CHESAPEAKE,VA (Catholic Online): I grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, an inner city neighborhood in greater Boston. We had a picture of John F Kennedy and the Pope on the wall. I vividly remember the fateful day when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was eight years old and a student at St. Matthews School.
I remember the announcement which came over the intercom that our President had been shot. All the children were asked to remain silent and form a single line for procession to the Church. Many of the nuns were crying. I was crying. We prayed for our president and cried together. After all, we understandably took great pride in the fact that he was the first Catholic President of the United States of America.
I was traumatized. I kept a scrapbook in which I collected newspaper articles, and photos concerning his assassination. My mother kept it for me. She also gave me a card made up marking the day of his funeral with a prayer for the repose of his soul. She wrapped it in Saran wrap and I have it to this day in my Breviary.
There certainly was, and to some degree still is, a Kennedy Mystique.
Today, the media is filled with the memories, stories and reports concerning this man who captured the hopes of an entire Nation and changed history. It is fitting and helpful to remember historically significant men and women. Many politically oriented people are parsing his political and economic positions. Each side is attempting to claim his mix of policy positions to bolster their own partisan identity.
However, John F Kennedy confounds the modern political lexicon. He was a small government, low tax, entrepreneurially oriented politician. He was on his way to give a speech on lowering taxes to foster economic growth when he was assassinated. But he was also a man with a deep compassion for the poor, in all of their manifestations. He had no tolerance for any form of dehumanizing discrimination. He simply did not fit the current efforts to compartmentalize him and label him.
Still others are focusing on his feet of clay. I must admit how deeply saddened I became as I aged and discovered those feet of clay. Yet, I will never forget his family, and those searing photos of his young son giving him that last salute. We all wanted to believe that this was a model family. That is because somewhere deep inside we know the real truth about marriage and family - and we are drawn to its promise. We want it, because we were created for it.
This was a man, a leader, an orator, who knew how to inspire a Nation. His message still reaches into the hearts of people throughout this Nation. Everytime I hear those lines Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country, I am drawn back to a simpler time. Lord knows we desperately need to be inspired again in the madness of this current hour. We are running on empty; morally, financially, spiritually and internationally.
However, I want to address one of the saddest parts of the legacy of John F. Kennedy, Jr., what I call the Kennedy Mistake.
September 12, 2013 marked the fifty third anniversary of an address given by then Senator John F. Kennedy to the Houston Ministerial alliance. In that speech he laid out an approach to the role of religious faith which resulted in privatizing the truths informed by faith. He failed to acknowledge the existence of a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason and which is meant to govern our life together in Society.
In that speeach he committed what I call the Kennedy Mistake.
He gave cover to countless Catholic politicians to be morally incoherent in their political participation, rejecting the truth and participating in evil with a smile with a private/public dichotomy which rejects Catholic teaching. The Nation's first Catholic President made a serious error in that Houston speech which contributed to such a tragic result.
We should reject the notion that we can compeletly separate moral, social and economic issues in the body politic. We cannot separate the spirit, soul and body of an individual human person. Analogously, human society is a form of corporate person. All of our political and economic concerns have a moral dimension because they concern the human person, the family, our social relations and the common good. There is a moral basis to a truly free society. Without it we will lose freedom itself. Freedom is a good of the human person.
The reason we should care about expanding economic opportunity is because we respect the dignity of every human person and want to expand participation so that more and more of our neighbors can enter into commerce and experience the human flourishing and dignity which fruitful work, initiaive and enterprise can bring, for themselves, their families and the greater community in which they live. The reason we should commit ourselves to care for the poor, in all of their manifestations, is because they have human dignity and must be received as a gift, not treated like an object of use.
When, as Catholic citizens, we advocate for smaller government, we must not adopt the rhetoric of those who sound anti-government. We are calling for the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity out of respect for the primacy of the family as the first society, the first government, the first church, first school, first economy and first mediating institution. Government must first be exercised at the smallest practicable level.
We need to be clear in our use of political language. For example, there is no such thing as an abortion right, even if the positive law currently protects the act of choosing to abort a child with the police power of the State. Abortions have no rights, human persons do. Every procured abortion is the taking of innocent human life and the denial of the true Right, written in the Natural Law, the fundamental and inalienable Right to Life. Our position on defending life is not about being single issue voters; it is the lens, the hermeneutic through which we must view every issue.
Our insistence upon recognizing in the positive or civil law of the Nation the fundamental Human Right to Life is not about our engaging in single issue politics. Human rights - such as the Natural Law Right to Life - and human freedoms - such as the freedom to be born - are goods of human persons. When there is no human person to exercise them all the rhetoric extolling them is nothing but empty air and sloganeering.
