Commonweal’s editor reacts to Archbp. Chaput’s Houston speech on JFK’s sellout

We knew liberals wouldn’t like Archbishop Chaput’s important speech in Houston.

They never disappoint.

The blog Mirror of Justice found a comment by Paul Baumann, the editor of the liberal leaning Commonweal, on Commonweal’s blog under an entry by Fr. Joseph Komonchak.

The editor of Commonweal comes out swinging against Archbp. Chaput and tries to defend JFK’s error in Houston.

I’ll give you signposts along the way, but Baumann has three arguments. 

The first point begins with the first paragraph and ends with "So it seems clear to me that Chaput’s reading of the speech is anachronistic at best." 

The second ends, "let alone fellow Christians." 

The third begins thereafter and ends, " to lay the blame at Kennedy’s door." 

The last part just connects JFK with Commonweal through Cogley… which let’s the agenda out of its bag.

Let’s together read Baumann’s comment closely and try to follow his logic with my emphases and comments.

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, [author of ] 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 [THEREFORE!] it seems clear to me [Oh yah?] that Chaput’s reading of the speech is anachronistic at best. [No one has said JFK "repudiated" his Catholic faith.  Chaput didn’t say that.  This is a canard.  Chaput said that JFK was "wrong" to do what he did.  The flaw in Baumann’s logic is this: Baumann read’s Casey‘s statement as if it proves that Chaput’s statement is anachronistic.  Baumann’s doesn’t quote JFK.  He quotes CASEY.  And therefore Baumann is "sure"?  And we are just supposed to believe him?  Ask yourself how Baumann get’s to this certaintly.  B would have us believe that JFK did the opposite of what Chaput says just because Casey says so, but Baumann quotes nothing of substance. So, it can’t be clear to anyone else.  That ends Baumann’s first argument.  Thus the second begins…] Chaput’s talk is also studded with provocative but vague declarations about the false faith of others[Hereafter follow snippets…] “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. [Baumann says Chaput makes "vague" allegations.  Do we not remember the absurd but clear declarations made in public by such figures as Speaker Pelosi and then-Senator Biden?  Patrick Kennedy?  Very recently again Archbp. Niederauer corrected Pelosi.  Many US bishops have made public statements in clear terms.  Is Chaput being "vague"?  Chaput was very clear in Houston that he was talking about the abortion issue.  There is a point at which bishops must shift from trying to correct the politician (persuade) to warning the faithful about their errors.  Baumann paints what Chaput said about the faith of politicians as "vague".   Chaput wasn’t vague, though we grant him the "provocative".  Chaput did not go to Houston to try to persuade the likes of Nancy Pelosi and her ilk (she is just the most prominent).  He went there to show that they are the fruits of the 50 year old JFK Tree.  Chaput was not trying to persuade so much as point out that these so-called Catholics in public life are not acting in accord with their Catholic faith.  That is probably what Baumann objects to.  That ends Baumann’s second argument.  Thus begins the third…] 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.   [Mormons and Jews and Catholics are in Congress, but they are not allowed to bring confessional perspectives into their words or deeds.  In the sense that there are religious people in the public square, Baumann is right: they haven’t be marginalized.  He is wrong in the sense that action on the basis of religion has in fact been marginalized.  Let them go to temple or church on Sunday.  Fine.  The fruit of the JFK Tree is that the religious beliefs and motivations of religious people have been marginalized.  That’s what is not allowed.  Perhaps Baumann thinks it is acceptable that Catholics set aside the Church’s teaching on abortion on and that it is perfectly harmonious for Catholic politicians to vote in favor of abortion.  I don’t know.  But if that is the case, then I understand why Baumann can think that Catholics haven’t been marginalized: just look at Pelosi!  Chaput is saying that there is a different sense of how to be a Catholic in political life.  We cannot be cafeteria Catholics or park our Catholicism at the door of the church.  Finally, is it such a stretch to connect what is going on today with what JFK did 50 years ago?  I don’t think so.  The speech took on a life of its own, resonating down though decades.  It was one of the most important speeches of JFK’s career and many refer to it today.  Wonks immediately connected Mitt Romney with JFK during the last presidential campaign. It comes up all the time with there is a question of conflict of religious faith and public role.  So, is it really such a stretch?  JFK’s Houston Speech is part of the American political psyche.]

