On September 12, 1960, Senator and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy went to Houston to deliver a speech on religious tolerance before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers. The speech was one of the most deleterious and misguided in modern American history.
Last night, Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered a talk at Houston Baptist University, in which he criticized President John F. Kennedy’s infamous speech, describing it as “sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong.”
During his talk, the archbishop noted that there are currently “more Catholics in national public office” than there ever have been in American history.
“But,” he continued, “I wonder if we’ve ever had fewer of them who can coherently explain how their faith informs their work, or who even feel obligated to try. The life of our country is no more ‘Catholic’ or ‘Christian’ than it was 100 years ago. In fact it’s arguably less so.”
One of the reasons why this problem exists, he explained, is that too many Christian individuals, Protestant and Catholic alike, live their faith as if it were “private idiosyncrasy” which they try to prevent from becoming a “public nuisance.”
“And too many just don’t really believe,” he added.
Recounting the historical context that led to the current state of affairs, Archbishop Chaput referred to a speech that the late John F. Kennedy made while running for president in 1960 which greatly effected the modern relationship between religion and American politics. At his speech almost fifty years ago, President Kennedy had the arduous task of convincing 300 uneasy Protestant ministers in a Houston address that his Catholic faith would not impede his ability to lead the country. Successful in his attempt, “Kennedy convinced the country, if not the ministers, and went on to be elected,” he recalled.
“And his speech left a lasting mark on American politics,” the prelate added.
Here is the full text of Archbishop Chaput’s address, titled “The Vocation of Christians in American Public Life.”