Kennedy Townsend opines that her Uncle Jack, in his famous speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, was not really divorcing his private religious convictions and identity as a Catholic from his public life; he was actually respecting an American tradition that prohibits the use of a religious test in the political realm. While we are not certain how she arrived at this conclusion, what we do know is that Palin’s statements are dead on.
The fact is Palin is not the first person to point out the hypocrisy in Kennedy’s statements, not to mention the damage his statements have wrought in subsequent years. Let’s set the record straight.
In 1960, Kennedy took great pains to explain his view of Catholic identity in America when he said, “Let me stress again that these are my views—for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters—and the Church does not speak for me.”
Drawing this distinction meant that even though Kennedy claimed to be Catholic he, like so many in public life today, felt comfortable setting aside his Catholic faith, ethics and ideology in order to be America’s leader. This is the equivalent to handing a child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but without the substance inside—the peanut butter and jelly. Yes, that would be pointless. If indeed faith—a person’s substance—is informing that person’s conscience and guiding his decision making, then it is woven into the fabric of his being. It is not an attribute to be apologetic about, but rather an identity to be proud of—that is, if he or she is sincere before God.
Archbishop Charles Chaput has spoken about the Kennedy betrayal of the Catholic faith on many occasions. One of his most salient points is this:
The Houston remarks also created a religious problem. To his credit, Kennedy said that if his duties as President should “ever require me to violate my conscience or violate the national interest, I would resign the office.” He also warned that he would not “disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.” But in its effect, the Houston speech did exactly that. It began the project of walling religion away from the process of governance in a new and aggressive way. It also divided a person’s private beliefs from his or her public duties. And it set “the national interest” over and against “outside religious pressures or dictates.”
The secularization of politics, as one expert, Father Mark Massa, has defined it, is exactly what Kennedy accomplished in that speech. And Kennedy Townsend sees that as a good, not an evil, result.
Given this fact, we can easily see that Kennedy Townsend’s verbal jab at Palin, “Who is Palin to say what God’s ‘walk’ is? Who anointed her our grand inquisitor?” is really an admission of her own crisis in faith. All that Palin is saying is that if you are going to publicly use your faith identity as part of your resume, then please act like it is part of your identity. If you are going to betray the faith you claim, you are a hypocrite.
It’s truly a shame that Kennedy Townsend can’t take a lesson from Despicable Me’s minions. Those little yellow creatures do exactly what Gru tells them to do!
Catholics, not to mention all Christians, should do likewise. Our goal in life is to follow the teachings of the Lord—exactly. And, when we have done so, we will be rewarded with eternal salvation. Faith is not something to be put aside or denied and then brought out only when it is convenient. Catholic politicians and leaders must lead in accordance with their faith. To do anything less would be offensive—to our Lord, to our faith and to our fellow human beings.