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Some Truths About False Gods

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2011/08/20 at 7:00 AM

The Creator-God, because it is His nature to be good, wishes that every human being who has ever lived or will ever live should be able to fulfill his or her purpose of life and come to eternal happiness after death by being in the presence of God Himself. Not everyone has been exposed to Divine Revelation, but everyone does have a means of determining that there is a Supreme Being who has also implanted in the human soul a sense of moral right and wrong (conscience). This human reason can deduce the existence of a Supreme Being without any reference to anything religious. The most obvious and easiest way is to simply observe the wonders of nature and the universe, realizing that no one on earth could create it all. There must be another being outside the universe that brought it all into being.

The ancient peoples, without the aid of divine Revelation and millennia of human experience to build on, sensed that there was a Supreme Being, but usually ended up worshipping false gods, distortions of reality. Without science, some groups explained natural phenomena by inventing rain gods, moon gods, fire gods, fertility gods and others (polytheism). Still other groups concluded that things did not merely exist in a religious milieu, but were part of an all-absorbing deity, of which all things were a part (pantheism). Many did not see things as part of a godhead, but rather each individual thing that existed was divine in itself (animism). A few became so perverse that they invented gods that were evil in themselves such as those that demanded human sacrifice (Aztecs of Mexico) or the Middle Eastern god, Moloch, who demanded the sacrifice of children. (Remind you of anything going on today?)

We can assume that early man was attempting to find the true God, but he usually failed because every person is burdened with the effects of Original Sin whether he knows it or not. The only ancient people that did find the true God were the Jews of the Old Testament.

Contemporary man is different. He is not looking for a Supreme Being; he has already found one … himself, and his false god is himself and his ego. All truth resides in him. No truth exists outside of him. He decides what is good or bad, moral or immoral for himself. If you disagree with him, you just have to live with it. Feelings, not human reality, are his guide. Because he fails to deal with reality (or Truth), he has set up a core of sub-gods among which he is free to chose whichever one suits his fancy. Thus modern man adores such entities as the body, and his religious rituals are gyms, exercise, diets and health fads. His goal of life is fitness to avoid as long as possible the unspoken dread: death.

Another of his sub-gods is what used to be called illicit sexual activity (or even further back, sin).  But his god has deceived him and left him with disease, death, frustration, impersonal relationships and all the ill-effects of rejecting Divine Law.

Many have come to worship sports and entertainment (one of the causes of the decline of Rome, according to Arnold Toynbee, a British historian). My TV has dozens of channels dedicated to every sport known to man and a mere 4-5 religious channels. One city in NC has wasted millions of tax dollars in artificial white-water rafting, a racing museum, new stadiums while old ones still functioned. Children are urged to compete at an early age on teams of all types.  Baseball used to be referred to a “pastime.” No sport is anything but all-consuming today.

Political parties have become false gods to many. They have become an end in themselves, rather than a means to influence elected officials. “This is MY party: right or wrong.”

Presidential politics has become on-going in the media. As soon as one presidential election ends, the media start right in on the next one. There is no respite. Sometimes a party, to curry favor with the “correct” people, will support immoral and/or stupid ideas. This does not seem to have much impact on membership roles at all. “Christians” will vote for a candidate who openly professes his non-Christian moral values. “MY party: right or wrong.”

In education and science, the great false god is Darwinian evolution, as yet, far from proved, but nevertheless is  new religion. I read that any professor who balks at evolution will not be hired by most college biology departments. Evolution is an egregious error perpetuated by those who claim to seek truth in science. Apparently, the truth must coincide with preconceived ideas; if not, too bad for truth.

The list of modern false gods could go on and on…money, power, prestige, popularity, etc. It is important to note that there is NOTHING wrong in themselves with any of these things that become false gods to many. They become false gods when their adherents exaggerate their importance and will do too much to attain them. Money is not evil, but greed is. Sex is good, but only within the context of Divine Law. Those who deny objective truth lose their ability to think logically and systematically; therefore, luring them to false gods becomes relatively easy.

The problems with any false gods are:

  • The worshipper must first invent the false god. That makes the inventor the god’s creator.  He then worships what he himself made, thereby relinquishing his role as superior to his creation. (The true God is always supreme.)
  • False gods are fickle and undependable. Sometimes they please, and sometimes they annoy or outrightly fail to deliver on promises. (The true God is always consistent and never fails to give what we need.)
  • False gods promote of all kinds of immorality, especially physical and social. (The true God never endorses any sin for any reason.)
  • False gods are by their nature very, very temporary. Illness, age and frustration can end your “religious” life. Death will certainly end it. This is the problem with all habits of sin: Those habits rule you until some circumstance alters the situation. (The true God is eternal and is present before and after death and through all the ups and downs of life.)
  • False gods are anti-human because a person who refuses to think reasonably is not acting fully as human beings. To fail to act in a human way is to fail to attain the goal of human life which none of the false gods can offer. (The true God offers an eternal destiny fully in accord with human needs.)

In the long run, false gods never satisfy because they are incapable of it. Even in the short run, they often fail to give the worshipper what he is looking for. There is always a pennant “next year”, another dollar to be made, another man/woman to be seduced, another election to be fought and so on. The reason they don’t satisfy is relatively simple: As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts were made for Thee, O,Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

We were not designed to be satisfied for long by false gods. If we persist in idolizing them (and they are idols), even up to the moment of death, we will be unknown strangers in the eternal world of the after-life. Our former gods will simply be setting out to lure other fools.

Are we  so blinded and deafened by the siren lure of those false gods in this life that we don’t hear the quiet knocking on the door of our hearts by the One Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life? When we’re stopped by death and face the eternal gate of heaven, what will we say to St. Peter….if we even recognize him?


