Thursday, December 16, 2010

O'Hannigan: Kennedy Catholicism and Sarah Palin

"This is not a debate that Townsend can win"
At the American Spectator, Patrick O'Hannigan weighs in on the row between Sarah Palin and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend over JFK's 1960 address to a gathering of pastors in Houston. In her second book America by Heart, Gov. Palin expressed her opinion that then-Senator Kennedy should have embraced his Catholicism rather than distance himself from it, an opinion which stuck liberal heads on the spin cycle. O'Hannigan echoes Gary P. Jackson's observation that the governor " lives rent-free in progressive heads." He adds, "No one else with comparable name recognition demolishes progressive dogma just by getting up in the morning."

The response to Gov. Palin by JFK's neice in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month, says O'Hannigan, "only exposed Townsend as another palooka in a family full of them":
Enter Rev. Charles J. Chaput, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver, Colorado. Archbishop Chaput is not a man who can be credibly accused of operating from a theology of "Christian Dominionism," as some of Palin's more excitable detractors say she does. But in phrasing that Sarah Palin would approve, Chaput called JFK's 1960 speech "sincere, compelling, articulate -- and wrong."

Speaking this past spring at Houston Baptist University, Archbishop Chaput noted that "Real Christian faith is always personal, but it's never private." That was one of the things about which John F. Kennedy was mistaken. Moreover, said Chaput, Kennedy's remarks in Houston "profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America's public life and political conversation." And "Today, half a century later, we're paying for the damage."

In other words, Sarah Palin's criticism of the Kennedy approach to faith accords substantially with criticisms offered by another Christian of unquestioned acumen. Not only that, but Chaput came loaded for bear, quoting another scholar to buttress the point that John F. Kennedy "secularized the American presidency in order to win it."

This is not a debate that Townsend can win. She thinks Sarah Palin is making a subtle bid for a new Inquisition, but if Townsend had familiarized herself with Archbishop Chaput's similar argument, she would have known better. Instead, she writes about the "deep current of faith" in the Kennedy family, praises Uncle John for courage of the kind that Henry V tried to kindle in his men before the Battle of Agincourt, and dances around Senator Ted Kennedy's support for abortion (correctly described by Sarah Palin as "directly at odds with his Catholic faith") by disingenuously suggesting that Catholic moral teaching is of no more import than whether the Third Sunday of Advent is marked by rose-colored candles, because "the hierarchy's positions can change," and "in our church, we have an obligation to help bring about those changes."


When Palin contends that "morality cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs," Townsend misreads this acknowledgement of our collective debt to Judeo-Christian intellectual and religious capital as "a wholesale attack on countless Americans." Has she never heard John Adams' famous quip that "Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other"?

- JP

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