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“Rewriting History”: What Rick Santorum Doesn’t Understand About JFK

America’s only Catholic president referred to God three times in his inaugural address. He invoked the Bible’s command to care for the poor and the sick. Later in his presidency, he said, unequivocally, about civil rights: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”

Yet, last Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is also Catholic, told ABC News that John F. Kennedy’s classic 1960 campaign speech in Houston about religious liberty was so offensive to people of faith that it made him want to vomit.

“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up,” Santorum said. “What kind of country do we live [in] that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”

Either Santorum doesn’t know his American history or he is purposefully rewriting it. How can he seriously imagine that Kennedy, a person who got down on his knees each night to pray, who gave his time and money to win tough primaries in states with strong anti-Catholic traditions, who challenged us to live our Christianity by ending racial hatred, somehow lacked the courage of faith or tried to exclude people of faith from government and politics?

In his presidential campaign, Kennedy faced fierce anti-Catholic prejudice. He appeared before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association because he feared that his faith was being used unfairly against him. Norman Vincent Peale, along with 150 other ministers, had issued a letter urging citizens to vote against Kennedy because, should he win, he would be controlled by the Vatican. Peale’s group called itself the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom. How ironic that the term “religious freedom” would be used as double-speak for religious hypocrisy — but it certainly was not the first or last time.

Anti-Catholic prejudice has a long history in America. Construction of the Washington Monument was halted partly because an anti-Catholic controversy erupted in 1854, when the pope gave us a stone from Rome for the project. (You can see a change in color partway up the monument between the initial structure and the rest, finished nearly 30 years later.) Catholic students at public schools who didn’t want to recite the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer were sometimes expelled. As late as 1928, voters rejected Catholic presidential candidate Al Smith, calling the Democratsthe party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.”

Kennedy, my uncle, hoped to make it clear that the pope would not control him. The government would not regulate church doctrine, and no minister would determine government policy. As he put it:

“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.”

He specifically referred to birth control, too, saying he would follow his conscience in accordance with what he believed to be in the national interest and not cave in to “religious pressures or dictates.”

Santorum is more like Kennedy than he may realize — he follows his conscience. It’s true that on some issues, such as contraception, where the bishops are at odds with many other Catholics, he sides with the bishops. (I’m tempted to recall my father Robert Kennedy’s observation that priests are Republican and nuns Democratic.) But Santorum has also taken positions at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. He has opposed the church’s pro-immigrant policies. He has attacked President Obama’s “phony theology,” which he says involves caring for the Earth — no matter Pope Benedict’s pronouncements on protecting the environment.

Nor in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed did Santorum cite papal views on the financial crisis. On Feb. 15, in an address at Rome’s Major Seminary, the pope said that “the world of finance, while necessary, no longer represents an instrument that favors our well-being or the life of mankind; instead it has become an oppressive power that almost demands our adoration.” Somehow Santorum missed that.

Can he be so ignorant of what Kennedy actually said and what the pope has actually preached? Or is he using his faith for political purposes?

Santorum has since expressed regret for his choice of words about Kennedy, but his words cannot be forgotten.The challenge is not Santorum — it is the 28 percent of Americans who think the separation of church and state should be abolished.

Santorum is encouraging division and intolerance. The subtext of his remarks is that America should be a conservative religious nation — and that Kennedy was denying it. Well, he was. Here are his words to the ministers in Houston:

“I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”

Perhaps Santorum should recall the Gospel’s teachings, which might direct us to positions different from those he advocates. Jesus told his followers that they would be judged on how they clothed the naked, fed the hungry and welcomed the stranger. His directive to love God and our neighbor leads many faithful Americans to support same-sex marriage and to see that marriage itself can be strengthened when couples make love without fear of an unplanned pregnancy. Each of these positions can be made in a secular setting, but they also have a moral argument, grounded in faith.

In 2012, people of many faiths are running for office — Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, my own godson, Joseph Kennedy — and one can disagree with their policies while respecting their religious views. Bishops, priests, nuns, ministers, rabbis and imams lobby Congress and state legislatures on various issues. They have a voice. They just don’t always win every election or argument. Welcome to democracy.

 

By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Washington Post Opinion Pages, March 2, 2012

March 4, 2012 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“At Ease Christian Soldiers”: Drumming Up A Phony War On Religion

At ease, Christian soldiers. There is no “war on religion,” no assault on the Catholic Church. A faith that has endured for thousands of years will survive even Nicki Minaj.

