Archive | April, 2009

How Protestants — and Nixon — tried to keep JFK out of the White House

April 29, 2009

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“The Making of a Catholic President:
Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960″
by Shaun A. Casey

Protestants and Republicans failed, but they did their damnedest to try to keep a Catholic from becoming president of the United States.

This incredibly detailed account proves — with the hard evidence of preserved letters and memoirs — that under the guise of fighting to preserve the principle of separation of church and state, large Protestant denominations and influential Protestant leaders teamed with the Republican Party and its nominee in the 1960 election — Richard M. Nixon — to feed anti-Catholic prejudice among the large Protestant voting majority.

Famous names like the Rev. Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale are uncovered as joining in, nay, leading the charge, in order to keep the Catholic Kennedy from the White House.

Casey’s research shows how Protestant ministers and church leaders used their pulpits and their printing presses to blatantly state that no Catholic could ever be trusted to uphold the U.S. Constitution as president.

The anti-Catholic bias came out via the preaching sermons that attacked JFK, airing radio and television programs that did the same, running lengthy articles against Kennedy in Protestant magazines like Christian Century and Christianity and Crisis, and printing and distributing hundreds of thousands of pamphlets in an attempt to sway the election Nixon’s way. Leading the chorus of anti-Catholicism was the Republican National Committee.

Nixon involvement uncovered
If only the American public had known about the duplicitous ways of Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign, the country may never have heard of a bungled burglary at the Watergate complex because Nixon’s credibility would never have allowed him to even run for the presidency later, no less be elected or approve of criminal activity to try to win re-election.

While publicly vowing not to raise the issue of a candidate’s faith, Nixon surreptitiously had former Missouri congressman O.K. Armstrong working the anti-Catholic bias angle across the country with Protestant church leaders and especially the anti-Catholic group Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Armstrong recruited organizations like Citizens for Religious Freedom, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God and the National Council of Churches to use speeches and printed material to show how a Catholic president would undermine the country.

Armstrong worked under the guidance of Albert Hermann of the Republican National Committee, who was the organizer of anti-Catholic forces for Nixon.
Bias clouded issues
Casey points out that the issues of the day in 1960 were public funding for Catholic schools, the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, a supposed threat to separation of church and state, and especially the fear that the Vatican would direct a Catholic president in how to govern the country. What comes through the historical evidence is first the fear by Protestant elites that the United States would no longer be a “Protestant nation,” and second that both Protestants and Republican leaders feared Catholic voting power.

Interestingly, President Dwight Eisenhower had won the majority of Catholics in both the 1952 and 1956 elections.

In going after the anti-Catholic vote, Nixon took up a suggestion from Rev. Billy Graham, who wrote in a letter to the then vice president, “when the chips are down I think the religious issue would be very strong and might conceivable work in your behalf.” Graham in fact shared his mailing list with the anti-Kennedy efforts.

Nixon, however, had a problem of his own: Civil rights. In order to gain Protestant votes, he had to win a large percentage of conservative white southern voters, so he could not be seen as progressive on race and have any chance at the southern vote. In hindsight, that foretold the Republicans’ “Southern Strategy” that took electoral voters from the formerly Democratic “Solid South” camp for election after election in the later part of the 20th Century.
Kennedy and his faith
“The Making of a Catholic President” shows how the Kennedy camp came to realize the serious threat that JFK faced from anti-Catholic bigotry and how he and his strategists determined to confront the issue directly.

Kennedy sought out and listened to Protestant leaders and then addressed their fears.

Over and over during the primaries and the general election campaign JFK voiced his opposition to tax dollars for Catholic education, his opposition to an ambassador to the Vatican, and his commitment to the constitution of the country over the dogma of his faith.

He entered the West Virgina primary, winning the votes of that overwhelmingly Protestant populace, then into the lions’ den of the Houston Ministerial Association, where he gave a speech and answered questions from that hostile Protestant audience.

That event may be the most often recalled remarks by Kennedy about the impact of his religion on his actions in office.

“Whenever an issue may come before me as President . . . I will make my decision . . . in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

Kennedy’s statement echoed a quote that appeared in a Look magazine feature on him Feb. 16, 1959: “Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution in all parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.”

