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 CNS Story:
POLITICS-CATHOLICS Apr-15-2004 (2,050 words) xxxn

Kennedy to Kerry: Catholic candidates in strikingly different times

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Forty-four years later, the words are nearly the same, but the emphasis is dramatically different.

When Sen. 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?"

With Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts seeking the White House in 2004, the questions he'll get likely will come from Catholics and sound more like: "What makes you think you can separate your Catholic beliefs from your political responsibilities when it comes to voting on abortion?"

Much about the two Massachusetts senators may be similar, but the political and religious climate for Kerry bears little resemblance to that Kennedy confronted. Between Kennedy's era and Kerry's came a momentous Supreme Court ruling on abortion and an increasing vigilance by some in the church toward how Catholic politicians vote.

As only the second Catholic major-party candidate for president in history, what Kennedy faced before the Second Vatican Council was a voting public in need of reassurance that the pope wasn't going to be running the American government.

Kerry, on the other hand, is a Catholic who will be asked to justify why he doesn't pay more attention to the church in how he votes -- specifically regarding his support of legislation to keep abortion legal and minimally regulated, when church teachings firmly oppose abortion.

Before Kennedy came along, only one Catholic had been a major party's nominee for the presidency. New York Gov. Al Smith lost the 1928 election largely because of his stance against Prohibition. But overt anti-Catholic rhetoric also was a factor in his defeat.

In a speech on the Senate floor in January 1928, Sen. Thomas Heflin, D-Ala., warned that Catholics were trying to get the Democratic Party to denounce the Ku Klux Klan -- which he described as "the Protestant order" -- and were trying to control Southern newspapers to push Smith's candidacy for president.

"The Roman Catholic edict has gone forth in secret articles, 'Al Smith is to be made president,'" he said. "They will lay the heavy hand of a Catholic state upon you and crush the life out of Protestantism in America."

Suspicion of Catholics lingered 32 years later, when Kennedy set his sights on the White House.

The Southern Baptist Convention unanimously passed a resolution voicing doubts that Kennedy or any Catholic should be president. Another statement -- signed by 150 Protestant ministers and laymen headed by the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale -- said a Catholic president would be under "extreme pressure from the hierarchy of his church" to align U.S. foreign policy with that of the Vatican, noted author Thomas Maier in a 2003 book, "The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings."

Anti-Catholic hate literature again appeared throughout the country. Former President Harry Truman decried the religious bigotry, even though he earlier had opposed Kennedy's nomination because of disagreements with the senator's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, a former ambassador to England and founding head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Truman reportedly said: "I'm not against the pope. I'm against the pop," referring to the senior Kennedy.

Kennedy tackled "the Catholic issue" in a televised September 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He said communism, poverty, education and the space race were far more critical election issues but had been obscured by debate about his Catholicism.

He described his belief "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."

Kennedy asked voters to judge him on his political record, not on the basis of carefully selected "quotations out of context from the statements of church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation."

He said he was not "the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters -- and the church does not speak for me."

Such comments were credited with helping Kennedy eke out a narrow win. Catholic pride in having a president who was one of "their own" reflected "an end to the time when Catholics felt excluded from the political process," said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University government professor who specializes in religion and politics.

"Never again were we going to see anyone say, 'The pope is going to be running the country,'" Wilcox said. For American Protestants, the process of seeing a Catholic president as a husband and father and as someone who ably handled several major crises "was like bringing Catholics into their own living rooms and getting to know them."

Kennedy's efforts to separate his religion from his elected role in a pluralistic society weren't universally popular among Catholics, however. Nor were church leaders happy with his opposition to several key items on the U.S. bishops' legislative agenda, including federal aid to parochial schools and returning a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Kennedy's response to "the Catholic issue" in a Look magazine interview, wrote the editor of The Register of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, "suggests that a man who accepts office in the United States is no longer the keeper of his own conscience. If this is American doctrine, I'm leaving for Tahiti."

The Jesuit weekly magazine, America, reviewed Kennedy's first year in office, saying he had "bent over backwards" to show he would do Catholics no special favors. While crediting some political wisdom to that strategy, the magazine said it could hobble the president's efforts in some cases.

America magazine also noted that the president was rarely photographed with Catholic Church leaders. "Photographs of the president with Protestant spokesmen like (the Rev.) Billy Graham, on the other hand, are pure 14-karat gold," it noted.

After Kennedy broke the barrier, the inclusion of a Catholic on the ballot as a vice presidential candidate became a popular -- though unsuccessful -- strategy for both parties in the elections from 1964 through 1972.

Then came the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The Republican and Democratic parties began carving out increasingly distinct positions on abortion and expecting their candidates to support them.

A new "Catholic issue" exploded in 1984 around two New York Democrats, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro and Gov. Mario Cuomo. From the first day of her campaign for vice president -- as running mate of former Vice President Walter Mondale of Minnesota -- 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 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 wasn't 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, the gist of their argument is: "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 put them at risk of excommunication by "treating church teaching on abortion with contempt." He said such an approach is "helping to multiply abortions by advocating legislation supporting abortion, or by making public funds available for abortion."

Though Cardinal O'Connor said he and the bishops as a group were emphasizing persuasion over excommunication, some bishops have pushed the issue.

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.

Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley 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 approaching the altar, presuming that they do so "in good faith."

Bishops sometimes have challenged Catholic politicians for their public actions on other issues, such as when Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran in 1999 publicly took Oklahoma Republican Gov. Frank Keating to task for supporting the death penalty in direct opposition to "the formal teaching of the church."

But far and away the most common public challenges from Catholic leaders to politicians have been over abortion. The most basic form that takes has been widespread adoption of diocesan policies prohibiting the use of church-owned facilities for events that include politicians who support legal abortion.

Such policies are nonpartisan. And there are some Republican politicians who support legal abortion just as there are some Democrats who oppose abortion. But the dynamics of national party politics are such that few GOP candidates describe themselves as "pro-choice," and those who call themselves "pro-life" are more commonly Republicans than they are Democrats.

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 doesn't follow the church's lead on abortion.

In his 2003 book, "A Call to Service," 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. On April 14 Michael Meehan, a senior adviser to Kerry, told CNS: "Sen. Kerry said that he is a member in good standing in his church and he believes that personal matters of faith are between God and his church." Meehan declined to elaborate further on the status of the annulment.

Kerry's current wife was widowed in 1991, when her husband, Sen. John Heinz III, R-Pa., was killed in a plane crash.

In recent Senate votes, Kerry has opposed bills to ban partial-birth abortion, supported efforts to lift the prohibition on abortions at U.S. military installations overseas, and supported a resolution affirming that Roe vs. Wade was correctly decided. All those positions were contrary to those supported by the church.

The National Right to Life Committee says he votes with their preferred position 0 percent of the time. The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now called NARAL Pro-Choice America, says he votes with their preferred position 100 percent of the time.

On other issues, Kerry's positions more closely resemble the church's lobbying stances. For example, except in cases involving terrorists, he opposes capital punishment. Recent church teaching says there are almost no circumstances in modern society under which the death penalty is necessary.

How Kerry answers criticism about ignoring Catholic teaching on abortion will develop during the course of the campaign. But one statement he made last year echoes 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."


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