It never occurred to me to evaluate the Grammy Awards show on theological rectitude, but apparently we’re supposed to be outraged at the over-the-top “exorcism” Minaj performed Sunday night. The hip-hop diva, who writhed and cavorted amid a riot of religious iconography, is accused of anti-Catholic bigotry — and seen as an enemy combatant in an escalating “war on religion” being waged by “secular elites,” which seems to be used as a synonym for Democrats.

Seriously? Are we really going to pretend that Christianity is somehow under siege? That the Almighty would have been any more offended Sunday than he was, say, in 2006, when Madonna — who could sue Minaj for theft of intellectual property — performed a song during her touring act while being mock-crucified on a mirrored cross? While wearing a crown of thorns? Even at her show in Rome?

The “war on religion” alarmists are just like Minaj and Madonna in one key respect: Lacking a coherent point to make, they go for shock value.

Among the loudest voices, predictably, are those of the Republican presidential candidates. Guess who’s to blame for the attack on all God-fearing Americans who go to church every Sunday to hear sermons about the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ. Hint: He got in trouble four years ago, during his presidential campaign, for going to church every Sunday to hear sermons about the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ.

President Obama is indeed waging a war on religion, Mitt Romney claimed last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Romney promised to rescind every “Obama regulation” that somehow “attacks our religious liberty.”

Newt Gingrich said at CPAC that Obama plans to “wage war” on the Catholic Church if he is reelected. Those who don’t see this coming are not familiar with “who [the president] really is.” Apparently, the real Obama is about to come out of hiding, any day now.

But it is Rick Santorum who wins the award for histrionics. Progressives, he said last week in Texas, are “taking faith and crushing it.” From that ridiculous proposition, he went on in truly hallucinatory fashion:

“When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is a government that gives you rights. What’s left are no unalienable rights. What’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re a long way from that, but if we follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.”

Wow.

Just how has this “hostility to faith in America” manifested itself? Obama issued a rule requiring some church-owned or church-run institutions to provide health insurance that pays for contraceptives, which are outlawed by Catholic doctrine — and used by most Catholic women. Obama subsequently altered the rule to placate Catholic bishops, who responded by declaring themselves implacable.

In his speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Obama cited New Testament scripture in arguing for economic and social justice. Conservatives blasted him for, um, quoting the Bible.

This is a war? This is a march to the guillotine?

Romney and Gingrich know better; they’re just cynically pandering to religious conservatives. Santorum, at least, is sincere in his pre-Enlightenment beliefs. But rejection of the intellectual framework that produced not just the French Revolution but the American Revolution as well does not strike me as an appropriate philosophy for a U.S. presidential candidate to espouse, much less a winning platform to run on.

The Founders wisely decided to institutionalize separation of church and state. The references to God, the Creator and Divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence mask the fact that the Founders disagreed on the nature and existence of a Supreme Being. They understood the difference between faith and religiosity.

Within our secular governmental framework, religion has thrived. No other large industrialized nation has nearly as many regular churchgoers as does the United States.

And just as faith somehow survived Nicki Minaj’s burlesque at the Grammys, it will survive the attempt by Republicans to create a religious war out of thin air.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 14, 2012

February 17, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Should Rep. Peter King Investigate The Catholic Church?

Rep. Peter King, the Long Island congressman who for years supported the Irish Republican Army as it waged a terror campaign to eject the British from Northern Ireland, says that track record has no bearing on his controversial decision to hold hearings this week on what he calls the “radicalization” of Islam in America.

The two examples are different, he argues, and the main reason is that unlike radical Muslims, the I.R.A. never launched attacks in the United States. (That made sense, since Irish-Americans were sending crucial material support to the I.R.A.)

“I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States,” King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told The New York Times.

Okay, so how about investigating the Roman Catholic Church, another religious community — like Islam — and one to which the Irish-Catholic congressman also professes great loyalty?

As Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen pointed out on Tuesday, if Congress is going to start investigating religious groups whose members have attacked Americans, that could be bad news for the Catholic Church given the extent of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. (And Cohen’s piece was published hours before the latest shocker, the mass suspension of 21 priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia following a grand jury probe — the second since 2005 — of the sexual abuse of children by clergy in the city.)

