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SPECIAL: Another J.F.K. Hides

By: Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, L.L.C.

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"Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life"

"It is a question of the lay Catholic's duty to be morally coherent, found within one's conscience, which is one and indivisible. "There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual life', with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular' life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture....Living and acting in conformity with one's own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of confessionalism, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person."

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I believe it was that great American philosopher /ball player Yogi Berra who coined the comedic expression "Déjŕ vu Allover Again. It seemed apropos to me as I read a Press Report this morning: "People in Rome are becoming more and more aware that there's a problem of John Kerry and a political scandal with his apparent profession of his Catholic faith and some of stances, particular abortion," Kerry said, while responding to a statement of a Vatican official to the Time magazine. "I don't think it complicates things at all," he said, "We have separation of church and state in this country. As John Kennedy said very clearly 'I will be a president who happens to be Catholic, not a Catholic president'."

Here we go again.

I write this article as a private citizen. I write as someone who has had disagreements with some of my colleagues on issues of war and peace and social justice. I have upset neo-conservatives, conservatives and, of course, contemporary liberals with my writings. I simply reject all the labels. I am a student and proponent of Catholic social teaching as a path toward true social justice. I really want to have a Catholic President. Not just because he or she is Catholic but because I believe that Catholic social teaching is precisely what we need in the current culture to find our way out of the darkness.

I vividly recall that fateful day, November 22, 1963, when the nation stood still. I was an elementary school student at St. Matthews Catholic School in Dorchester, Massachusetts. I was in my morning class when the announcement came over the P.A. system "President Kennedy has been shot". We were all shocked and many began to cry.

Sister led us all, hands folded in prayer, across the parking lot to the Church. Once inside the beautiful old Church sanctuary we joined the entire school, local parents and our pastor, in heartfelt prayer for "our" President. That is how we all viewed the late President. After all, he was "ours", the first Catholic President in American history. We were rightly proud. We were devastated when the dreadful announcement came informing all of us that "President Kennedy is dead"

That defining moment forever changed my personal life. It also changed American history, particularly for Catholics. To this day my mother still keeps the "scrapbook" I made where I kept all of the pictures of the motorcade and of the unbelievable events. I resolved to do all I could to be a good citizen and a good Catholic. This man was a monumental figure, a symbol, for a whole generation.

Unlike some contemporary Catholic cultural commentators, I am not a former Baptist or an evangelical Protestant convert to the Catholic faith. I am a Boston born and bred, infant baptized Catholic. Though I am a "revert" to the faith, having later chosen it as my own after a pilgrimage, a search, a journey after truth. It was after that embrace that I began to more deeply understand the implications of that faith in my daily life and its incredible relevance to the social issues of our age.

Unfortunately, the influence of the Church on my family waned in my teenage years. Years later, as I began to sincerely seek to inform my own political participation by my faith, I discovered something that truly disturbed me, my childhood hero, J.F.K. had failed to grasp the deeper implications of the faith that we shared as it pertained to his own political participation.He espoused an approach to faith that separated it completely from his public service as though his faith were "private", not meant to inform his public positions or leadership. That is practical heresy and dangerous.

Christian faith may be profoundly "personal" but it is never "private". Unfortunately, this approach has now become the rallying mantra for another J.F.K., a candidate for the Presidency named John F. Kerry. The approach was wrong then, it is wrong now and he must not be permitted to hide behind it.

Perhaps the clearest expression of President Kennedy's error was laid out in the now famous speech that he gave to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association Rice Hotel, Houston, Texas on September 12, 1960. Understandably, he was confronting anti-Catholicism and exhibited courage in so doing. However, his approach to explaining how his faith would influence his presidency promoted a complete divorce of the values informed by faith from the exercise of his leadership. It showed a serious misunderstanding of both Christian faith and principled leadership.

Similarly, John F Kerry's recent efforts at hiding behind the error participate in the same mistakes. As Catholics, our positions on fundamental issues such as life, family, freedom and our obligations in solidarity to the poor and the needy are always to be informed by our faith. In fact those very commitments serve and promote the common good of everyone. We cannot--we must not- hide our faith and adopt positions that are antithetical to truth in some dualistic error disguised as principled tolerance. He now takes positions on the fundamental human rights issue of our age - the dignity of every human life at every age and stage - that are inconsistent with truth, does not advance the "common good" and are at odds with his baptismal commitment as a Catholic.

On January 16, 2003, in an eighteen page Doctrinal note entitled "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" (released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and personally approved by Pope John Paul II) the Holy See reached out globally to instruct all Catholics in public service and political life. It reaffirmed the long standing truth proclaimed by the Catholic Church that Catholic politicians, public servants and Catholic voters must NEVER divorce their faith from their public service or political participation.

The instruction positions the role of Christians in their political participation and "citizenship" within the clear unbroken teaching of the Church that has not changed for two thousand years. It reminds us all that the Church has a "constant teaching" on this subject. Even though Christians have found themselves living under different political and social systems, the Church has always taught that "man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality".

These guidelines clearly reaffirm the unbroken Church teaching that Catholics in public life and service do not check their faith like a hat at the door of their public service or their citizenship. The values informed by their faith are intended to inform, illuminate and preside over their public service. This instruction reminds all Catholics that they "cannot compromise" in the name of tolerance, pluralism or a mistaken notion of a "freedom of choice" because, as the Congregation states so clearly "Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society."

It reminds all Catholics, including Senator Kerry, that authentic democracy "must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society." This non-negotiable principle is essential to any authentic definition of human freedom because all notions of freedom must refer to the human person and to the "common good." This Instruction reasserts instead the consistent Catholic view that there truly is such a thing as absolute truth. Further, that such truth exists outside of the human experience and must direct the affairs of human beings if any attempt at governance is to be truly human and civilized.

This reference to truth is, in the words of the instruction, the "the very condition for democracy."

As the instruction states "Political freedom is not - and cannot be- based upon the relativistic idea that all conceptions of the human person's good have the same value and truth, but rather, on the fact that all politics are concerned with very concrete realizations of the true human and social good in given historical, geographic, economic, technological and cultural contexts."

This clear rejection of the lies of contemporary relativism is vitally important. It disembowels the absurd claim of any misguided Catholic politician or candidate who hides when it comes to faithfully proclaiming what they profess on Sunday in the chambers of the legislatures they serve on Monday or on the campaign trail. The Candidate needs to read just a few of these salient comments on life and family, two areas wherein he hides behind a Private/public dichotomy:

"The Church recognizes that while democracy is the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person.[17] Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle, for otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent. The democratic structures on which the modern state is based would be quite fragile were its foundation not the centrality of the human person. It is respect for the person that makes democratic participation possible. ...When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person.

"Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such. The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society's protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example)."

We should pray for, expose and oppose any unfaithful Catholic politician or candidate who fails to abide by the truth on these paramount issues. The day of "hiding" must be over! We should expose the lie that claims "I am personally opposed but..." We must present the truth. Such a position, when taken by a Catholic in public life is tantamount to being unfaithful to their baptismal vocation. We will pray for their conversion while we expose and oppose their insidious efforts to obfuscate the truth with sophistry.

The "Doctrinal Note" from the Holy See is an occasion to clarify and articulate the truth concerning the obligation of Catholics in political life and the obligations of every Catholic citizen. We must seize the moment. We cannot let another J.F.K. hide behind the subterfuge of bad doctrine and worse public policy.

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Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon, who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a human rights lawyer and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a co-founder of the Your Catholic Voice Movement and the founder of Common Good.

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