Archbishop condemns Kennedy's 1960 Catholic speech

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Fifty years ago in Houston, John F. Kennedy declared in a famous speech to Protestant ministers that his Catholic faith would not influence the public policy decisions he made as President. But Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput told an audience at Houston Baptist University on Monday that Americans of all faiths are still “paying for the damage” from a speech that was “sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong.”

“Real Christian faith is always personal, but it’s never private,” said Chaput. “And we need to think about that simple fact in light of an anniversary.”

Although Kennedy’s words were meant to assure Protestant ministers that the Catholic Church would not influence the Presidency, Chaput said that ultimately they, and all people of religious faith, became the losers: the Houston speech “profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers in America’s public life and political conversation.

“Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.”

Noting Kennedy’s thundering proclamation of belief in “an America where the separation of Church and state is absolute," Chaput said that vision of America was not shared by the Founding Fathers of the United States, nor did the Framers of the U.S. Constitution intend it.

Instead, Chaput said that the Establishment clause of the First Amendment – prohibiting a federally-sponsored church – was also intended to protect the “publicly funded Protestant Churches” in states such as Massachusetts. That state’s 1780 Constitution had a “mild and equitable establishment of religion” crafted in part by John Adams, the Second US President and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

“America’s Founders encouraged mutual support between religion and government. Their reasons were practical. In their view, a republic like the United States needs a virtuous people to survive,” said Chaput.

“Religious faith, rightly lived, forms virtuous people.”...

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