wrong" on the issue of tolerating the killing of innocents in abortions any worse than an elected official who is "wrong" on tolerating the killing and maiming of innocents in order to bring democracy to Iraq? If we're going to bar the former from Communion shouldn't we also bar the later?

Bill Kenney | 4/24/2004 - 12:48am
The “Signs of the Times” piece on Catholic candidates (4/19-26) refers to two Vatican documents issued in 2003 that 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. I don’t claim to read the Vatican’s mind, but I’d like to be able to tell myself and my non-Catholic friends that the Vatican isn’t trying to gain control over elected officials and candidates for election in a democracy like the United States. Non-Catholic friends trusted me in 1960 when I told them, in good faith, that the Church wouldn’t do such a thing. Neither do I claim to know why abortion and same-sex marriage are repeatedly singled out as the two issues of overriding concern to Catholics; one is bound to notice, though, that the institutional Church seems almost obsessively attentive to issues of sex, reproduction, and contiguous areas.

We are of course often reminded, rightly, that the Church is not a democracy, and we must acknowledge that this non-democratic institution is dominated by men who have taken a vow of celibacy. It seems to follow from this, not logically but morally, that the Church should tread carefully when issuing pronouncements regarding either democracy or the sexuality of that vast majority of human beings who have not taken a vow of celibacy, and especially carefully when the two are intertwined.

What does it mean, anyway, to claim that a law violates church teaching? In today’s United States at least, how many laws directly address the fundamental contents of faith and morals? Catholic politicians might accept the strictest definition of Catholic teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage, yet find that other considerations must determine their position on the politics of these issues. They might, for instance, reject both same-sex marriage and the call for a constitutional amendment intended to outlaw such unions. Their Catholic principles on matters of faith and morals, that is, would neither contradict nor overrule their concern for the integrity of the Constitution. Before supporting a ban on abortion, they might want to know whether an enforceable ban would extend the state’s power beyond the limits Catholic tradition would impose. They might, out of an opposition to abortion informed by their Catholic faith, support a compromise allowing abortion within limits, if they had good reason to believe that such a compromise would really reduce the number of abortions, and that an absolutist position would not. They might find that, in a pluralistic society, policy assuming on theological grounds that human life begins at conception is ill-considered and counterproductive unless that claim can be tested through open democratic dialogue and framed to meet philosophical and scientific criteria acceptable to the many good and thoughtful Americans who don’t share our faith.

Catholics should recognize as well as anyone the dangers—including, in the long run, dangers to Catholics and Catholicism--of writing one faith’s theology into law. In short, Catholics in politics, including voters, must remain always aware that the relation between faith and morals on the one hand and law and policy on the other is never simple. I question whether the authors of Vatican documents are as sensitive to the complexities involved as are the Catholic politicians who must not only think about these matters but think them through.

Dimitri Cavalli | 2/9/2007 - 1:39pm
In Signs of the Times (4/19), you quote Senator John F. Kerry, the probable Democratic nominee for president, as saying: “I believe in the church, and I care about it enormously. But I think that it’s important to not have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in America.”

I wonder what Kerry thnks about the excommunication in 1962 of the segregationist judge and political boss Leander Perez by Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans. At the time, opponents of desegregation and the liberal press hailed Archbishop Rummel for his courage and for setting an example for other religious leaders. Racists and segregationists accused the archbishop of overstepping his authority, violating the separation of church and state and imposing his will on those who had a different opinion on integrating schools. Sound familiar?

(Msgr.) Harry J. Byrne, J.C.D. | 2/9/2007 - 1:08pm
As some groups and some bishops seek to ban Senator John F. Kerry from receiving Communion because of his pro-choice views and voting record, a task force established by the U.S.C.C.B. is developing guidelines as to how bishops should deal with such politicians (Signs of the Times, 4/19). As many bishops caused unintended damage to children and to the church itself by their misuse of power in reassigning miscreant clergy rather than punishing them as required by canon law, they should be extremely cautious before further abuse of power by other violations of church law.