Nor is our insistence on the recognition of the inalienable Right to Life only a matter of our adherence to our religious beliefs. It is a response to the truth revealed by the Natural Law and confirmed by medical science. The Child in the womb is our neighbor. It is always and everywhere wrong to take innocent human life. The child in the womb is innocent human life. It is thus wrong to intentionally kill him or her through procured abortion.
Our Pro-Life position is a solidarity position. It is a social justice and human rights position. The embryonic human person, the child in the womb, the disabled, the needy and the elderly are all members of our human family and our neighbors. We can never condone their intentional killing as some kind of exercise of some freedom to choose. It is never a moral choice but a crime, whether the positive law prosecutes it or not.
Our opposition to the judicial manufacture of some feigned right to take innocent human life in the womb must never take a back seat to any other concern in the public policy arena. Freedom must be exercised with reference to what is true and good in any just and moral society or it devolves into tyranny. However, abortion, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, is only the cutting edge of the culture of death. Any time human persons are treated as products to be used, aborted, discarded, manipulated, enslaved, traded, made a means rather than an end, we find the "culture of death." We must expose, oppose and replace it whenever and wherever it rears its head.
Catholics will be judged the most severely if we fail to act in a morally coherent manner when we exercise our right to vote. The Biblical adage should echo in our ears, "To those, to whom much is given, much more will be required!" (Luke 12:48)
Sadly, John F. Kennedy made a colossal mistake in separating his faith from his public service. On this day when we rightly honor his memory, let us pray for new Catholic and other Christian politicians and public servants to be raised up. Men and women who will rise to recapture the Kennedy mystique while wholeheartedly rejecting the Kennedy mistake.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of the Vatican, issued a clear directive instruction in 2002 entitled a Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. It called upon Catholics to be morally coherent in the exercise of their citizenship. Sadly, too many have not been. Many Catholics and other Christians who hold public office in the United States have hidden behind the Kennedy Mistake and are openly disregarding this clear directive.
One who has not is former Senator Rick Santorum. In anticipation of the speech the late President made to the Houston Ministerial Association, he gave an extraordinary speech in Houston on Thursday, September 9, 2010 entitled Charge to Revive the Role of Faith in the Public Square. In that speech he exposed the Kennedy Mistake.
He also offered another model for Catholic political participation. Senator Santorum's speech was a breath of fresh air. In an age of political sound bites and jingoism, he offered intelligent and impassioned reflection. It is clear that our Nations first Catholic President made a tragic error in the Houston speech. That error unleashed a torrent of tragic results. In Senator Santorum's words:
"JFK delivered a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to dispel suspicions about the role the papacy might play in the government of this country under his administration. Let's make no mistake about it -- Kennedy was addressing a real issue at the time. Prejudice against Catholics threatened to cost him the election. But on that day, Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith."
In that speech John F. Kennedy laid the groundwork for the advance of what Blessed John Paul II called the Culture of Death. He gave cover to countless Catholic politicians to be morally incoherent. Senator Rick Santorum's speech in Houston offered the needed corrective that has been long overdue. Having come to know this gifted and good man, I am convinced he is among those trying to recapture the Kennedy Mystique while correcting the Kennedy Mistake. We need many more.
I have made my concerns regarding both major political parties in this Nation clear in my writing. On the predominant human rights issue of our age the leadership of the Democratic Party has lost its soul. Like many of my fellow Catholic Americans, I grew up equating being Catholic with being a Democrat because I thought Democrats cared more about the poor, the working class, the marginalized and those with no voice. I was wrong. The elite of the Democratic Party have embraced a notion of freedom as a power over others and choice as a right to do whatever one wants.
The failure to hear the cry of the child in the womb while mouthing the language of caring for the poor is unbridled hypocrisy. I reject it and will do everything I can to expose its sophistry. Medical science has confirmed what our conscience has always known, that child in the womb is one of us. His or her voice cannot be heard because it is muffled in the once hallowed home of the womb and disregarded by political opportunists.
There is a dangerous political dualism injecting itself into Republican circles. Many establishment Republicans seek to divide social and fiscal issues. This will have dangerous results. Its proponent's claim that Republicans can only win elections if they stay focused solely on the economic issues and reject what they call social issues. The Republican Party should reject this political dualism and reject candidates who espouse it! Recent electoral history has proven it is a failed strategy. But more importantly, it fails to recognize the truth about the human person, the family and the social order.
The historic speech given by Senator Rick Santorum in Houston, Texas revealed him to be a consistent Catholic, genuinely patriotic American and impressive leader who gets it. He understands the clear direction of his Church to be morally coherent and he understands history. He thinks clearly and is unafraid to speak the truth. He is a man to watch, listen to and pray for. This weekend, his newest venture hits the screen. He is the CEO of Echolight studios which is releasing its film, the Christmas Candle.
Whether Santorum runs for the Whitehouse again or not, any Republican or Democrat who chooses to do so, should spend some time and study this important speech.