Complete list of all articles by Jack Reagan

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2015/04/24 at 12:00 AM

The whole series:

01 Is It Just Semantics? – Love

02 Is God God or Are You God? – Purpose & change

03 Contemporary Mischief – Same-sex “marriage”

04 Correct Answer? – Divinity of Church

05 Abortion, A Realistic Viewpoint – Abortion

06 Moslems/Muslims – Islam

07 What is Truth? – Truth

08 Being Objective About Being Subjective – The difference between the two

09 Catholic Christians? – Are Catholics really Christians?

10 What is in a Name? – True Christians

11 Baal and the Tooth Fairy – False gods

12 Rest in Pieces? – Societal decline

13 Blessed Mary, Ever Virgin – Blessed Virgin Mary

14 “Now Let’s Not Be Judgmental” – What is true judgment

15 Art of Conscience – Correct conscience

16 Is That Fr. Phillis? – Women’s ordination

17 The 800 lb. Gorilla – Secularism

18 Some Truths About False Gods – False gods

19 Is Any Religion True? – Man is religious by nature

20 The Dropouts

21 The Great Deception – Sin

22 The Unpreached Sermon: “a layman thinking like a priest” – Christmas/Easter Catholics

23 Let’s Get Real – Reality examined

24 The Siblings of Christ?

25 What Could Have Been – Christmas

26 Coming Storm – Coming persecution

27 The Mythical God – False ideas about God

28 And The Blind Shall Lead – False ideas

29 Freedom, A Paradox – Free Will

30 A Helluva Place – Hell & Damnation

31 Consequences – World without God

32 Mind Over Matter – Truth

33 Life in a Mirage – Effects of immorality

33 A Trilogy of the Unreal – Separation of Church & State; Taking “offense”; Necessity of Morality

34 Signs For Our Times – Introduction & Part I: Unity of the Church – Marks of the Catholic Church

34 Signs For Our Times – Part II: Holiness of the Church – Marks of the Catholic Church

35 Signs For Our Times – Part III: Catholicity of the Church; Part IV: Apostolicity of the Church – Marks of the Catholic Church

37 Semantics of Easter – Easter & Christmas Catholics

38 Another Easter? – Easter Sunday

39 The Bible – A Perspective

40 Abstractions? – Liberal/Conservative

41 The Wanderers – God

42 With All Due Respect – Morality

43 Good Intentions – Moral illusions

44 Ideas and Consequences -Illusions

45 Searching For What Is Not Lost – Lapsed

46 Taking Chances – Mercy

47 Dabbling With Dogma

48 What Did You Expect?

45 Deceptive Labels

50 Forgotten, But Not Gone





In on 2011/07/15 at 7:06 PM

Following is a list of all articles according to Category.

Please click on link to access article.


Most Recent First

“Blessed are those who hunger and third after justice, for they will be satisfied.”

“In God’s name, do not dispair”

“Never give way to fear or routine”

“It is now Christ who lives in you”

“God is good and He loves us”

“Temptation to weariness”

“We have to toil away each day with Jesus”

“Let us always be brutally sincere”

“Penance means being full of tenderness and kindness towards the suffering”

“With Him there is no possibility of failure”

“Get to know the Holy Spirit”

“The Charity of Christ should compels us”

“You have to live in harmony with your fellow men and understand them”

“With your help, Lord, I’ll fight”

“If you want to be useful, serve”

“The richness of our faith”

“Practice Fraternal Correction”

“I put my trust in you. I know you are my Father.”

“Serenity.  Why lose your temper?”

“We have to toil away each day with Jesus”

“Seek first the Kingdom of God”

“Renew your joy for the struggle”

“To pray is to talk with God.  But about what?

“Make life more pleasant for others”

“Struggling for so many years”

“Come, Sanctifier, almighty and eternal God”

“Lord, I don’t know hope to pray”

“You should walk at God’s pace, not your own”

“Serve Our Lord and your fellow men”

“Learn how to do good”

“The strong man will at times suffer, but he stands firm”

“Do not fix your heart on anything that passes away”

“He Calls Each One of Us By Name”

“Implore Divine Mercy”

“We are ordinary people who lead an ordinary life”

“Without Him we can do nothing”

“May you not lack simplicity”

“Our Lord wants us to be both very human and very divine”

Marriage: Where Do We Go From Here?

“Go with confidence to Mary”

“To love means to renew our dedication every day, with loving deeds of service”

“Let Him make demands on you”

“The new commandment of love”

“We have to be strong and patin and, therefore, calm and composed”

“You will be able to support one another”

“To love means to renew our dedication every day, with loving deeds of service”

“You are able to call yourself a son of God”

“Getting to know Jesus will give rise to love”

“Don’t be afraid to know your real self”

“Work with cheerfulness”

“Mary, Teach of unlimited self-giving”

“The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon”

“Mary is close beside you”

“Here I am, for you called me”

“Carry each other’s burdens”

“Keep calm in the face of worries”

“I am with him in the time of trial.”

“Being children you will have no cares”

“Ask for true humility”

“You will follow Jesus in everything that he asks of you”

“To follow Christ, that is the secret”

“You will never love enough”

“We need humility if we are to obey”

Be docile to the Holy Spirit

“Your human vocation is a part of your divine vocation”

“Mary teaches us to have charity”

“Mary’s throne is the Cross”

“With Mary, how easy it is!”

“Mother! Call her again and again!”

“Lord, if you will You can make me clean”

“Saint Joseph, a teacher of the interior life”

“Do whatever He tells you”

“We will serve everyone”

“Through daily life, give a proof of faith”

“Do what you ought and concentrate on what you are doing”

“Christ is also living now”

“Where is He that is born king?”

“Christians should sanctify everything that is good in their lives”

“We are going to receive our Lord”

“Christ tells you and me that he needs us”

“Develop a lively devotion for Our Blessed Mother”

“The value God places on marriage”

“You have Him always at your side”

“Mary, teacher of prayer”

“Sowers of peace and joy”

“Exercise care in little things”

“Get to known Joseph and you will find Jesus”

“We cannot preach what we do not practice”

“He encourages and teaches and guides us”

“The enormous importance of the task of parents”

“Married life: an occasion for God’s presence on earth”

Love is Shown with Deeds

God Humbled Himself

Jesus is Still Looking for Shelter

God’s Benevolent Plan for Humanity

“A Personal Meeting With God”

“God Is Always Near Us”

“Each one of us should strive to become another Christ”

“Our Lord wants us to be glad”

“The only freedom that can save man is Christian freedom”

“I want to give myself without holding anything back”

“We have to be strong and patient and therefore composed”

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me”

“May I never become attached to anything”

“Jesus is with us”

“He calls us each to holiness”

“Jesus came to reveal the love of God to us”

“A person who loves God gives his very self”

“Don’t be afraid to know your real self”

“Struggling for so many years”

“Get to know the Holy Spirit”

“An action of God, of the Trinity”

“It is a time of hope, and I life of this treasure”

“Through daily life, give a proof of faith”

“Sowers of peace and joy”

“There is no reason why the Church and the State should clash”

“About prayer”

“We must see in work a way to sanctity”

“There are no unimportant posts”

“This is a personal meeting with God”

“Develop a lively devotion for Our Mother” 

Meditative Prayer

“To come close to Christ”

“The Mass is the action of Christ”

Divine Healing

“Come, Sanctifier, almighty and eternal God”

 “Renew your joy for the struggle”

“Is he not the carpenter?”

