Who do Catholic Politicians Represent?
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I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote - where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. John F. Kennedy
In 1928, Alfred E. Smith was the nominee of the Democratic Party for US President, the first Roman Catholic to be nominated. Anti-Catholicism was a major factor in the election, and it was widely suggested that a Catholic President would take orders from the Pope. Smith lost the election to Herbert C. Hoover in a landslide.
At that time it was clear that Catholic politicians could only be elected in jurisdictions with a significant Catholic electorate.
In the 1960 election, a Catholic was once again nominated by the Democrats. While there was still some anti-Catholic sentiment, John F. Kennedy won the election. His religion was not a significant factor, and only religious extremists thought Kennedy would be marching to the Pope's instructions.
This represented a significant shift in public perception. Catholic politicians were no longer regarded as being at Rome's beck and call.
In recent months, gay marriage has become a political issue, particularly in view of recent Canadian court decisions. And Rome has responded, not just by condemning gay marriage, but by stating that all Catholic politicians have a duty to oppose it. Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary has amplified the Pope's direction by stating that Catholic politicians who support gay marriage will burn in Hell.
Senior Catholic clergymen clearly have not made much progress in thought since Pope Innocent III (1161 - 1216) said, "Use against heretics the spiritual sword of excommunication, and if this does not prove effective, use the material sword."
In effect, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church are undermining all the progress made since 1928. They are clearly stating that Catholic politicians must take orders from the Pope. Representing the interests of the entire electorate, regardless of religion, has become irrelevant if the Pope so deems. Rather Catholic politicians should act in accordance with Ignatius of Loyola's dictum: "We should always be disposed to believe that that which appears white is really black, if the hierarchy of the Church so decides."
And if we had to live with the beliefs of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, we would still have to agree with the 1615 statement of Cardinal Bellarmino during the trial of Galileo; "To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin."
It has once again become a fair question to ask a Catholic politician if he or she intends taking orders from Rome. And that is unfortunate.