At the time, Kennedy was chided by writers in Catholic magazines like the Jesuit’s America and lay-run Commonweal “for yielding too much ground to the Protestant worriers,” as
author Casey put it.

What is more interesting, and which deserves similar book-length treatment, are thoughts Casey brings up in his epilogue.

For further reflection
JFK carried 83% of the Catholic vote in 1960, 34% of the white Protestant vote, and 50% of the regular-attending black churchgoers, but won the electoral votes of hugely Protestant Texas, perhaps in part thanks to running mate Lyndon Johnson.

But Casey asks: “What was the nature of Kennedy’s Catholicism?”

The answer according to one priest who knew him well was that he was a conventional Catholic of his day who understood the structures and traditions that were the church of 1950s Boston.(That priest was a certain Father John Wright, a confidant of then-Senator Kennedy who offered extremely valuable advice about how to handle the issue of his faith. The priest later became the Bishop of Pittsburgh and a John Cardinal Wright.)

Even is one disavows some of the alleged moral failings that have come to light about JFK in the years since his assassination, considering the current climate of pressure on Catholic candidates from some of the American hierarchy and other corners of the church, one has to wonder if today JFK would be able to pull 83% of the Catholic vote, or if the fact that we now have had a Catholic president would take the cachet off electing a Catholic for Catholic voters.

Still more to think about
Casey’s epilogue offers cause for reflection for other, more important issues for today’s Catholic.

In pointing out how JFK sought understanding from Protestants, not endorsement, Casey says:

“As religion has increasingly become connected to the political divide in this country, it has reinforced a gulf among faith communities such that members of the religious Right and the religious Left routinely demonize one another and, in doing so, ape the worst aspects of American political culture.”

He adds two more thoughts:

First, the political independence of faith communities is good for both the faith communities and the nation. Second, endorsements of politicians by faith communities are usually misguided.

“The Making of a Catholic President” should be read by every Catholic — and every Protestant — eligible to vote. — bz
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Imperfect timing

April 27, 2009


I had to make a difficult and painful phone call on Friday. I was scheduled to go turkey hunting in Missouri this  week with Bishop Joe Charron and his friend, Joe Lane, a Minnesota native who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and invites Bishop Charron down to his 220-acre piece of property nearly every spring to hunt  turkeys.

All week, I had been feeling like the timing wasn’t right for this trip, for several reasons, including a heavy workload and a persistent chest cold that wasn’t going away. So, on Friday, I called Bishop Charron to say I wouldn’t be able to come down. I was really looking forward to going, but I felt staying home was the right thing to do. Bishop Charron agreed and we talked about rescheduling for next year.
However, that does not mean I had nothing to do with turkey hunting over the weekend. On the contrary, I went down to Goodhue County on Saturday to do some preseason scouting for my Minnesota hunt, which begins May 10. I took my brother, Paul, who has hunted this property several times and got a bird each time, including last spring.
We pulled in and were preparing to walk up the hill to his favorite spot when we heard two toms gobbling at the top of the hill. When we reached  the top, one of the gobblers was out in the field and ran off when he saw us. We heard the other one gobbling in the woods and I’m pretty sure I spotted him as well. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. The first day of my hunt is on a Sunday and Paul might join me. That would be fun.
Then, when we got back, we had a wild game cookout at my house, featuring grilled wild turkey and elk burgers. I had half a breast left from my Wisconsin gobbler that I shot last year and it tasted delicious. The elk came courtesy of a friend of ours who had shot one a year-and-a-half ago. Both the turkey and the elk were delicious. Then, yesterday, I used another portion of the wild turkey breast to make our family’s favorite recipe — wild turkey/wild rice casserole. It was fabulous, as usual. I’m hoping to put more turkey in the freezer this spring so we can make the casserole again.
The birds appear to be very active this spring in Minnesota and I’m optimistic about my hunt in two weeks. Just three days after my Minnesota season opens, I go to Wisconsin for a hunt there with my oldest son, Joe, and my Dad. It should be a fun week!
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Baseball, kids and a child’s book to be appreciated by young and old

April 25, 2009


“A Glove of Their Own,”

by Debbie Moldovan, Keri Conkling and Lisa Funari-Willever,

illustrated by Lauren Lambiase

All summer long it happened every day at Edwards School Playground on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

The grounder would stick in the shortstop’s glove, he’d whirl and fire to the pitcher — pitcher’s hands “out” — for the third out before the batter could step on first base, an old newspaper with the rock on top (so it wouldn’t blow away).

