WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - September 12, 2010 marked the fiftieth anniversary of one of the defining political speeches of the last 100 years. It was the address given by Senator John F. Kennedy to the Houston Ministerial alliance. In that speech he unleashed a horrid mistake. 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 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. All just positive laws must comport with that Natural Law. In the wake of his catastrophic mistake too many Catholics in public life, like Esau of the Old Testament, sold their birthrights for a bowl of porridge and helped to construct the current culture of death.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 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 who hold public office in the United States have hidden behind the "Kennedy Mistake". Former Senator Rick Santorum is different. In anticipation of this anniversary, he gave an extraordinary speech in Houston on Thursday, September 9, 2010 entitled "Charge to Revive the Role of Faith in the Public Square". He exposed the Kennedy Mistake and offered another model for Catholic political participation. We received permission to reprint it in full. (Go Here) Though it is somewhat longer than most articles published by Catholic Online, I encourage our readers to take the time to read it in its entirety. The upcoming elections in the United States of America are extremely important and so is this speech.
We are living under what Pope Benedict XVI called a "Dictatorship of Relativism" in the West. The culture stumbles, drunken on the false notion of freedom as giving some people a "right" to kill the innocent, divorced from norms to guide the exercise of human choice and govern our behavior. When there is a wholesale effort to deny the existence of anything objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of our common life, then there is no real freedom. Instead, we teeter on the brink of anarchy.
Senator Santorum's speech is a breath of fresh air. In an age of political sound bites and jingoism, he offers intelligent and impassioned reflection. This is a statesman. I identified with his introductory remarks, "Three pictures hung in the home of my devoutly Catholic immigrant grandparents when I was a boy and I remember them well -- Jesus, Pope Paul VI and John F. Kennedy. The president was a source of great pride and a symbol to Catholics that all barriers had finally been broken."
I grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts and we had the same three pictures in our home. I vividly remember the fateful day when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was traumatized. I kept a scrapbook in which I collected newspaper articles, and photos concerning it. 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. There certainly was, and to some degree still is, a "Kennedy Mystique".
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, "Fifty years ago this Sunday 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."
John F. Kennedy also laid the groundwork for the advance of what the venerable John Paul II rightly called the "Culture of Death." He gave cover to countless Catholic politicians to be morally incoherent. Senator Rick Santorum's speech in Houston is the desperately needed corrective that has been long overdue. Having come to know this gifted and good man, I am convinced he is recapturing the Kennedy Mystique while correcting the Kennedy Mistake.
I have made my concerns regarding both major political parties in this Nation clear. 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. 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. Yes, there may be a few truly Pro-Life Democrats. However, after the experience of the Health Care debate this past year, even this former Democrat is beginning to have my doubts.
Then there is the Republican Party. One of the earliest heresies in Christian history was Manichaeism. The Manicheans held that all matter (including the human body) was evil. They rejected the authentic understanding of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Christian claim is that the Second person of the Blessed Trinity really truly became a human person, fully Divine and fully human. The human person is an integrated unity, body and soul. Well, there is a kind of political Manichaeism injecting itself into the political debate in this nation. It seeks to divide "social" and "economic" issues. This is political dualism which will have dangerous results.
This "political dualism" is being touted once again in Republican circles; the idea that there are "social" and "economic" issues and they must be kept separate. Proponents claim "we" can "only win elections if we stay focused on the economic issues". The most recent example of this was found in comments made by Governor Haley Barbour. We must reject this political dualism and reject candidates who espouse it!
The reason we care about expanding economic opportunity is because we respect the dignity of every human person, including our smallest neighbors, and we want to expand participation. The reason we want to ensure the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity so as to keep government at the lowest level is because we respect the primacy of the family. The family is the first society, the first government, the first church, first school, first economy and first mediating institution. Senator Rick Santorum does not fall prey to the error of seperating "social" and "economic" issues. He is an integrated conservative and a faithful, morally coherent Catholic.
The Republican Party has also not fared well on placing in the positive law protection for the inalienable Right to Life. However, that Right is acknowledged in their platform. They have sometimes fed the stereotype used by their opponents that they care about children only when they are in the womb. Some Republicans seem to favor a "survival of the fittest" approach to the market economy which does not recognize our obligations in human solidarity.
Some Republicans have decried centralized economic planning as leading to collectivism and warned about the growth of the Federal Government - but then participated in propounding the problem when they were in power. Also, though "big government" solutions have not worked well in the delivery of charity the Republican Party has not talked enough about empowering the mediating associations to deliver that charity.
Some Republicans espouse a brand of "libertarianism" that cares little about our social obligations to one another. We are our brothers/sisters keepers and Catholics must never forget that. Rejecting big government solutions doesn't mean rejecting our obligation in solidarity. It means building a ground up model of economic opportunity which expands opportunity and participation to all.
This historic speech by Senator Rick Santorum in Houston, Texas reveals him to be a consistent Catholic, genuinely patriotic American and impressive leader. 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.
Catholic Online will be following the midterm Congressional elections in the United States and the coming 2012 Presidential race very closely. There is too much at stake to remain silent or passive.In anticipation of the letters I am sure this article will generate, I want all of our readers to know that Catholic Online is structured as a for profit limited liability company, not a nonprofit organization. One of the reasons - so we can be free to engage the vitally important political issues in the days ahead. We intend to do just that.