View From Lodi, CA: Joe On Church And State


When John F. Kennedy ran for
president in 1960, my devout Roman Catholic grandmother
was thrilled.

According to her, “If Kennedy is

elected
, it will
end arguments
that Catholics can`t be president
because they would take directions from the Pope.”

Kennedy didn`t disappoint my
grandmother. Two months before the general election,
Kennedy addressed a group of

Southern Baptist ministers
who shared the nation`s
concern about the prospect of a Roman Catholic
president.

Kennedy, supporting the separation
of church and state, told the ministers that in America,
“no Catholic prelate would tell a Catholic president
how to act. And no Protestant minister would tell his
parishioners for whom to vote.”
 

Although I was happy that Kennedy
won, shortly after his inauguration I walked away from
Catholicism forever.

Giving up my faith was hard. In my
youth, I had been an altar boy. I routinely assisted at
the 6:00 A.M. Mass so that I could serve daily and still
get to school on time.

When I was a teenager, I attended a
boarding school that had mandatory Sunday chapel.
Nevertheless, I woke up early, took a bus to attend Mass
and returned to the campus in time to participate in the
non-denominational services.

But as I grew older, I could not
reconcile the intrusive demands that the church made on
the daily lives of its faithful with its claim that it
is all loving.

I have never doubted my decision
nor have I ever looked back.

I don`t need any reaffirmation that
leaving the church was the right decision for me. But
Colorado Archbishop

Charles C. Chaput
represents a prime example of
Catholic interference in private matters.

Archbishop Chaput`s recent
statement that a vote for pro-choice Roman Catholic
presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry is

“cooperating with evil”
and “a sin”

that would require confession is a gross
intrusion on individual rights.

Since February, Kerry has been
under attack by his own church. Prior to the Missouri
primary, St. Louis Archbishop

Raymond Burke
said that were Kerry to stand in his
Communion line, he would

bless him but deny him the sacrament.
Other bishops
soon joined the anti-Kerry chorus.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, a top
Vatican official in Rome, said that politicians like
Kerry who support abortion rights are "not fit"
to

receive the Eucharist.

This week, the debate ratcheted
up. De Fide, a conservative Catholic group, claiming
that it acted at the request of the Vatican, charged
Kerry with heresy and called for his

excommunication
.

But the Catholic News Service,
speaking officially, denied involvement. An unnamed
Vatican official added that Kerry

“is not a heretic.”

How the Roman Catholic Church,
still in the midst of pedophile

sex scandals
involving hundreds of ruined lives, the
resignations of dozens of priests and pay-offs of tens
of millions of dollars, can claim high moral ground is a
mystery.

But since Archbishop Chuput has
thrown down the gauntlet, I have a question for him:

  • If I oppose Senator Kerry`s pro-choice position but
    vote for him because I prefer his stance on other
    domestic and global issues, would I still need to
    confess?

The Roman Catholic Church, acting
with the tacit approval of the Bush administration, is
working overtime to eliminate the separation of church
and state.

In his essay, “Holy War,”
historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described how earlier
presidents, following the founding father`s democratic
concept, fought to preserve church and state separation.

Two examples:


  • Andrew Jackson
    , refusing clergy efforts to
    proclaim a national day of fasting to combat a cholera
    epidemic,

    said
    that to do so might “disturb the security
    which religion now enjoys in this country in its
    complete separation from the political concerns of the
    general government.”

  • During the Civil War, Abraham
    Lincoln refused to back an amendment that proposed
    inserting “Almighty God” and “the Lord Jesus
    Christ”
    into the Constitution.

Earlier I described how Kennedy
vigorously defended the separation of church and state
to the Southern Baptist ministers.

Compare Bush to Kennedy. In an
interview with the Public Broadcasting System, Richard
Land, director of the Southern Baptist Convention,
stated that the Bush White House frequently calls him to
ask: “How does your group feel about this?”

Said

Land
, “…There`s no question this is the most
receptive White House to our concerns and to our
perspective of any White House that I`ve dealt with, and
I`ve dealt with every White House from Reagan on.”

  

George Washington, John Adams,
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and scores of other
presidents understood the wisdom of keeping church and
state apart.

Bush

does not.

All of our past presidents have
professed to believe in God. And while President Bush
may be a man of great faith, he is the first to openly
use religion as a tool to gain votes.

Bush should heed the words of 20th
president James Garfield. Said Garfield more than a
century ago:

 “I
would rather be defeated than make capital out of my
religion.”

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.