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.”

JFK HoustonBaumann’s logic is pretty bad.

But you can see that Chaput has gotten under the skin of the liberals.

It has taken a while, but they are starting react.

There is probably a John Courtney Murray/JFK axis here in the liberal mind.

Remember our context: Liberals are going bananas about a perceived assault on their version of Vatican II.   They are losing control of the narrative.

Liberals have flipped out about what is happening with the Church’s liturgy, of course.  They see that deeper connections are being made with tradition.  They think this is an attack on Vatican II.

When Archbishop Chaput gives a speech in Houston about the fruits of the 50 Year Old JFK Tree, they are going to hear an attack on… what?  What they think Vatican II taught on religious liberty.

Think about this.

First: Consider how wrong liberals are about inculturation and liturgy. 

Now imagine how wrong they are about religious liberty.

When you watch liberals getting upset about Chaput’s speech in Houston, ask yourself why.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TNCath says:

    I think they are upset about Archbishop Chaput’s speech because (1) they know he is right, and (2) they just don’t WANT to agree with it because it’s coming from Archbishop Chaput. They are coming to grips with the fact that they have lost the battle and have no moral, spiritual, or jurisdictional ground on which to stand. Slowly but surely, the idealism these folks espoused in the 1960’s–the “Camelot” myth and the “spirit of Vatican II”–that came from political and ecclesiastical carpetbaggers, is dying before their very eyes.

  2. Luke says:

    When will the dissenters take the time to read the Vatican II documents? It would be nice if they began pinning their ideals somewhere else. You are right, FatherZ, they believe that we can leave Jesus in the car when we go into the public square and still be true to our Faith. Relativism anyone?

  3. Ioannes Andreades says:

    A few of the lines in thie piece demonstrates what happens when liberals do read Vatican II:

    Also, not to be missed is John Allen’s take on Abp. Chaput, much more sympathetic than that in Commonweal:

  4. gmaskell says:

    FEAR! They (Liberals) “have nothing to fear but fear itself”. “They played on our fears”- Who is they?

  5. Londiniensis says:

    I really feel for these liberals. After all, Abp Chaput comes from a minority even more discriminated against and marginalised than the African-Americans. The liberals’ gut tells them they should be hanging on every word – but there is a disconnect between what they feel they should be hearing and what they are hearing.

    Liberals are good at “blocking out” contradictory messages. For example, they love anti-American muslims, but block out their strong anti-homosexual (and anti-democratic) beliefs. And they promote porn as free speech and also promote feminism, but block out feminists’ hatred of porn (unless, of course, they are post-modern feminists).

    Just imagine how their brains must be frying!

  6. Luke says:

    Ioannes Andreades, you have a point but it only goes so far for me. When Kate Graham wrote “I would never want to go 40-plus years back in time, especially to a time that afforded fewer people fewer rights,” she’s equating what happened in the Church to what was happening in the public square. A clear mistake. Then I saw that she serves on the Women’s Ordination Conference board of directors and the Call to Action Next Generation Leadership Team. While dissension is dissension, there is a point at which a person has “gone overboard”, they’ve jumped ship. I discount her opinion and those of the people she quotes on the basis that they don’t give full credence to their Faith which is a requirement of actually being Catholic.

  7. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I guess what I was getting at was the person who clearly read the documents mused how out of date they were. That’s all I really meant. Clearly, the author of the pieces dissents considerably from Vatican II. At least she’s aware that she does.

  8. Luke says:

    Yes. Maybe there is some consolation in knowing that these particular dissenters are fully aware of their willful turning away from holy Church. The only real consolation I can find is that because of the open dissent and obvious breaking with Tradition that many will steer clear of these errors.

  9. The mess we are in goes back further than Vatican II, I’m afraid.
    There are very believable authors who have documented that what we now experience with all this dissent was going on long before 1962 (D. Steichen, E.M. Jones, A.Carey and others). This only proves that something was up even before all the upheaval. Good for Archbishop Chaput. A great prelate and a man devoted to our Holy Mother Church. We need to pray for him and all the other bishops who have to face this kind of ‘mullarky’ from “snot-nosed kids” (and that’s a kind reference from me, known to have “anger issues”:<)!)

  10. Penguins Fan says:

    This bunch we usually refer to as “liberals” really aren’t liberal at all, not in the classic sense of the word, anyway.

