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Where the Church went wrong - “John F Kennedy and American Catholicism”

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Lawrence Fuchs advised the Kennedy campaign on the voting patterns of American Catholics.  He later wrote a book called John F. Kennedy and American Catholicism.
Lawrence Fuchs advised the Kennedy campaign on the voting patterns of American Catholics. 
He later wrote a book called John F. Kennedy and American Catholicism.

Oh great!  Law and Order actor and comedian Richard Belzer has a new book out about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

In Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation Into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination, Belzer explores the supposedly unexplained deaths of those who were at Dealy Plaza that fateful day.

Just what we need -- more “proof” that it took a cast of thousands to kill Kennedy.  The same government that can’t keep a rumor secret for 10 minutes somehow managed to successfully pull off and cover up a killing with worldwide implications.

Oh well.  Let the conspiracy nuts have their fun, while the rest of us deal with reality.

I had a different Kennedy book on my mind this week.  Bronx-born Kennedy advisor/speechwriter and immigration expert Lawrence Fuchs died this week at the age of 86. 

Fuchs advised the Kennedy campaign on the voting patterns of American Catholics.  He later wrote a book called John F. Kennedy and American Catholicism.

Thanks to the Internet I was able to look at Fuchs’ book, which was published in 1967. (Somehow, the government found time to pioneer online technology, even as they were busily covering up the JFK assassination.)  I looked at Fuchs’ book wondering if it could tell us anything about the Catholic Church and its travails today.

After all, everywhere you look you see controversy rooted in aspects of the Catholic Church and its positions regarding sex, gays, abortion, marriage and birth control.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that two students at Jesuit-run Boston College were in trouble for distributing sex advice as well as condoms to students.  The Supreme Court is currently exploring the issue of gay marriage.  And Cardinal Timothy Dolan was among those who sued the Obama Administration over health care and birth control.

Since Fuchs was an expert, I wondered what his book about “the American Catholic Church” would say about these topics.

There is extensive discussion about birth control.  This makes sense, since the birth control pill was developed for widespread use in the early 1960s.

However, there is no discussion at all about gays and exactly one vague reference to abortion, all the way on page 226.  “The Bible says that thou shalt not kill, but how does that answer the questions of war, abortion, or euthanasia?” Fuchs writes.

It’s easy to suggest that the church didn’t need to forcefully respond to these matters since there wasn’t much of a mainstream gay rights movement in 1967, and the Roe vs. Wade decision which thrust abortion into the mainstream did not come until 1973.

Nevertheless, what is clear is that since prominent church officials have chosen to focus on bedroom matters, the church has lost stature among vast numbers of Irish Americans and other Catholics.

And even Fuchs’ discussion of the “lively debate” over issues such as birth control is fascinating.  He notes that as far back as 1967, “Studies showed that at least 30 percent of married Catholics in the United States practiced birth control.”

Nevertheless, it was in July of 1968 that that Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the church’s position on birth control.  Many like to note that -- like it or not -- this is consistent with the church’s longstanding defense of life in all its forms.

And yet, as Frances Kissling of Catholics for Choice has written, Pope Paul VI formed a birth control commission which, in 1966, “overwhelmingly voted” to lift the ban on contraceptives.

Kissling added, “The former Archbishop of Brussels...went so far as to say the church needed to confront reality and avoid another ‘Galileo case.’”

Of course, the pope chose differently.  But it was an earthly choice, rather than the word of God.

In recent decades, the acceptance of contraception -- and even gay rights and abortion -- by Catholics has become widespread.  You are welcome to argue that this is evidence of moral decay and all the more reason why the church should continue to forcefully defend its position.

Or you could argue that the new pope could look -- of all places -- back to the 1960s, when a papal commission made the case for contraception.  This might lead to provocative new debates over other issues which are driving away 21st century Catholics.

After all, it’s not a conspiracy. It’s simply the pope’s choice.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)

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