Pope John who?

George Weigel

It’s an old habit in American presidential politics: when your campaign is going sour, attack the Vatican. The Know-Nothings tried it with some success in the 1840s. James G. Blaine famously failed to distance himself from a supporter’s attack on “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” in 1884 — and lost to Grover Cleveland by a hair. Now, in the oddities of history, it’s a Catholic of Irish descent who’s taking a similar tack.

The day after the Vatican released a statement which taught that Catholic legislators have a moral obligation to oppose gay “marriage,” Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) blew his well-coifed stack. “Kerry raps Pope,” ran the full-page headline in the Boston Herald. As, indeed, the senator did. “It is important not to have the Church instructing politicians,” a “fuming” senator said. “President Kennedy drew that line very clearly in 1960 and I believe we need to stand up for that line today.”

So the Pope had “crossed the line.” But whose line? Perhaps Senator Kerry should be reminded that the name of the Pope is “Pope John Paul,” not “Pope John Fitzgerald.”

And what line? However much it may have dampened anti-Catholic bigotry during the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association hardly constitutes a definitive Catholic statement on Church and state — or on the relationship between a conscience formed by Catholic understandings of moral truth and American democracy. Not only did the Kennedy speech fail to note that religion — Jewish and Christian conviction — informs and sustains the religious tolerance of the vast majority of Americans. He also bypassed any discussion of the relationship between democratic politics and civic virtue.

Kennedy’s eloquence – “…If this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Americans lost their chance to be President on the day they were baptized, then it is the nation as a whole that will be the loser in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people…” — probably blunted the fangs of bigotry among some fever swamp Protestants in 1960.  But it did little to advance the national debate on the relationship between religiously-grounded moral values and American public life. As Senator Kerry evidently reads him, John F. Kennedy was the prophet of what Father Richard Neuhaus has called the “naked public square” — an American public arena in which no one’s religiously-informed moral judgments have a place.

Senator Kerry’s outrage also smacks of the opportunistic. Would Senator Kerry have charged that the Pope had “crossed the line” if the Vatican had said that a vote in favor of re-segregating America’s restaurants and schools would be “gravely immoral”? Very unlikely. Would Senator Kerry object to the Vatican informing Catholic politicians that a vote in favor of repealing minimum-wage laws was “gravely immoral”? Would Senator Kerry object to a Vatican document proposing that Catholic politicians had a moral obligation to protect the environment?

Of course not. Whatever else it may or may not have been intended to communicate, Senator Kerry’s displeasure appealed to several core Democratic constituencies crucial to his quest for the presidency: gay activists; secularists who champion the naked public square; liberals who believe, with Justice Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court, that “liberty” means the unfettered expression of personal willfulness, as long as it’s “between consenting adults” and “no one gets hurt.” That’s the debased notion of liberty that underwrites the abortion license — and only a bear of very little brain would think that that issue wasn’t lurking in the background of Senator Kerry’s blast at the Vatican. (Not that there’s much doubt of where the junior senator from Massachusetts stands on this front — and it isn’t in defense of the inalienable right to life.)

Senator Kerry argued that “Our founding fathers separated Church and state in America.” That’s true and it isn’t. The Framers wisely forbade any federal establishment of religion — a national state Church. They did this to foster the free exercise of religion, not to create a public arena shorn of religiously-informed moral arguments. The “wall of separation” is Thomas Jefferson’s interpretive (and tendentious) metaphor, not the Constitution’s text. Surely a serious candidate for President should know that much.

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!