“Make the lives of others more pleasant”

‘Do not be sorry to be nothing”

“Are you sad, my child?”

“Be a Eucharist soul”

“Take courage, Jesus said, it is myself; do not be afraid?

“Help them unobtrusively”

“My daughter, God is counting on your help”

“He has triumphed over death”

“He is there. with His flesh and with His Blood”

“The mystery of Holy Thursday”

“Holy Wednesday – Love is with love repaid”

“The God of our faith is not a distant being”

“God who created you without you, will not save you without you”


“You need to think about your life calmly and ask for forgiveness”

“He will give you His strength”

“Do not enter into dialogue with temptation”

“God is calling you to Serve Him…”

“The only possible measure for the love…without measure?

“The way to cut short all the evils is to pray”

“It’s not enough to be good; you need to show it”

“To pray is to talk to God.  But about what?”

 “He listens to us and answers us”

“No greater love”

“We have to pray at all times….”

“Sanctifying one’s work is no fantastic dream”

“We have to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ”

“Examine yourself: slowly, courageously”

“Fight against that weakness”

“To meditate for a while each day benefits conscientious Christians”

 “Try to enter into the scene as just one more person there”

“What should a Christian hope for?”

“Feeling that I am a son of God fills me with real hope”

“Place everything in God’s hands”

“Stages: Seek Him, finding Him, getting to know Him, loving Him”

“The great friend that never lets you down”

“Are you living in the presence of God”

 “The greatest revolution of our times”

“God does not lose battles”

“People who are perfect are only found in heaven!”

“You have failings – and such failings!”

“Let us try never to lose our supernatural outlook”

“God is continually leading us forward”

“May I never cease to practice charity

“The greatest gift of God to man”  

“He made Himself food, He became Bread”

“Off to a fresh start”

“Forgive everyone”

“Brief is our time for loving”

“We must also love our enemies”

“You do not trust yourself at all, but trust in God for everything”

“Here I am, Lord, ready to do whatever you want”

“Rest means recuperation”

“Carry each others troubles”

Serenity.  Why lose your temper?

With Him there is no possibility of failure

“Christian prayer: a loving conversation with God”

“When you have to correct, you should do so with charity”

“You are obliged to give good example”

“Learn how to do good”

“You should walk at God’s pace, not at your own”

“Work is a blessing from God”

“Be docile to the Holy Spirit”

“The solemn coming of the Holy Spirit”

“Heroism is expected of the Christian”

“The strong man will at times suffer, but he stands firm”

“Saint Joseph, a teacher of the interior life”

“Do whatever He tells you”

“Mary, Queen of Apostles”

Gospel Guide

“Mary’s throne is the Cross”

“She opens to us the way to the Kingdom of Heaven”

“Nothing is worthwhile if we are not close to Our Lord”

Apostolate of Faith

“Help of Christians”

“Mary, Teacher of unlimited self-giving”

“Mother! Call her again and again”

“Your human vocation is a part of your divine vocation”

“Jesus came to reveal the love of God to us”

Late Have I Loved You Echoes

“The Risen Christ is Our Companion”

“Everything is already there, in Christ”

“He has triumphed over death”

Christian Women

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Maturity Level

Holy Week Meditations

Padre Pio’s Prayer


Most Recent First:

A Christian Without Mary is an Orphan

Anointing the Sick: Sacrament of God’s Compassion Towards Human Suffering

India: St. Thomas’ Orthodox Syrian Church

Look out for idolatry and hypocrisy

Destructive power of money

A population that does not care for children and the elderly abuses the memory of the past and the promise for the future.

Saintliness is a vocation for all

Christians must guard against the slyness of the devil

Christian Families: Salt and Leaven of Faith in Daily Life

Spiritual Maternity of Christians

Breaking New Ground in Jewish-Catholic Relations

Just like a nurse, God heals our wounds with His hands

The Church is God’s Call to Be Part of His Family

Ten Commandments Are Indications For Freedom

Jews and Catholics face the challenges of religion in contemporary society

Gossip is a form of murder

What gate?

Be Open to God’s Surprises

More Christian Persecuted Than in the First Centuries

Eucharist Is Not Magic

Pope Francis to Pilgrims to Rome from Charlotte, NC

Jesus’ Compassion Is Like A Mother’s Love

Mary and Martha

Not Peace But the Sword

Really Knowing Jesus

Sacrament of Confession is not a “torture chamber”.

Your Salvation

How Can We Have Unity Among Christians If As Catholics We Are Not United?

Corrupt Christians Cause Great Damage to the Church

Faith is a gift that begins in our encounter with Jesus

The Pope Convokes a Day of Prayer and Penance for Peace in Middle East

Pope Francis’ first published book: On HEAVEN and EARTH

Pope Francis to Brazilian Youth

Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury

Financial Reform Along Ethical Lines

Financial Crisis Rooted in Rejection of Ethics

Children’s Train: A Journey Through Beauty

Chasm Exists Between Pope Francis and Liberation Theology

 Worldwide Eucharistic Adoration on Sunday, June 2 11am to 12pm EDT

The Holy Spirit Teaches Us to See with Christ’s Eyes

What the Resurrection of Christ Means for Our Lives

Christ’s Message Is Mercy

Christ Has Risen, He Has Risen Indeed!