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League jumped on Cohen — as is his wont — for citing an exaggerated figure of 100,000 possible victims of clergy abuse, noting, correctly, that the figure is more like 12,000 (though this crime is notoriously under reported). Donohue did not, however, dispute Cohen’s central premise about the problematic nature of King’s investigation of Islam, and a toll of thousands of children abused over five decades is hardly what the lawyers might call exculpatory evidence.

Little wonder that former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican, onetime FBI agent and federal prosecutor, and devout Catholic, likened some bishops to the Mafia when he was named in 2002 to be the first head of a lay oversight board to keep the hierarchy honest in its abuse-prevention policies.

Such characterizations got Keating forced out by the bishops after a year in the post, and his resignation letter still minced no words: “To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church.”

Of course, a congressional investigation of the Catholic Church would be met with howls of protests from the likes of Donohue and most certainly Peter King, and rightly so.

The point is that the religious community that Muslims today most clearly resemble is the Roman Catholic Church, and it was thus as recently as King’s own youth, when John F. Kennedy barely won election due to concerns that one could not be a “good Catholic” and a “good American.”

Indeed, during the campaign Kennedy famously had to assure Protestant pastors that he would never take orders from the Vatican (a pronouncement many conservative Christians today now hold against Kennedy and his Catholic heirs in the Democratic Party — sometimes you can’t win for losing).

King’s hearing set for Thursday has been compared to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, while others speculated that they would be akin to holding congressional hearings on the role of Christianity in promoting violence against gays or abortion providers.

But the Islamic-Catholic analogy is most apt.

Like Muslims in America today, Catholics were seen as foreign-born immigrants who were subject to a foreign ruler, namely the Pope in Rome, who did not recognize religious freedom and democratic governance.

The latter charges were actually true, more or less, until the reforms of the 1960s, though American Catholics took little notice of such teachings, much as American Muslims would stare blankly if asked about the latest fatwa from some imam in Iran.

(In 1928, New York Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated as a presidential candidate, was challenged by a prominent Episcopal layman to explain how he could expect to uphold the Constitution if elected while at the same time accepting the teaching in papal encyclicals. “What the hell is an encyclical?” Smith reportedly asked. He still got creamed by Herbert Hoover.)

During the 19th century a major political party was founded to combat Catholic influence, and Catholic students were unable to attend public schools without having to imbibe Protestant teachings. Catholics were subject to outbursts of popular violence, and when the pope donated a stone for the construction of the Washington Monument in 1854, an anti-Catholic mob threw it into the Potomac River. Thomas Nast’s famous 1875 cartoon, “The American River Ganges,” showed St. Peter’s Basilica in the background with mitred Catholic bishops as crocodiles attacking the United States to devour the nation’s schoolchildren.

Such sentiments were all too common, as were efforts — as Paul Moses noted in Commonweal magazine — to stop the construction of Catholic churches in U.S. cities, almost a mirror image of the fierce arguments last year against construction of the so-called “ground zero” mosque, also known as the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan.

It was King, in fact, who had a key role in fomenting opposition to the Islamic center, saying early last year that it was “particularly offensive” because “so many Muslim leaders have failed to speak out against radical Islam, against the attacks” of 9/11.

Those arguments laid the ground work for King’s subsequent charges that American Muslims and their leaders are not cooperating with authorities to thwart terrorist plots and that 80 percent of mosques in America are controlled by radical imams. Even though King has provided no evidence for the charges — and the latest research counters his claims — he is going ahead with a hearing to “test” his hypothesis.

King continued his line of argumentation on the eve of the hearing, telling the Associated Press that radical Islam is a distinct threat that must be investigated regardless of whose sensibilities are offended.

“You have a violent enemy from overseas which threatens us and which is recruiting people from a community living in our country,” King said. He could have been talking about his own Catholic community in the 1800s.

It is also interesting to note that Catholics often reacted to such denigration by trying to prove they were more patriotic than the Founding Fathers which, as Notre Dame church historians R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy have pointed out, sometimes led to excesses like Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist hearings of the 1950s.

That’s a historical parallel Peter King may also want to remember.

By: David Gibson, Religion Reporter, Politics Daily, March 9, 2011

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Constitution, Equal Rights, Homeland Security, Islam, Islamophobia, Muslims, Politics, Racism, Religion, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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