Church and State

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Santorum vs. JFK

Merrimack, N.H., Dec 14, 2010 / 12:31 am (CNA).- During a symposium exploring Catholic statesmanship on Dec.4, likely 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum rejected President John F. Kennedy's advocacy of an absolute separation of church and state.

St. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts' Symposium on Catholic Statesmanship took place Dec. 4, and included former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; Ray Flynn, the longtime mayor of Boston and Clinton appointee as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; and Prof. Hadley Arkes of Amherst College, a recent convert to Catholicism.

Describing Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in which he aimed to dispel suspicions about the role the Pope might play in his administration, Santorum said that "Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith."

"The idea of strict or absolute separation of church and state is not and never was the American model. It's a model used in countries like France and until recently Turkey, but it found little support in America until it was introduced into the public discourse by Justice Hugo Black in the case of Everson v. The Board of Education in 1947," he said.

The country's founders, according to Santorum, were determined to ensure that the new national government "had no jurisdiction over matters of religion, in large part to insure that each American would be free to pursue the religion of their choice without state interference.

"Far from reflecting hostility toward religion, our founders, rooted in their own faith convictions, knew that faith was not just an essential element, but the essence of civilization and the inspiration of culture."

The former Pennsylvania senator also explained that Jefferson's "wall of separation" was meant to describe "how the First Amendment was designed to protect churches from the government and nothing more." But Kennedy's "misuse of the phrase," he argued, "constructed a high barrier that ultimately would keep religious convictions out of politics in a place where our founders had intended just the opposite."

"Kennedy took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to shield the government from religion," Santorum explained.

"When I served in the U.S. Senate I often looked to the moral wisdom found in the writings of religious people," he said, citing Mother Teresa's 1994 speech against abortion at the National Prayer Breakfast and Pope John Paul II's call for absolving Third World debt in 2000.

"Should I have rejected the instructions from the clergy to relieve debt because it was inspired by the word of God?" he asked.

Santorum said that a major political offshoot of Kennedy's philosophy was best illustrated by Mario Cuomo's speech at the University of Notre Dame on the 24th anniversary of JFK's Houston speech, in September 1984.

"There he espoused his nuanced position on abortion: that, as a result of his religious convictions he was personally opposed to abortion. But he then applies Kennedy's thesis and refrains from imposing his values upon others whose views, because the truth is indiscernible, are equally valid."

"Virtual stampedes of self-proclaimed Catholic politicians followed Cuomo into this seemingly safe harbor and remain there today. This political hand washing made it easier for Catholics to be in public life, but it also made it harder for Catholics to be Catholic in public life," Santorum observed.

He then described Cuomo's stand as "nothing more than a camouflage for the faint of heart -- a cynical sanctuary for concealing true convictions from the public, and for rationalizing a reluctance to defend them. Kennedy, Cuomo and their modern day disciples would resolve any conflict between religion and politics by relegating faith to the closet."

Santorum admitted that there are moral issues where he has differed from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and even the Pope, such as welfare reform, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and some immigration policies.

"While all of these issues have profound moral underpinnings," he said, "none of them involve moral absolutes. War is are not always unjust; government aid is not always just or compassionate. The bishops and I may disagree on such prudential matters, but as with all people of good will with whom I disagree, I have an obligation to them and my country to listen to their perspective and perform a healthy reexamination of my own position."

The former senator explained that President Kennedy could have offered the "Church's principle of the harmony of faith and reason" in response to those who worried about his Catholicism.

"The American experience has demonstrated a healthy union of faith and reason."

Catholics in Political Life

USCCB, "Catholics in Political Life" (2004).
It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. ...
To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong. This is the point most recently highlighted in official Catholic teaching. The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. In the United States of America, abortion on demand has been made a constitutional right by a decision of the Supreme Court. Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good. ...
The separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices, but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.
Catholics need to act in support of these principles and policies in public life. ...
The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions. ...
The question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. Nevertheless, we all share an unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity and to preach the Gospel in difficult times.

Evangelium Vitae

"On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life" (1995).
73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it".[1]
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favoring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations--particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation--there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

References

  1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 22: AAS 66 (1974), 744.

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