Following Jesus is Learning to Go Out of Ourselves

“We Must Live Faith with a Young Heart”

“If God Didn’t Forgive, the World Would not Exist”

To Walk, to Build, to Witness, Always with the Cross of Christ

Pope Francis’ Inaugural Sermon

Render Your Hearts Not Your Clothing


Most Recent First:

A Man For All Seasons

A Light to the Nations; The Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church, Part I

A Light to the Nations; The Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church, Part II

A Light to the Nations; the Meaning and Future of the Catholic Church, Part III

Archbishop Chaput’s Take on Pope Francis

Catholic Teachers

Repair My House: Renewing the Roots of Religious Liberty

Being Human in an Age of Unbelief – Part I

Being Human in an Age of Unbelief – Part II

Being Human in an Age of Unbelief – Part III

Politics and the Devil – Part I

Politics and the Devil – Part II

Politics and the Devil – Part III

Living within the Truth – Part I

Living within the Truth – Part II

Living within the Truth – Part III

04 FR. JOHN McCLOSKEY…………………………………………………………

Most Recent First:

The Final Confrontation

Heart-to-Heart Preaching

Becoming Catholic

Station Churches of Rome

St. Thomas More: Faithful Statesman

Praying Litanies

Hope for the Gospel of Life in America

Belloc, Benson and Knox: three renowned Catholic writers

Help Wanted: Spiritual Direction

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Renewal: How the New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church

American Women and the Culture Wars

The Role of Church History in Conversion to the Catholic Church

Will Many Be Saved?

Tea Party Catholic

Catholic Guide to Depression

Wining the World, One Friend at a Time

Navigating the Interior Life

God in Action

The Magisterium and Catholic Social Teaching

Why Faith Prevails Over Doubt

On the Meaning of Sex

Ten Way to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

40th Anniversary of Roe v Wade and Dr. Nathanson, the prophet

Christians in the Movies

Closing of the Muslim Mind

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God

 Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: Why is he important today.

The Difference God Makes

Charity, Grace and Force

Private Charity Versus Government Welfare

Laymen: “Resolve to Discern God’s Will for You”

Justice and Mercy: As Relevant Today as Ever


Most Recent First:

St. Dominic

St. Bernadette Souborious

The Great Schism

Capacity for Sanctity

Body and Blood of Christ

An Opportunity to Expand Our Soul

Mt. Zion

Good and Evil

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, “Lily of the Mohawks”

St. Thomas Aquinas

On Free Will

Christianity in Eastern Europe

Cultivating a Spirit of Generosity

Having Hope

Wheat and Weeds

Bridge Between Liturgical Seasons

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity

Notre Dame de Chartres 

St. Ann

Transfiguration of Our Soul

Charles de Foucault

St. Clare

Angelic Hosts

Value of Faith


Most Holy Trinity

Joy in Suffering

Holy Trinity

Pentecost II

Pentecost I

The Ascension of Our Lord

Accepting God’s Grace

Crucifixion of St. Peter

Sts. Peter and Paul

The Essence of Christian Perfection

Humility in Key 

On the Mercy of God

Easter Sunday

Easter Vigil

Holy Saturday

Good Friday

Mass of the Lord”s Supper

Holy Thursday


St. John of the Cross

Suffering is the End Result of Selfishness

The Healing Power of Suffering

St. John Vianney


Washing of the Feet

Wedding Feast at Cana

Baptism of the Lord

Mary, Mother of God

Holy Family

Nativity of the Lord 

Mystery of the Mass

Power of the Holy Name

Gaudete Sunday

Solemnity of Christ the King

In the Holy Land

Our Fate’ Our Choice

The Tax Collectors

All Souls Day

Marian Devotion


Last Judgment

Four Last Things


Consecration to theBlessed Virgin Mary

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Learning to Imitate

Peter Saw the Truth

Losing a Colleague and Friend

Time Counts

Body and Blood of Christ

Most Holy Trinity


Gianna Beretta Molla


Letter from Bishop Jugis and Bishop Burbidge

Good Shepherd

Easter Sunday

Easter Vigil


Holy Sepulcher

Palm Sunday

St. John Paul the Great

Divine Light

Easter Duty

Call to Repentance

St. Catherine of Siena

The Benefits of Baptism

Unworthy But Loved

Importance of Family

Model Saints


Mary, Mother of God

Christmas Mass


St. Catherine of Siena 


All Saints Day


Religious Orders

Victory at Lepanto and the Rosary

St. Therese of Lisieux

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Lawrence

Call to Observance


Pearl of Wisdom

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

St. John Mary Vianney

Basilica of St. Mary’s Major


Being Commissioned

Rebels and Rebellions

Mary Magdalene

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Importance of Faith

The Most Holy Trinity

Nativity of the Lord

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Excerpts from Sermon by Fr. Timothy Reid (9/22/13) clarifying media spin on Pope Francis’ statement.

Catholic Prayers


Major Threat to Life

Marital Commitment

Major Threat to Life

Sacred Heart

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ


Ascension of the Lord

Easter Sunday

Good Friday

Holy Thursday

Palm Sunday

Prayer by Fr. Reid





Christ by Fr. Reid

Ability to Choose

Good Friday

Palm Sunday

Cathedral of Chartes

The Annunciation

St. Joseph

Holy Mass


Ash Wednesday Approaches

St. Augustine by Fr. Reid

Do You Love Jesus?


Respect for Life

The Holy Family by Fr. Timothy Reid

Nativity of Our Lord

Advent: the Coming of Christ

Season of Advent

December 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Christ the King (Whose feast is this Sunday)

All Souls’ Day, November 2nd 

All Saints’ Day, November 1st

The Major Threats to Life

August 15 Assumption


Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ by Fr. Reid

Most Blessed Trinity by Fr. Reid

Solemnity of Pentecost by Fr. Reid

The Ascension of Our Lord, Jesus Christ by Fr. Reid

Marital Commitment by Fr. Reid

St. Ignatius Loyola by Fr. Reid

Blessed John Paul II by Fr. Reid

Baptism of the Lord by Fr. Reed

Love is…

Blessed are the peace makers…”

“Blessed are the clean of heart…”

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

Transfiguration of Our Soul

Gospel of the Annunciation

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

The real Mary of Nazareth

Who? Me?

