I was just a second-generation Portuguese American, Roman Catholic kid living in Massachusetts when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President of the United States of America.
Sure, he was Irish, but he was Roman Catholic and of immigrant stock, just like me. My whole family was So Very Proud.
In every home of every family in the neighborhood of my youth, you could be sure that somewhere in the house (usually the kitchen or the dining room), hung two pictures, "side by each" as my aunts would say.
One was of Jesus - usually his 'high school graduation picture' as we kids called it: side profile, hair carefully coiffed, back lighting, enough to make his mother Mary burst with pride. The other was one of JFK, Jr., a large shock of hair combed neatly on his head, an American Flag in the background, and the map of Ireland written all over his face.
God and country. It was the realization of the American Dream. A reminder of what was possible. The reason my grandparents had immigrated from Portugal to come to this country to the 'land of the free and the home of the brave'.
If the son of an Irish immigrant could grow up to be President of the United States, there was no telling - no telling at all - what we kids could achieve.
I also remember the long discussions around the family table about the controversy that surrounded his election. Because, of course, he was a Roman Catholic. There had never been a Roman Catholic President. He was the first. And we were doubly proud.
However, the voices of concern asserted that his 'faith' would interfere with his ability to lead the country. That his religion would have too much influence on his politics. That he would have more allegiance to Rome than to Washington. That the Pope would influence his decision-making as President.
(Gee, come to think of it, does any of this sound vaguely familiar?)
"Outrageous!" my father and grandfather and uncles thundered.
"Separation of church and state" they chanted like a litany and as a prayer to ward off the Evil spirits of those who would try to thwart the democratic process with prejudice and fear-mongering.
Turns out, they were wrong. Well, not in that JFK ever let Rome tell him what to do or how to think about governing this country. Certainly, his faith inspired and influenced his passion for justice and service to the poor. For that, we can be deeply grateful.
They were wrong, however, about the long arm of the Vatican trying to influence the politics and policies of those Roman Catholics who choose to serve in elected public office.
Oh, the Vatican laid low during those years of the late 60s and early 70s - even though the Women's Movement made great strides in shedding light on discriminatory practices in the work force, raising consciousness about domestic violence and sexual assault and rape, as well as in making birth control measures safe and available.
Rome didn't hesitate to make it's objections, but, for the most part, their words fell on the deaf ears of American Roman Catholics.
Then, on January 22, 1973, came Roe v. Wade. The lace sacristy gloves were officially off. The American Culture Wars with Rome were officially declared.
Catholicism stumbled through the late 80s and 90s, a victim of its own hypocrisy and corruption. It began with the revelation of the secret horror of Catholic run schools and orphanages as the truth of decades of almost unbelievable stories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse began to come to light.
Law suits and expensive litigious processes brought a few diocese to near bankruptcy. But, that was just the beginning. Soon after, a stream of young men and women quickly turned into a torrent of horrible stories of sexual abuse in the classrooms of Roman Catholic schools and the sacristies of Roman Catholic churches at the hands of Roman Catholic priests.
Worst, still, was the revelation that the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic hierarchy knew of the abuse and merely transferred 'Father' to another church, and another, and yet another, where the abuse continued. Indeed, 'secret deals' were made with the parents involving 'hush money' to keep the scandal from the public.
As horrible as the stories of sexual abuse were, the mendacity and hypocrisy perpetrated by Princes of the Church seemed even more stunning and shocking and deeply disturbing.
The moral character of the Church was in serious disrepair. In fact, it seems not to have yet fully recovered. Jokes, albeit in very poor taste, about RC priests who molest little boys never lurk far from a conversation about the RC Church.
This may, perhaps, be part of the reason for the most recent strong-arming of American politicians by Roman prelates. It's been going on for a while now, mostly to tut-tuts and embarrassed pshaws from American Roman Catholics.
In 1980, Roman Catholic Priest and Congressman Fr. Robert Drinan
, the first of two RC priests to be elected to Congress, was forced to choose between Congress and the priesthood when Pope John Paul II demanded that all ordained clergy either leave the priesthood or leave politics. Fr. Drinan was decidedly pro-choice and a dear friend of the Kennedy family. He died in 2007.
Senator John Kerry, then Democratic candidate for President and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, then Republican hopeful for the same office, were 'excommunicated' for their pro-choice stance. Jim McGreevey, then Democratic governor of New Jersey, was likewise 'excommunicated' for being a proponent of pro-choice. Others were similarly targeted and excommunicated.
A line seems to have been crossed, however, when conservative Roman Catholics, led by Rome-based Archbishop Raymond Burke, called on Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston not to provide a public funeral mass after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.
Even some conservative Roman Catholic scholars seemed stunned by the impropriety of it all. When told of the archbishop's assertion that pro-choice Catholics should not be permitted funeral rites, Princeton professor Robert George
was taken aback: "That's a very different, and obviously graver, claim than that with which I would have sympathy. I haven't heard before any bishop say that pro-abortion politicians should not be given a Catholic funeral."
The media today is all abuzz with the news that Patrick Kennedy, Democratic Representative from Rhode Island, has been asked not to partake of Communion
. Apparently, the request was first made in 2007 when Bishop Thomas Tobin disagreed with Kennedy's stance on abortion rights.
