Robert Royal urges Catholics who are orthodox in their beliefs to resist the political trend to treat the Faith as what amounts to a hate crime.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, anti-Catholicism, which the Harvard historian Arthur M. Schlesinger once called “the deepest bias in the history of the American people,” was still quite strong – and open. And not only among the usual suspects, like the KKK and Southern rednecks. The American poet Peter Viereck famously observed that anti-Catholicism was “the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals,” as easy to find in New York or Boston as in Alabama or Tennessee.
So it was no wonder that Kennedy felt he had to go before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960 and assure Protestant leaders, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.”
It was a clever speech, crafted by Ivy League advisors and progressive priests, and intended to reassure nervous Protestants that the pope would not be dictating policy to America – in effect saying Kennedy’s Catholicism would not have any bearing on his decisions as president.
Wags have commented, accurately if uncharitably, that there was no little irony in this pre-emptive surrender, because the Kennedy boys’ Catholicism was so private, they mostly didn’t even impose it on themselves. But the tactic worked. Kennedy won, though public Catholicism – then strong in America – lost.
The usual feelgooders inside and outside the Church celebrated the overcoming of a longstanding prejudice. But anti-Catholicism did not and still has not gone away: witness the outrageous grilling of Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett last week in a Senate judiciary hearing by Dianne Feinstein, Al Franken, and Dick Durbin.
I will pass over the slimy details except to say that “orthodox Catholic” may be about to become a political term for someone whose religious beliefs disqualify him or her from public office. Perhaps even make them unwelcome in polite society.
You can’t be surprised that the Democrats – even the nominally Catholic Durbin – attacked. They are wedded to the belief that contraception, abortion, gay marriage, transgender rights (even for very young children) not only define our “deepest values” as Americans, but must be embraced by any faith that wishes to remain a respectable presence in American society.
Unorthodox Catholics, sometimes in larger percentages than the general population, accept all those things too, and so are not a problem – at least in politics. God may someday have a word to say about that.
EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of the Archangel Michael Hurling rebellious angels into the abyss by Luca Giordano, c. 1666 [Kunsthistorisches Museum,Vienna]