Mitt Romney’s speech on his Mormon faith was meant to clear the air about its impact on his potential leadership as president of the United States. In an effort to determine if that was the case, CNA contacted some influential Catholic leaders to hear their assessment of Romney’s speech.
"There was a lot to like in Governor Romney's speech, particularly his clear understanding that the alternative to today's vibrantly religious public square is not a naked public square but state-enforced secularism -- the establishment of secularism, if you will,” Catholic author and scholar George Weigel told CNA.
One portion of the presidential candidate’s speech that resounded with Catholic intellectual and author George Weigel was Romney’s attack on secularism.
Speaking about those who advocate for the separation of church and state “way beyond its original meaning,” Romney claimed that “they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism.”
Another highlight for Weigel was “the governor's understanding that the 'no establishment' provision of the Constitution was meant to serve the end of free exercise of religion.”
Weigel summarized his thoughts to the speech saying, “[t]here were a number of clumsy formulations in the speech, but given the complexities of the subject and the demands of politics, it was an impressive and heartening performance."
Catholic League president, Bill Donahue, took a different view of Romney’s explanation of the interplay between faith and politics. “The timing is suspect, as soon as his [poll] numbers started going south and Huckabee’s started going north, he decided to make the speech,” Mr. Donahue told CNA.
“He’s just trying to get back in the news, and it worked, for a day,” said Donahue.
When asked if he thought Romney’s speech added anything substantial to the discussion about the role of faith in politics, Donahue said, “it’s apple pie, it doesn’t add anything new [to the discussion] that everyone doesn’t already know.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver took a different view of the Republican candidate’s speech on his faith. In an email to the Denver Post he wrote that, "[i]n some ways, it's the speech John Kennedy should have given in Houston, but didn't.”
"Romney, unlike Kennedy in Houston, does not separate his faith from informing his citizenship, and by extension, his vision of public service," he wrote. "Romney, offered a more reasonable and fruitful explanation of how faith actually works in public service, regardless of one's political party,” the archbishop explained.
Archbishop Chaput also added further comment on the role on the role of religion in politics saying, "Religious officials shouldn't and can't determine public policy. No sensible person would disagree with that. But that's very different from claiming — as some people now do — that religious believers, communities and leaders should be silent in public debate or stay out of public issues."
While none of the Catholic leaders offered their endorsement of Romney, both Donahue and Chaput mentioned that they see his Mormon faith as a non-issue.
Their comments on his Mormon faith are well summarized by Archbishop Chaput: "Catholics, like most other people, want to elect someone who has the skills, the moral character and the real commitment to the common good that will enable him or her to lead.”