It must be asked, at what point does an individual following a judgment in conscience deemed erroneous by church authorities lose the right to present himself or herself as “Catholic” and become subject to a sort of partial excommunication by being declared less than Catholic and banned from the sacrament? The bishops have invariably urged Catholic voters to look at the totality of issues, not just one. Kerry certainly shares many social justice issues strongly endorsed by his church. Can such a person be given the canonical penalty of being forbidden to receive Communion, as Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis has been reported as doing, without specifying precisely what church law, with what penalty attached, has been violated? And without a judicial or administrative process as is required by church law? Is the bishop above the law?

And unintended effects? This abuse of power could also cause the non-electability of Catholics to public office. It is a fact of life that American voters will never elect someone whom they view as politically subservient to a religious body. For church authorities to cross the line between, on one hand, instructing and informing consciences and, on the other, trying to force a legislative position on an officeholder by a church penalty will validate the charges of anti-Catholics of a generation or two ago that church authorities would always try to force Catholic elected officials as to how to vote.

Michael Petrelli | 4/19/2004 - 5:40pm
With regard to Kennedy to Kerry in the April 19-26 issue, Signs of the Times, I have two thoughts I'd like to share:

(1) Those who would like to bar Kerry from receiving Communion because of his abortion stance need to have more confidence in the power of the Eucharist to help Catholic elected officials discern God's Will for themselves and to help them play the role He desires of them as His disciples in their public life. St. Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 11.27-29 is sufficient warning to elected officials regarding unworthy reception of the Eucharist. Efforts to bar them from Communion are an inappropriate effort to coerce them and reflects thinking that should have gone out with the Middle Ages.

(2) Is an elected official who is "wrong" on the issue of tolerating the killing of innocents in abortions any worse than an elected official who is "wrong" on tolerating the killing and maiming of innocents in order to bring democracy to Iraq? If we're going to bar the former from Communion shouldn't we also bar the later?

Bill Kenney | 4/24/2004 - 12:48am
The “Signs of the Times” piece on Catholic candidates (4/19-26) refers to two Vatican documents issued in 2003 that 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. I don’t claim to read the Vatican’s mind, but I’d like to be able to tell myself and my non-Catholic friends that the Vatican isn’t trying to gain control over elected officials and candidates for election in a democracy like the United States. Non-Catholic friends trusted me in 1960 when I told them, in good faith, that the Church wouldn’t do such a thing. Neither do I claim to know why abortion and same-sex marriage are repeatedly singled out as the two issues of overriding concern to Catholics; one is bound to notice, though, that the institutional Church seems almost obsessively attentive to issues of sex, reproduction, and contiguous areas.

We are of course often reminded, rightly, that the Church is not a democracy, and we must acknowledge that this non-democratic institution is dominated by men who have taken a vow of celibacy. It seems to follow from this, not logically but morally, that the Church should tread carefully when issuing pronouncements regarding either democracy or the sexuality of that vast majority of human beings who have not taken a vow of celibacy, and especially carefully when the two are intertwined.

What does it mean, anyway, to claim that a law violates church teaching? In today’s United States at least, how many laws directly address the fundamental contents of faith and morals? Catholic politicians might accept the strictest definition of Catholic teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage, yet find that other considerations must determine their position on the politics of these issues. They might, for instance, reject both same-sex marriage and the call for a constitutional amendment intended to outlaw such unions. Their Catholic principles on matters of faith and morals, that is, would neither contradict nor overrule their concern for the integrity of the Constitution. Before supporting a ban on abortion, they might want to know whether an enforceable ban would extend the state’s power beyond the limits Catholic tradition would impose. They might, out of an opposition to abortion informed by their Catholic faith, support a compromise allowing abortion within limits, if they had good reason to believe that such a compromise would really reduce the number of abortions, and that an absolutist position would not. They might find that, in a pluralistic society, policy assuming on theological grounds that human life begins at conception is ill-considered and counterproductive unless that claim can be tested through open democratic dialogue and framed to meet philosophical and scientific criteria acceptable to the many good and thoughtful Americans who don’t share our faith.

Catholics should recognize as well as anyone the dangers—including, in the long run, dangers to Catholics and Catholicism--of writing one faith’s theology into law. In short, Catholics in politics, including voters, must remain always aware that the relation between faith and morals on the one hand and law and policy on the other is never simple. I question whether the authors of Vatican documents are as sensitive to the complexities involved as are the Catholic politicians who must not only think about these matters but think them through.