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March 03, 2010

Commonweal's Paul Baumann on Archbishop's Chaput's Houston Speech

[Several comments on the speech here, including this by Paul Baumann, editor of Commonweal:]

I attended the Fordham conference on Kennedy’s speech, and remember well Shaun Casey’s rebuttal to those, such as Chaput, who insist that the speech was an effort to “privatize” religion. “After the [Kennedy] speech there was a question-and-answer period,” Casey said, “The transcript of the Q&A session is actually three times as long as the speech itself. The exchanges there, in particular, I think helped knock down the argument that somehow Kennedy was declaring his Catholicism to be purely private, and hence irrelevant. He embraces his Catholicism. He says he’s not renouncing his church. At the very end, he said, ‘I don’t think I made any converts to my church in the process of this meeting, but I don’t repudiate my faith.’”

So it seems clear to me that Chaput’s reading of the speech is anachronistic at best. Chaput’s talk is also studded with provocative but vague declarations about the false faith of others: “It’s a form of lying,” “They’re not optional,” “I wonder if we’ve ever had fewer of them who can coherently explain how their faith informs their work, or who event feel obligated to try,” “Too many live their faith as if it were a private idiosyncrasy—the kind that they’ll never allow to become a public nuisance. And too many just don’t really believe.” This doesn’t strike me as the kind of language one uses when trying to persuade those who might disagree with you, let alone fellow Christians. In any event, Chaput fails to make a plausible case that Kennedy’s speech “profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation.” Even if you accept the notion that religious believers have been marginalize in this way—which I don’t—it’s quite a stretch to lay the blame at Kennedy’s door.

As many contributors to this blog know, long-time Commonweal columnist John Cogley was an important adviser to Kennedy and a speechwriter Ted Sorenson for the Houston address. Cogley concluded his 1973 book “Catholic America” as follows: “While Catholicism can coexist very well with separation of church and state, its best representatives will always refuse to separate religion and life. And that makes all the difference.”

Posted by Michael Perry on March 3, 2010 at 08:01 AM | Permalink

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