    They exist inside and outside of the Catholic Church. They seek to shove their views down everyone’s throat, calling all of it it fact and truth, when what they want to do is tear down what existed before and erect their own monstrosity in place.

    Luther and Henry VIII started it. So did Calvin. We ended up with the “Enlightenment”, which bore the fruit of the French Revolution and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. Napoleon, the Franco-Prussian War, Marx, Engels, Sanger and the like ensued.
    Two world wars in the 20th century and a nearly 50 year old cold war followed that. Yet, the “liberals”, enamored with their own ideologies, refuse to see the failures in them.

    The Democrat Party, with help from not a few Republicans, has been doing it in the USA for decades.

    Things are not perfect in the Catholic Church and have never been. Every generation faces its struggles and setbacks and some are worse than others, depending upon the time and the part of the world one lives.

    It was no fun being a Catholic priest in the last Mexican Revolution – or being a practicing Catholic at all.

    The “wreckers” are growing desperate. They have lost the debate but that never stops them. The Catholic politicians who support abortion, the Catholic lay groups who support an ever expanding government under the guise of “the common good”, the ones who hate the Tridentine Liturgy, the Baltimore Catechism…we know who they are.

    They will only grow louder and more shrill as they age and see things not go their way.

    Too bad, but sin is sin. God defined sin, not us. God told us killing the unborn, the weak, the elderly is wrong. God told us homosexuality is wrong.

    God gave the priesthood to the Church and attempts to demean it or diminish it are, in time, doomed to fail because Jesus made His promise to Peter.

    end of rant

  11. TJerome says:

    Commonweal, yawn. It’s soooooooooooooo 1960s.

  12. Peguins Fan: You are absolutely right on. This bunch is not “liberal” at all; they are autocrats and authoritarians. I once heard a very holy priest say that these folks are more intolerant and dictatorial than anything before the Second Vatican Council.
    It’s another religion; I’m convinced of this. Whether through ignorance, prejudice, or just plain stubbornness and willfulness, they have “A New Church” on their agenda.
    But it’s not God’s Church, which will endure until the end of time. Even if we’re a tiny minority.
    Let the dissenters go their own way. They evidently don’t want Jesus’ Way, which He gave to His Holy Catholic Church.

  13. muckemdanno says:

    Abp Chaput did not make clear at all in his Houston speech what exactly JFK said in HIS Houston speech that is contrary to sound faith or morals. JFK’s speech has about the same content as Dignitatis Humanae. I would like any of the JFK-bashers here to explain why the JFK speech is to be condemned and Dignitatis Humanae is to be praised. The substance of the two is the same.

    P.S. – In his speech, Chaput praises John Courtney Murray, who, according to several items posted by Fr Z, “helped” the Kennedys become “pro-choice” Catholics. I guess today’s conservative bishops would have been counted as liberals 50 years ago!

  14. Supertradmom says:


    Here is the complete speech.

    There are at least two errors: the Catholic Church does not teach complete separation of Church and State, as seen clearly in the encyclicals of Pope Saint Leo XII and others after him. In fact, it is the duty, according to the Popes, of the State, to protect the Catholic Church from harm and hindrance. Secondly, the president said that religion is basically a private affair and not a public one. This is against Catholic teaching, and also not good psychology. One cannot be two people-one private and one public; that is a type of schizophrenia. The public conscience is what is absolutely needed today. In fact, if one does not believe what one says one believes enough to stand up for truth, than one is either crazy or a hypocrite, or a liar, which is another word for hypocrite.

  15. Supertradmom says:

    sorry, Pope St. Leo XIII

  16. Luke says:


    Do you believe that we should be characterized by our faith? If you do, then you shouldn’t have any problem with what Archbishop Chaput said. If you believe that faith should play a backseat role in our public life then you are mistaken and mucking around in the wrong place. Jesus doesn’t ask us just to believe in a few ideals but to become a new person in him.

  17. Warren says:

    You had Kennedy; in Canada we had Trudeau. Both were Catholics who acted badly. They prove, once again, that the greatest threat to the Church comes from within Her own ranks.

  18. Of course liberals whine about any correction of their errors. And, as their leader the father of lies always does, they dress up the lie to make it sound as if it comes from the Light. Hence their so-called logic.

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