The four-five-six guys in the field would run in for their turn at bat, and the team that had been batting took the field. Inevitably somebody from the team in the field flipped his glove to one of the guys who didn’t have a glove.

That was baseball — and still is — in the free-of-all-cares world of kids and summer vacation, and it’s what makes “A Glove of Their Own” more than just a nostalgia piece, although the first few paragraphs above are evidence that it certainly is that.

As good a growth- and person-building experience as organized sports can be when caring, trained, thoughtful coaches and supportive parents make them so, there’s a special growing up that happens in pick up games — games umpired not by adults but by children’s sense of fair play, games not pressurized by league standings or playoffs, games in which kids don’t have to “make the team” but just show up in order to get to play.

This colorful, child-sized book won’t win any awards for plot, although it’s cute enough.

It won’t take a Newberry Award for creative writing.

Details in some of the illustrations will make the trained-eyed sports person wince: The hands of the batter separated on the bat? YIKES! The first baseman standing right in the middle of the base and the runner headed straight into him? Quick, dial 911!

But youngsters in the primary grades who like sports will love the story and its rhyming cadences. And the messages in this short, simple child’s book are sure to sew seeds of generosity and caring for those less fortunate, like youngsters who have to play baseball without a glove of their own.

I can’t wait to have my grandsons read it to me. — bz

P.S. — Franklin Mason Press, the publisher, has partnered with Danjulie Associates in a nonprofit effort to raise funds for sports equipment for needy youth. A portion of book sales are donated to selected youth sports organizations, and the company also will partner with groups to do book-selling fundraisers. For details, visit And kudos to Jack Hannahan and Robb Quinlan, two Minnesota Catholic high school products, for their support of this worthwhile project.
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Young turkey hunters enjoy success

April 20, 2009


A special youth turkey hunt was held over the weekend in various locations throughout the state. More than 300 first-time turkey hunters from 12-17 were drawn in a special lottery and went on guided hunts with volunteers who are local members of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

When I read about the hunt, I made some phone calls to friends with sons who qualified. Two dads ended up sending in applications for their sons and all three of their boys got picked. I went to high school with both fathers — Bernie Schwab and Marty Willard — and we graduated from Totino-Grace High School in 1979. Bernie’s son, Dan, hunted near Red Wing and Marty’s two sons, Jonathan and Simeon, went to Belle Plaine.
The first to connect on a gobbler was Jonathan, hunting with guide Dan Townsend, who attends Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine. Two big gobblers came in at about 6:20 a.m. and Jonathan shot one of them. Not too far away, Simeon had a close encounter with a tom later that morning, but the bird would not come up over a small rise to give him a shot.
Meanwhile, Dan Schwab had to wait until the next day. He was out of town on a mission trip and did not get back until Saturday afternoon, leaving him just one day to get his bird. The time factor, plus some rainy weather on Sunday, gave him and his guide a sense of urgency.
They moved around quite a bit to find some active birds and finally struck up a gobbler at about 9 a.m. The bird came to within 30 yards and Dan made the shot. His bird weighed 23 1/4 pounds. He used my 12-gauge, which we had sighted in a few weeks before the trip. I have killed birds all the way out to 55 yards, so I was confident the gun would work well for Dan, and it did.
At about the same time Dan killed his bird, Simeon and his guide, Chad Selnow, were trying to call in a group of toms, seven jakes and one mature gobbler. All eight birds ended up coming in and Simeon was going to try to take the mature bird, but it was so close to another jake that he couldn’t shoot for fear of killing both birds. So, he looked and saw a jake separated from the others and he took it.
I couldn’t be happier for the boys. And, I’m very grateful to the guides who worked hard to give the boys such a great experience in the woods. Many of the guides are landowners who allow the youth to hunt on their land. I think that’s very generous, considering that this is land that they themselves hunt. My hats off to all who were involved in this special hunt. I hope to be a part of it someday. Next year, my son, William, will be 12 and eligible for this hunt. I would love for him to have this opportunity.
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Wild turkeys in Venezuela?

