Fifty years ago the Democratic Party nominated the young, articulate Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, for President of the United States. It was only the second time in the Twentieth Century that a Roman Catholic had been selected by a major party for a run at the Presidency. The first, Al Smith, lost to Herbert Hoover by a landslide in 1928. He didn’t even carry his home state of New York although he had been its very popular Governor for three terms. (The loss of New York must have broken his heart.)
When Kennedy was nominated in 1960, the anti-Catholic rumors that had bedeviled Smith began again. I remember the whispered venom. “Elect a Catholic as President and you’re putting the Pope in the White House.” There were even more vile warnings which we need not repeat, but you can imagine what might be spewed out from the mouths of hate-crazed, conservative bigots.
Kennedy, the able politician that he was, decided to confront the rumors head on. On September 12, 1960 he spoke before the Greater Huston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas: [Here]
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe 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--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
Kennedy thus drew a line in the sand between church and state--all churches and our government. It was a powerful statement and we would be well served to remember his message.
What is eerie is that the conservative part of our political and religious spectrum, which was so terrified of Roman Catholic domination fifty years ago, is today accepting, even welcoming, the vocal leadership from that very same group. It is the Conference of Catholic Bishops that is most vocal in its opposition to many of the things that women have fought for in our struggle for control over our own bodies and personal sexual preferences, such as contraception and medically-safe abortions.
Yes, it certainly does feel like war.
And note: the Conference of Catholic Bishops is the official leadership organization of the Roman Catholic Church in this country.
It is ironic, isn’t it, that the public discussion of the sexual practices and futures of American women--Catholic and otherwise--is being led by a group of celibate males.