Isaias: Bible Study

The New Testament From a Jewish Perspective

“Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Immaculate Conception


Unity of Pentecost Overcomes Division and Enmity

The Three Comings of Christ

New Chinese-English Bible Marks Major Evangelization Breakthrough

The Deutero-canonical Books of the Bible

Come Up Higher

Re-oriented World

Incarnation: God Assumes a Human Condition to Heal It

All Saints and All Souls

Does God’s Holy Spirit Living in Us Make Any Difference?

Eucharistic Communion and Contemplation Are Inseparable

The Church Becomes Fully Visible in the Liturgy

Faith Means Believing in the Love of God Which Redeems Us from Slavery

Christians’ Firm Hope in the Resurrection

Transmitting the Passion for Christ to the World

Man is a Seeker of the Absolute

Christ Guides the Journey of Humanity

Saying “I believe in God the Father Almighty” Is Saying “I believe in the power of God’s love”

The Logic of God Is Different from the Logic of Man

Three Ways to Know God: the World, Man and Faith

Human Intelligence Can Find Key to Understanding the World in Sacred Scripture

Why Temptations?

God Doesn’t Consider As Much the Quality of the Chosen as their Faith

Seeking the Face of God

Incarnation: God Assumes Human Condition to Heal It

Divine Revelation Does Not Follow Earthly Logic

Mary’s Faith in the Light of the Mystery of the Annunciation

The Coming of the Lord Continues

The Infancy Narratives

Divorced People Are Not Outside the Church

Praying to the Father in Order to Help Those Who Suffer

Each Human Person is Miracle of God

Jesus Prayed

The Closeness of God Transforms Reality

Jesus in the Gospel According to St. John

Dying Prayer of Our Lord

Pope Address USA Bishops on Crisis of Marriage and the Family

“They returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth”

Christmas: Eternity Enters into Confines of Time and Space

Daughter of Zion

Pope Benedict on the Subject of the Prayer of Christ

Advent Spiritual Journey by Fr. Mark Lawlor

Validity of Gospels

Mary, Our Mother

Benedict XVI – It is necessary to restore the primacy of God in the world

Benedict XVI – Parable of the Sower 

Benedict XVI – “Upon this rock I will build my church.”

How Do I Love You? Let Me Count the Ways

Beatitudes Vocabulary

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In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/10/13 at 9:11 AM

America’s first Catholic president popularized the separation of faith from politics – and the problem isn’t going away.

 What role should a Catholic politician’s faith play in his governing decisions?  After dominating U.S. headlines during the 2004 presidential contest between Catholic Senator John Kerry and Methodist President George W. Bush, the question has emerged again.  The midterm elections of 2006 swept pro-choice Catholic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi into the third-highest position in the U.S. government, cost the pro-life movement more than a dozen House and Senate seats, and found Catholic voters migrating back to the Democratic Party despite its staunch support for legal abortion.  Pro-choice Catholic and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has informally launched a presidential bid, as has pro-life Catholic Senator Sam Brownback.  And the U.S. bishops recently released a statement affirming that Catholics must uphold Church teaching in public life if they wish to receive Communion.

The controversy over America’s Catholic politicians connects to a more fundamental question confronting dozens of pluralistic democracies today: Should religious convictions and religiously-based moral principles be confined to the private realm, or should they inform our public policy debates?  And what role must the Catholic politician play in articulating those beliefs and principles?

The most prominent American Catholic politician to address those questions was President John F. Kennedy, whose landmark 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association indelibly influenced a generation of aspiring Catholic politicians.  His speech, and a later address by Catholic New York Governor Mario Cuomo that applied Kennedy’s arguments to the abortion debate, go a long way toward explaining the trend toward compartmentalization of faith and politics that prevails among Catholic politicians today – and offer clues about how it can be reversed.

One of Us

The impact of Kennedy’s speech can be fully understood only in light of the situation of American Catholics in his day and earlier.  Ensconced in what has been called the “Catholic ghetto” – a pre-Vatican II world of May crownings, Corpus Christi processions, and Friday fish fries – Catholics were largely insulated from a larger Protestant culture that was deeply suspicious of their faith.  Catholics had always been different from America’s Protestant majority: They had their own schools and hospitals, their own holidays and heroes, even their own religious lexicon.  In a nation shaped by the Protestant rejection of authority and tradition, Catholics looked to their priests, bishops, and pope for guidance on life’s most intimate and important questions.  American Anti-Catholicism had waxed and waned through the centuries – it reached fever pitch with the massive influx of Catholic immigrants in the 19th century – but Catholics had survived by relying on a closely knit religious subculture for shelter, support, and a sense of belonging.

That subculture had propelled Catholics to leadership positions in immigrant-rich cities like New York, but never to the Oval Office.  Democratic presidential candidate and Tammany Hall political veteran Al Smith learned that lesson the hard way in 1928, when he lost in a landslide to Republican Herbert Hoover.  Historians now agree that the nation’s prosperity had made Hoover’s victory inevitable, but Smith’s Irish Catholic background did not help him.  According to political scientist Lawrence Fuchs, an estimated 10 million anti-Catholic handbills, leaflets, and posters had been rushed into circulation within a week to defeat Smith.  They reflected a widespread fear among Protestants that the election of a Catholic President would mean, in the words of an editorial in the mainline Protestant journal, Christian Century, “the seating of the representative of an alien culture, of a medieval, Latin mentality, of an undemocratic hierarchy and of a foreign potentate in the great office of the President of the United States.”

Thirty-two years later, when Massachusetts Senator Jack Kennedy was nominated to become the Democratic Party’s second Catholic presidential candidate, much had changed.  Postwar affluence had swept Catholic families to the suburbs, the G.I. Bill had sent scores of Catholic men to college, and one of America’s most popular television personalities was Bishop Fulton Sheen, whose weekly show attracted 30 million viewers at its zenith.  Even Hollywood smiled on Catholics: “Going My Way” and the “Bells of St. Mary’s” had been the nation’s top-grossing films in 1944 and 1945, and Protestant America had become accustomed to singing priests and nuns on the silver screen.