April 17, 2009


One week ago today, on Good Friday, I participated in the longest and most unique religious service of my life. It’s called “Via Cruces Grande” and it took place in the City of San Felix, Venezuela, home of the archdiocesan mission parish, Jesucristo Resucitado.

Starting at the church, a group of about 300, myself included, walked in procession through all 11 neighborhoods — or barrios — of the parish. It lasted five and a half hours and covered several miles. It would have been hard enough in moderate climate, but was all the more difficult in the tropical heat, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees.
About halfway through the event, I was jolted by the sight of a wild turkey in someone’s yard. Actually, I use the term “yard” loosely because there is very little grass in front of many of the houses, this one included. Yet, there was the large tom, in full strut and gobbling at us as we walked by.
Naturally, that got me to thinking about the upcoming turkey hunting season. Minnesota’s opening day was Wednesday, with my five-day season beginning May 10. However, I will start turkey hunting on Monday, April 27 in Missouri with Bishop Joe Charron of the Diocese of Des Moines. I met him last spring when I came down with one of our reporters, Maria Wiering, to do a story on the diocese before Bishop Richard Pates was ordained its new bishop.
Bishop Charron and I discovered a mutual interest in turkey hunting and he invited me to join him for a hunt in Missouri this spring. I will drive down to Des Moines on Sunday, April 26 and then we will go from there to a farm owned by a friend of his south of Kansas City. I’m not sure what to expect. The turkey reproduction has been down in Missouri the last few years, but there are still plenty of birds around. I hope to have a face-to-face encounter with one of them.
Meanwhile, I’m continuing to sort through all of the pictures I shot down in Venezuela. I probably shot about 1,500 to 2,000 photos total and have had a chance to go through them this week. Three from Holy Week appear in this week’s edition of The Catholic Spirit, plus I have put more into a photo gallery.
I have two more things planned in terms of coverage of my trip. First, I will write my upcoming monthly outdoors column on a fishing trip on the Caroni River. Second, I will put together a feature on the mission in Venezuela, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2010. Stay tuned!
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Will ‘Big Muddy Blues’ be played for the St. Croix, too?

April 7, 2009


“Big Muddy Blues: True tales and twisted politics along Lewis and Clark’s Missouri River,”

by Bill Lambrecht

With the St. Croix being designated one of America’s top 10 most endangered rivers this week, folks who enjoy that luscious stream of water that separates some of eastern Minnesota from a chunk of western Wisconsin might want to pick up “Big Muddy Blues” and learn a few lessons.

Lessons about how the concerns of any number of people who care about and depend on a waterway can be at the mercy of political ambitions and organizations with clout.

Newspaperman Bill Lambrecht in a sense recreated much of the 1802-04 journey of discovery of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, taking readers along the Missouri from near St. Louis up to the trout fishing haven in Montana where the river forms from three tributaries.

Lambrecht shows how the river has changed in the past 200 years — and why. Much of the why falls on the shoulders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the political maneuvering that led to the building of dams and dikes, of rerouting the Missouri from its natural course to ease barge traffic, of favoring the water needs of the lower river at the expense of native peoples and fishing interests in the Dakotas, among others.

Lack of enforcement of federal regulations — an issue that needs to be addressed along the St. Croix today — plays a role as well, but the biggest sin “Big Muddy Blues” points out may be our government’s disregard for scientific findings. Research doesn’t seem to hold much water — pardon the pun — if it means a member of Congress might lose a vote or two. And the empire that the Army Corps of Engineers has built for itself plays right along with the selfish politicians who can’t look past the next election to see how the research they are ignoring affects real people and endangered species, even going to the point of getting researchers transferred to other parts of the country!

“Big Muddy Blues” was published in 2005 under the Thomas Dunne Books imprint of St. Martin’s Press. It’s worth finding today, before more dirty water goes over the dams. — bz

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