I am both saddened and dismayed by the article “JFK and the Cafeteria Bishops,” in Tuesday’s National Catholic Reporter. The article is a sham and the writer, Patrick J. Reardon, does not strike me as a devout Catholic. Rather, he may be a man who relishes in taking cheap shots at heroic bishops like Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop Raymond Burke and the late Cardinal John O’Connor. His focus is Catholics in politics, but his perspective is intentionally askew.
Claiming that some shepherds are “activist” bishops who are out of sync with American Catholics, Reardon’s tale unfolds. As he sees it, “moral teaching doesn’t only come from Church officials.” He makes reference to the influence of pillars of the Catholic Church like St. Francis of Assisi. Then he includes JFK. Are we really to believe that St. Francis of Assisi and JFK are of the same caliber to both be mentioned when discussing moral teachings of the Church? It’s easy to see exactly where this train wreck is heading.
For the record, the moral teachings of the Catholic Church come from the inspired word of God, Christ Himself, tradition and popes who are infallible in matters of faith and morals. We all know that, if the Church had been left solely in the hands of uninspired men, she would surely have gone the way of nothing more than a historical footnote by now.
Reardon tells the reader that John F. Kennedy—“flawed sinner that he was”—made a statement loaded with moral wisdom when he told an audience, “I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”
Ah, but that’s the rub isn’t it! This is why Reardon is railing at the good shepherds of the United States. He’s been blinded by political correctness.
Perhaps JFK never knew that the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church is the expression of its founder, Jesus Christ. Through Christ, the teachings of the Church help every Catholic understand that each person has a free will by which he may choose to do good and avoid evil or pursue evil and avoid good. The Church never spoke for JFK, but he could have spoken as a solid Catholic political leader. Sadly, he chose not to do so.
Rather, his half-baked comments are part of the reason why Catholics in public life today are all over the ballpark on serious moral ills like the public acceptance of abortion by Catholic politicians.
A perfect example of this comes from an article by Archbishop Chaput, in which he discusses Catholic politicians such as JFK and former New York governor, Mario Cuomo. According to Cuomo, “approval or rejection of legal restrictions on abortion should not be the exclusive litmus test of Catholic loyalty.” In a brilliant analysis regarding the legacy of the Kennedy-Cuomo dilution of Catholic identity, Chaput wrote that their message to the people was, “It’s OK to be Catholic in public service as long as you’re willing to jettison what’s inconveniently ‘Catholic.’”
Chaput then accurately taught, “That’s not a compromise. That’s a deal with the devil, and it has a balloon payment no nation, no public servant and no voter can afford.”
Reardon thinks such words alienate the Archbishop from the mainstream Catholics who are “the new Protestants in the United States, solidly mainstream but not tied to a group philosophy.”
Reardon views the Catholic Church, her teaching and her heroic bishops as enemies of the common good, bent on preaching the truth in season and out instead of accommodating the status quo and selling out Christ’s call in order to achieve political popularity.
Reardon drives the wedge even deeper by arguing that the death penalty or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is equally as heinous as abortion. He uses this line of thinking to relegate good shepherds to the category of “cafeteria bishops.” Reardon is wrong.
The fact is that abortion is an act murder about which there is no debate, while legitimate theological disagreements addressing war or capital punishment are welcomed by the Church.
It’s a downright shame that Reardon doesn’t understand that Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop Raymond Burke, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, and so many others are the true champions of Catholic teaching. They are not “cafeteria bishops.” They are men of God, committed to teaching truth and leading their people to holiness, not hell.
These bishops don’t buy into the erroneous philosophy of the Kennedy clan, the John Kerrys or Nancy Pelosis of American politics. They have their hearts invested in Christ and His truth.
To Reardon, I say, “A word please, Mr. Reardon. Clearly nobody knows for sure the exact location of JFK’s soul, be it heaven, hell or purgatory, but we do know about his public record. We assure you, sir, JFK was never remotely identical to St. Francis of Assisi.”
“Shame on you, Mr. Reardon.”