The Catholic Church of Kennedy’s day, like the United States itself, was confident and self-assured.  Kennedy embodied that confident self-assurance as no Catholic politician ever had.  His telegenic smile, effortless eloquence, and keen sense of style captured the national imagination and represented our idealized vision of ourselves.  He was an erudite man of letters who still enjoyed a rough-and-tumble football game with his brothers, a wealthy product of elite prep schools who reminded us of our duty to help the weak and the poor, and the dashing husband of a glamorous wife who never lost the common touch.  For Catholics, Kennedy was all this and one thing more: He was one of us.  Invested with the hopes of every Catholic who longed to be accepted in America, Kennedy symbolized the full integration of Catholics into American public life.

That integration would be tested during the presidential contest of 1960.  Catholics delighted by the possibility of having one of their own in the White House soon learned that other Americans were horrified by the prospect.  Many feared that a member of an international, hierarchical church could not fulfill his presidential duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.  They worried that Kennedy’s Catholic faith would lead him to flout the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom and prohibition against the establishment of a state church.

During the campaign, the anti-Catholicism that had lay dormant for decades re-emerged with a vengeance.  Secularists warned of “fundamental” value differences between Catholics and other Americans, and suggested that the election of a Catholic President would open the door to theocracy.  As Mark Massa noted in his book, Catholics and American Culture (Crossroad, 1999), Protestant fundamentalists harbored similar fears and launched a direct mail campaign to send more than 300 different anti-Catholic tracts to some 20 million homes before the election.  Kennedy’s candidacy was denounced by the nine-million-member Southern Baptist Convention and a host of other Protestant churches and associations.  Clergy affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals and other Protestant groups launched a nationwide campaign of anti-Kennedy sermons to coincide with “Reformation Sunday” on October 30, 1960.  Protestants opposing Kennedy were urged to wear buttons throughout the campaign season that said, “Stand Up and Be Counted” over the numbers “1517” – a reminder to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther, who launched the Protestant Reformation that year by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

Kennedy knew that he had no chance of ascending to the Presidency if he did not address the religious issue directly.  Militant anti-Catholics would not be open to persuasion, but he hoped to answer their attacks in a way that reassured other Americans.  His first widely publicized attempt to do so came in March 1959, when Look magazine published an interview in which he gave this quote: “Whatever one’s religion in private life may be, for the office-holder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts – including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.”  Kennedy then highlighted his opposition to federal aid for parochial schools and to an appointment of an ambassador to the Vatican – positions that he had reversed since his earlier days in Congress, when he had supported such measures.

Kennedy’s comments sparked a backlash in the Catholic press.  From America to Commonweal and to diocesan papers, editors criticized his views on church and state and his claim that parochial school aid was unconstitutional.  Protestant reaction, meanwhile, ran the gamut.  Some were reassured by Kennedy’s statements.  Others – including some mainline Protestants who had initially defended him – were alarmed.  Episcopalian Bishop James Pike said, “… far from posing the threat of ecclesiastical tyranny, [Kennedy’s statement] would seem rather to represent the point of view of a thoroughgoing secularist, who really believes that a man’s religion and his decision-making can be kept in two watertight compartments.”  Presbyterian Robert McAfee Brown surmised that Kennedy was “a rather irregular Christian.”  And Lutheran Martin Marty opined that Kennedy was “spiritually rootless and politically almost disturbingly secular.”

‘Not the Catholic Candidate’

Critics of the views that Kennedy had expressed in Look soon found new cause to worry.  On September 12, 1960, Kennedy delivered a televised speech in Houston on the topic of church-state separation.  Standing before an audience of several hundred Protestant clergymen, Kennedy made the case for his Presidency by disavowing the influence of his Catholic faith on his political choices.  He began by articulating a strict separationist reading of the First Amendment:

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.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

Kennedy said a President’s religious views are “his own private affair” and reminded the crowd that he was not the Catholic candidate for President, but the Democratic candidate who happened to be Catholic.  He explained the relationship between his faith and his political decisions this way:

I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.  Whatever issue may come before me as President – on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject – I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.  And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

Kennedy said that he would resign office if his conscience conflicted with the national interest, but added that he did “not concede any conflict to be remotely possible.”  Though these last statements were intended to assuage religious critics, Kennedy’s proposed solution to the competing demands of faith and politics – that he would resign office if ever the two collided – only confirmed that this faith would be quarantined from his governance.

Kennedy’s speech appeased many non-Catholic critics.  Mainline Protestant and Jewish voters warmed to his candidacy.  Secular skeptics applauded his strict separationist views.  And though many evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants remained suspicious, Kennedy had defused the power of their anti-Catholic appeals.

Catholics, meanwhile, had mixed reactions.  Kennedy already had the Catholic vote locked up, and he proceeded to win the Presidency in a squeaker against Richard Nixon with the support of four in every five Catholic voters.  But historians say many Catholic bishops secretly feared a Kennedy presidency after noticing his desperation to prove his independence from the Church, as demonstrated by his Houston remarks and hard-line positions against Church-endorsed policies.

For his part, Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen later said that he had vetted the Houston speech with Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, a leading American Catholic intellectual and chief architect of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark affirmation of religious freedom.  But most historians agree that Murray disapproved of the strident separationism that Kennedy championed.  Murray did not believe that the Constitution called for a public square stripped of all religious rhetoric and arguments.  Nor did he accept the privatized view of religion that restricted its implications to home and hearth.  As Jesuit historian Massa has noted, Murray endorsed a public Catholicism that allowed Catholic politicians and voters to engage in faith-based social activism and defend their religiously-derived principles in the public square.  This public Catholicism was not consistent with Kennedy’s pledge to expunge all traces of religious influence from his governing decisions.  As Murray wrote in a 1967 letter to a friend, Kennedy had been “far more of a separationist than I am.”

Kennedy’s God

Though Kennedy’s Houston speech surprised some Catholics, it was consistent with his upbringing and cultural influences.  Catholics may have considered Kennedy one of their own, but he was closer in his views and lifestyle to Boston Brahmins than ethnic Catholics.  His biographers have consistently chronicled his detachment from his Catholic faith.  Groomed for secular success from an early age, Kennedy learned the faith from his mother but watched his playboy millionaire father routinely flout its precepts.  He did not grow up in the Catholic ghetto or attend Catholic schools, except for one year.  He was a self-described “Harvard man” who, according to his chief speechwriter, did not care “a whit for theology.”  Sorensen once said that in 11 years of working together, Kennedy had never shared his views on man’s relation to God.  That would not have surprised Boston Archbishop and Kennedy family friend Richard Cardinal Cushing, who openly acknowledged that Kennedy was never very religious.  Nor would it have surprised Jackie Kennedy, who reportedly told journalist Arthur Krock that the religious controversy surrounding her husband mystified her because, she said, “Jack is such a poor Catholic.”

