Catholic political leaders have left a flawed legacy, which instructs politicians that it is okay to be personally opposed to abortion and not “impose” that view on the nation, says Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver.
It is a legacy that says a Catholic can be in the public service as long as he or she is willing to abandon what is “inconveniently Catholic,” adds the archbishop.
What these politicians pitch as a compromise between personal and public interest is actually “a deal with the devil, and it has a balloon payment no nation, no public servant and no voter can afford,” says the archbishop in his column, published today, in the Denver Catholic Register.
In his column, Archbishop Chaput reflects on the legacy of Catholic politicians who severed their public identity from their faith and rationalized that it was okay to maintain personal beliefs and not “impose” them on the nation through federal legislation. He focuses in particular on President John F. Kennedy and New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
He refers to John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1960 to the Houston Ministerial Association, in which he said he would not let the Pope or the Church dictate his actions and decisions if he were elected president.
“In pledging to put the ‘national interest’ above ‘religious pressures or dictates,’ Kennedy created a template for a generation of Catholic candidates: Be American first; be Catholic second,” the archbishop said.
“The Kennedy compromise seemed to work pretty well as long as the ‘religious pressures’ faced by Catholic elected officials involved issues like divorce, federal aid to Catholic schools or diplomatic relations with the Holy See,” said the archbishop, but it doesn’t work with the “jugular” issue of abortion.
After the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, Catholic elected officials had to face a choice, said the archbishop: Either work to change permissive abortion laws or “abandon the unborn and look for a way to morally sanitize their decision.”
In a speech in 1984, New York Governor Mario Cuomo rationalized the perspective that a Catholic politician could privately oppose abortion but had no right to "impose" that belief on others, says the archbishop.
The archbishop calls Cuomo's speech “a tour de force of articulate misdirection”, which “refuses to acknowledge the teaching and formative power of the law” and “implicitly equates unequal types of issues.”
Cuomo also argued that "approval or rejection of legal restrictions on abortion should not be the exclusive litmus test of Catholic loyalty."
“With those words,” said the archibishop, “he wrote the alibi for every ‘pro-choice’ Catholic who has held public office since.”