This argument has resurfaced after Kennedy criticized the Catholic Church for their advocacy with regards to the Stupak-Pitts Amendment
There has now ensued a fascinating if not intricately delicate dance being performed at the line that separates church from state.
Patrick has 'not exactly'
been excommunicated. He has been 'requested to refrain'
from receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
See the difference?
If Kennedy were actually excommunicated
because of his voting record on Reproductive Rights, that raises some interesting questions about the tax-exempt status of the Roman Catholic church - not exactly a smart economic move in the midst of a fragile economy.
Furthermore, in the Northeast, the excommunication of a Kennedy could cause even greater flight from the church than is already occurring. I understand from my Episcopal friends in New England that each week brings yet another Roman Catholic family inside the welcoming red doors of their church. I would say that, of the last 20 new families who have joined St. Paul's, 95% of them are former Roman Catholics.
I guess now we understand the real reason the Pope is so willing to accept disaffected 'Anglicans' in a special and different little arrangement for the homophobic and misogynist among them. He's apparently just trying to balance the membership scales. See?
Truth be told, this entire situation pains me deeply. I have some fond memories of my days as a Roman Catholic and I will always be a grateful debtor to the RC nuns of my youth for teaching me the essentials of my faith, and for providing me with positive, strong role models of women in leadership in the church.
I also have memories which, from time to time, wake me up in the middle of the night - especially when I remember the look on the faces of the kids in my class known as "Father's Boys" who were "specially chosen" to "serve Father" at the altar.
I was always so jealous of them. Just because they were male, they could serve God at the altar. Just because I was female, I could not. Now I know why they always looked so sad.
I can tell you one thing - those boys were not born pedophiles. They were 'made'. It was 'learned behavior'. Neither were they homosexual. Theirs was a classic case of 'arrested development'.
I left the Roman Church years ago and never regretted my decision. I have nothing but great admiration for my friends - intelligent, deeply spiritual and faithful men and women - who have decided to stay in the Roman Church and work for change from within.
The saddest part of this present media kerfuffle is the image of tired, old celibate men in long dark robes flexing their weak moral muscles in front of Roman Catholics - and the world.
Faithful Roman Catholics may disagree with their church's position on human sexuality and reproductive rights, but they live out their faith in service to God and the imperatives of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through service to their local communities and their country.
Evangelical Protestants are not without sin. They are leading the faithful of their flock to do much the same. Except, of course, they have no sacraments to deny as punishment. The pressure, however, is still intense.
The level of the insanity of the rhetoric on the Radical Right is the same in Catholic and Protestant circles. The PRA, Political Research Associates has just released a report
that clearly details the role that US-based renewal church movements have played in mobilizing homophobic sentiment in at least three African countries.
I don't know what you know about Calvin, but I'm guessing that while his mortal body may be turning in his grave, his spirit looks down from heaven and weeps at what is being done in his name and the Name that is Above All Names.
In 1960, while he was still Senator from Massachusetts and a democratic candidate for President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy said the following words.
"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source."
That's the America I believe in. That's the America I believe we still live in. That's the America our young men and women who are serving this country believe in so much that they are willing to travel to foreign lands to fight and risk their lives for.
While systems of belief will always influence moral decision making, and faith often informs politics and sometimes transforms into political action, there is still a clear line which separates church and state in this country.
When that line gets crossed, it is incumbent upon people of faith to stand at that line, toe-to-toe against The Adversary, and protest as loudly as we can.
I applaud the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church which, it is being reported
, has called for a special teleconference on December 7 to discuss a possible statement on Ugandan legislation that would imprison for life or execute people who violate that country's anti-homosexuality laws.
Hopefully, this will put a little more pressure on the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury to also make a statement against this flagrant violation of human rights.
That is the church putting its faith into action.
That is the church being the church and doing the work of the church.
That is the church calling elected officials to remember the higher moral ground of their baptismal vows.
That is the church respecting the boundaries around the separation of church and state.
We are a democracy, not a theocracy.
Apparently, there are some so desperate about their sense of a loss of power and influence that they wish to cross that line.
We. Can't. Let. Them.
The sacraments of the church, indeed, the services of the church, are not poker chips in a high stake game of political power. What kind of Gospel encourages the Body of Christ to threaten to take actual food out of the mouths of the poor and the hungry?
What understanding of Jesus permits the withholding of spiritual food from the souls of those who hunger and thirst for Jesus? From the comfort and solace of the faith and rituals of the church promised at baptism in time of grief and sorrow?
An institutional church which treats its congregants like naughty children - practicing the ecclesiastical equivalent of sending them to bed without any supper - is an institutional church which has, sadly enough, lost touch with the spirit that originally animated it and gave it life.
These are some of the lines that simply can not - must not - be crossed.
Except, of course, the ecclesiastical lines that separate one church from another. I'm thinking that this would be a most excellent time to do a little evangelism among some of our RC brothers and sisters.
Invite someone to church on Advent I. That's how it started for me - with an invitation to church. Once I crossed the threshold of those Open Red Doors, heard the music, experienced the liturgy, I knew I was home.
Perhaps it's time you invited someone to cross the line and come home for Christmas.