Many biographers suggest that Kennedy’s religious views were essentially Deist, like those of Jefferson, the founding father he quoted so often.  Kennedy believed in God and attended Mass regularly, but he was more attracted to the American ideal of the independent, self-made man than the Catholic ideal of the humble, obedient servant of God.  As Lawrence Fuchs notes in his book, John F. Kennedy and American Catholicism (Meredith, 1967), many of Kennedy’s favorite writers had been zealous anti-Catholics and one of his favorite poems, William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” reads more like an agnostic manifesto than a Christian one.  In the poem, Henley thanks “whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul,” and concludes with these lines: “It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

Kennedy’s political rhetoric sometimes echoed these sentiments.  He frequently sang the praises of liberalism, which he defined as “faith in man’s ability … reason and judgment” and he identified the human mind as “the source of our invention and our ideas.”  Rather than a personal God intimately involved in and concerned with the affairs of his creatures, Kennedy’s God kept his distance from the world he had created.  As Kennedy told one audience: “Our problems are manmade – therefore they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants.  No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”  In Kennedy’s theology, there seemed to be little emphasis on the fallen world, or original sin, or the radical reliance on God’s mercy and grace that has always been a hallmark of Christian orthodoxy.

Kennedy’s innovation was not merely his Deist ideas about God.  After all, several of America’s founding fathers appear to have held similar views as they promoted a civil religion that draws upon religious faith to shore up public morality.  Kennedy’s rhetoric marked a departure from this notion of public religion and the beginning of the end of the public consensus about the role of religion in American democracy.  His exaltation of man as the measure of all things and reason as the key to a perfected world left little role for the God invoked in America’s founding documents.  When America’s founding fathers asserted self-evident truths about the equal rights and dignity of all people, and entrusted their grand experiment in democratic rule to divine Providence, they were making theological claims compatible with the traditional Christian and Jewish conception of the human person and his relationship with God.  Those claims were not exhaustive; they did not enumerate the many and varied views that Americans held about God and man.  But they conformed to the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian tradition and advanced a vision that most Americans accepted as true.  Kennedy’s rhetoric diverged from that framework, and the strict compartmentalization between faith and politics that he championed contrasted with the traditional Christian ideal of a public servant whose faith guides and informs his political decisions.

 The Naked Public Square

It is possible that Kennedy was more the victim of poor catechesis than the willing agent of a secular shift in American politics.  It is also likely that his Houston speech was motivated more by political pragmatism than by theological conviction.  Whatever his motives, his speech and subsequent political victory marked the beginning of a new era of secularization in American politics and shaped a new generation of Catholic politicians, many of whom modeled their own compromise between faith and politics on his.  Kennedy’s electoral success, coupled with postwar affluence and drastic changes in the Catholic Church that followed the Second Vatican Council, marked the end of the Catholic ghetto and the coming of age of American Catholicism.  But the cultural and political victory that Kennedy had won for Catholics came at a steep price: The creation of what Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has called “the naked public square.”  It is a sanitized space where political arguments are unwelcome if they spring from religious conviction, appeals to once self-evident truths are neither embraced nor challenged but reflexively dismissed as mere opinion, and debates about life’s most fundamental questions are ruled out of bounds before they can begin.  In the naked public square, the division between faith and reason, God and man, private truth and the public ethic is absolute and impermeable.

The answer Kennedy offered in Houston to the challenge of religious pluralism – that religion should be relegated to the private realm and deprived of its meaning-making role in American democracy – soon came to dominate American public life.  That domination was facilitated by the enthusiastic promotion of strict separationism among secular elites in the academy, media, and judiciary.  It was also connected to the social upheaval of the 1960s that unraveled the nation’s rough consensus on religion and morality.

The collapse of that consensus was, in many ways, a natural consequence of religious pluralism.  When confronted with so many competing worldviews and truth claims, many Americans came to see the privatization of religion as an easier solution to political and cultural stalemates than consensus-building.  Privatization allows us to consign religion and its mores to an intimate sphere of life where they can offer therapeutic benefit to their practitioners without infringing on others’ rights.

But the privatization of religion ultimately fails as a response to religious pluralism because of the moral relativism at its core, which denigrates reason as well as faith, and acknowledges no universal truths.  The privatization of religion does not simply prevent religious conflicts in the public square; it prevents the most fundamental form of deliberation necessary to the functioning of a democracy: honest debates about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood.

These debates need not be explicitly sectarian, but they are always essentially religious, because they are about questions of ultimate meaning.  What else, after all, is at the core of our disputes about embryonic stem-cell research, physician-assisted suicide, and same-sex marriage?  Such disagreements arise from competing ideas about the value of human life, the meaning of human sexuality, and whether and how we can know moral truth.  Even those who claim no religious affiliation or belief in any moral absolutes belie their own self-proclaimed neutrality when they insist on the rightness of their position and on the adoption of laws that reflect their own laissez-faire or morally relativistic views.

No one comes to the public square without an agenda, a set of values, and a worldview.  To deprive some Americans of their right to make political arguments from religious conviction or to insist on a separation of church and state so absolute that it expunges all traces of theism and religious influence from the public square does not create a neutral zone for civil discourse.  It creates an unconstitutional obstacle to civic participation for the vast majority of Americans whose worldview is religiously informed.  And it hands strident secularists a de facto victory before the debate ever begins, since religious Americans are told that they must argue from secular assumptions if they want to be heard at all.

