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John Kerry is the second most visible American right now, and the most visible self-identified Roman Catholic in the country.
The most influential newspaper in the world, the New York Times, reported on Tuesday that Kerry had issued the equivalent of a new catechism for the Roman Catholic Church. Here are the key paragraphs:
Mr. Kerry became combative when told that some conservatives were criticizing him for being a Roman Catholic who supported policies, like abortion and same-sex unions, that are at odds with Catholic teaching.”
“Who are they?” he demanded of his questioner. “Name them. Are they the same legislators who vote for the death penalty, which is in contravention of Catholic teaching?”
He added: “I’m not a church spokesman. I’m a legislator running for president. My oath is to uphold the Constitution of the United States in my public life. My oath privately between me and God was defined in the Catholic Church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II, which allows for freedom of conscience for Catholics with respect to these choices, and that is exactly where I am. And it is separate. Our Constitution separates church and state, and they should be reminded of that.”
The New York Times helpfully added that “Mr. Kerry apparently meant John XXIII, as there is no Pius XXIII.” Too bad the paper couldn’t explain the rest of Kerry’s absurd statement, or add more detail to the new Kerry Catechism of Convenient Catholicism.
It will be interesting to see if the hierarchy of the American Roman Catholic Church allows this statement to go uncontradicted. If what Kerry says is true, then the Church really doesn’t care if its members advocate for wide-ranging abortion rights and receive Holy Communion, despite the bishop of St. Louis’ instruction to Kerry to refrain from the sacrament on that bishop’s turf.
I am not familiar with those documents of Vatican II to which Kerry refers, and would appreciate direction to them. Perhaps they are in the small volume of works by Pope Pius XXIII.
The stale bit of sophistry that says support for the death penalty disqualifies an individual from objecting to support for abortion rights is also in need of some authoritative teaching from the bishops. Aside from the fact that since 1973 there have been more than 40 million abortions in America and less than 1,000 executions, it is also my understanding that the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church allows for the death penalty under some circumstances, but does not allow for abortion. Even if both practices received the same degree of condemnation from the Church, of what relevance would it be to Kerry’s standing as a Catholic for him to argue that other Catholics in public life fail to conform their votes to Church teaching? He’s the one running for president.
Kerry’s hash-up of the First Amendment’s religion clauses and the issue of Catholic theology is a familiar dodge, laughable except for its ability to dumbfound reporters working for papers like the Times. Will any reporter ever do enough homework to ask Kerry some serious questions about the intersection of his avowed faith and his hard left stands in opposition to that faith’s central teachings? There is no Constitution prohibition on asking tough questions of Catholic politicians, is there?
The real burden is on the American bishops and possibly the Vatican. Kerry has proclaimed a new doctrine in the pages of the most widely-read newspaper in the world. Such proclamations have consequences. Catholic elected officials across the globe cannot be blamed if, uncontradicted by the bishops, they conclude that John Kerry had it right and that their church obliges nothing of its members who serve in elected office except an occasional photo op with a bishop.