This situation leads to something far worse than unfair debates or vapid political discourse.  It promotes what Pope Benedict the Sixteenth has called a “dictatorship of relativism” where all of life, not merely public life, is dominated by the a priori rejection of religious belief and any claim to moral truth.  As Neuhaus notes in his book, The Naked Public Square (Eerdmans, 1984), the banishment of religious belief and religious actors from the public square creates a power vacuum to be filled by a totalitarian state.  The most potent check on state power is religion, after all: Religious institutions and believers assert absolute values that challenge the supremacy of the state and defend human rights that cannot be legitimately revoked by man-made laws or majority vote.  When religious actors are removed from the public square, the state assumes the power to define absolute values.  In the case of a thoroughly secularized society, the state may simply say that all values are relative – a claim that, in itself, becomes absolute by virtue of the state’s authority.  So the religion of relativism, in which any opinion is allowed except one that is believed to be universally true, becomes the established religion imposed at the price of our freedom, our rights, and our democracy.

The Cuomo Alibi

So how does all of this relate to today’s controversies about Catholic politicians?  The answer lies in another landmark speech delivered by a Catholic politician who applied Kennedy’s logic to the most contentious political issue of our day: abortion.

The year was 1984, and Catholic Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro was running for vice-president on the Democratic ticket headlined by former Vice President Walter Mondale.  John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, had recently told a reporter that he did not believe a Catholic could, in good conscience, support legal abortion.  Mario Cuomo, like Ferraro, did.  So with an eye toward his own potential presidential candidacy, Cuomo set out to make the case for pro-choice Catholic politicians.

Speaking at the University of Notre Dame one day after the 24th anniversary of Kennedy’s Houston speech, Cuomo drew on moving rhetoric and lawyerly dexterity to expand Kennedy’s bifurcation of private faith and public life to the abortion debate.  He assured his listeners that he accepted Catholic teaching that abortion is wrong and is “a matter of life and death” with “unique significance.”  Then he argued that Catholic politicians like him – who support legal abortion and, in his case, taxpayer funding of abortion – are not betraying Catholic principles but are simply refusing to impose their views on others in the absence of a political consensus against abortion.  Stipulating that there are “no final truths,” Cuomo told his audience this:  “[T]he Catholic Church’s actions with respect to the interplay of religious values and public policy make clear that there is no inflexible moral principle which determines what our political conduct should be.”  Cuomo said that opposition to abortion in theory need not translate into opposition in public policy, since it is unclear which policy, if any, would actually stop abortion.  He concluded by citing the “seamless garment” proposed by Chicago Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and arguing that abortion is merely one issue among many that has no “preemptive significance.”

Since Cuomo’s arguments have been parroted in pro-choice Catholic stump speeches for more than 20 years, they merit scrutiny.  His first claim – that Catholic politicians who seek to limit or outlaw access to abortion are improperly imposing their beliefs on others – defies common sense.  Every politician attempts to use his political power to influence policy and impose his political will.  For a Catholic politician to claim that he can do so on other issues but not on abortion is a dodge.  Cuomo later admitted as much, when he complained to a PBS reporter that the U.S. bishops had not given him enough credit for repeatedly bucking the expressed will of his New York constituents by vetoing a dozen legislative attempts to reinstate the death penalty.  Clearly, political consensus on capital punishment did not matter as much to Cuomo as doing what he thought was right.

As for the argument that respect for the sanctity of innocent life constitutes a religious conviction with no place in public policy, that might have surprised the authors of America’s Declaration of Independence, which describes the right to life as “unalienable” and “self-evident.”  Cuomo’s claim also contradicts Catholic teaching, which holds that respect for innocent life is not a peculiarly sectarian principle but a precept of the natural moral law accessible to everyone by reason, and for that reason, Catholic politicians have a duty to defend it.  Church teaching acknowledges that there may be legitimate diversity of opinion about which anti-abortion measures are most effective.  But doing nothing, or actively promoting abortion while blaming some purported pro-abortion consensus for one’s policies, is unacceptable.

Cuomo’s attempt to justify his support for abortion with Bernardin’s “seamless garment” argument also falls flat.  Bernardin repeatedly stressed that the right to life is fundamental to all other rights, and therefore must take moral precedence over other issues.  The U.S. bishops have emphasized that point repeatedly, as in their 1998 statement, “Living the Gospel of Life,” where they identified opposition to abortion and euthanasia as the indispensable foundation of efforts to build a culture of life and noted that “being ‘right’” on other issues “can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.”

Catholic teaching has always recognized a hierarchy of values in which some issues outweigh others because they concern acts that are regarded as intrinsically evil – that is, always and everywhere wrong.  These “non-negotiable” issues are distinguished in Catholic theology from those which must be judged according to circumstances.  As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, wrote to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2004: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.  …While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment.  There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

A Sign of Contradiction

Cuomo’s speech may have been riddled with errors and fallacies, but for Catholic politicians who wanted to please the powerful pro-abortion lobby without forfeiting the Catholic vote, it was a home run.  We heard echoes of Cuomo’s arguments and Kennedy’s compromise in 2004, when Kerry answered critics of his 100 percent voting score from the National Abortion Rights Action League by telling The New York Times: “I’m not a church spokesman.  I’m a legislator running for president.  My oath is to uphold the Constitution of the United States in my public life.  My oath privately between me and God was defined in the Catholic Church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II, which allows for freedom of conscience for Catholics with respect to these choices, and that is exactly where I am.”

Kerry was wrong on several counts.  Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council and there was no Pope Pius XXIII.  More importantly, Catholic teaching holds that a Catholic must form his conscience in accord with the truth as revealed in Scripture and authoritative Church teaching.  To willfully dissent from a fundamental moral precept and cling to one’s own poorly formed conscience is not viewed by the Church as an act of integrity; it is a mortal sin.  As St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke and a handful of other bishops have pointed out, Catholic politicians who commit such a sin scandalize the faithful and forfeit their right to Holy Communion.

Though the Catholic controversy may have cost Kerry the support of weekly churchgoers in 2004, it had little discernible impact on the 2006 midterm elections.  Churchgoing Catholics appear more willing than other Catholics to vote pro-life but the distinctiveness of the overall Catholic vote has become another casualty of the political assimilation that Kennedy pioneered.  Perhaps the true lesson of Kennedy’s Houston speech is this: A commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church challenges Catholics to stand as a sign of contradiction in the world.  We can accept that challenge or we can reject it, but we must not convince ourselves that we can have it both ways.  We can’t.  And that is good news for America and Europe, where the prophetic witness of courageous Catholics is needed now as never before.


 Colleen Carroll Campbell, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN, and author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola, 2002).