ROME, March 2, 2010 – Precisely fifty years after the memorable speech, preserved in the anthologies, that John F. Kennedy gave to the Protestant pastors of Houston in order to convince them and the entire nation that as a Catholic he could be a good president (see photo), the archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, has returned to the scene of the crime, in Houston, for a Baptist conference on the role of Christians in public life.
The “crime” was precisely the one committed by Kennedy with that speech, Chaput maintained in his talk, given yesterday evening at Houston Baptist University and reproduced in its entirety further below.
“Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage,” said Chaput, who of all the bishops of the United States is the one most active in the area of relations between the Church and political leadership. He has also written a book on this topic, “Render Unto Caesar,” the central thesis of which is that Caesar must be given his due, but that a Christian serves his nation by living his faith in political life in complete consistency and visibility, without hiding or diluting it.
In Chaput’s view, the rigid separation between Church and state exalted by Kennedy has nothing to do with the origin and history of the United States. It is a concept introduced only in the middle of the twentieth century by a secularist current. Kennedy submitted to this current, opening the way to the privatization of religious belief in the individual conscience and to its definitive collapse, even among Catholics.
Today the paradox of these Catholics in love with secularism in the United States and elsewhere is that they espouse and exalt this paradigm in an uncritical fashion, even applying it to the Church, precisely when it appears to be increasingly in crisis everywhere.
In contemporary culture, the word “secularism” can be traced back to the “laïcité” typical of France, highly aggressive toward religion and determined to exclude it from the public sphere or in any case subject it to its own command.
But this concept is under revision in France itself, and elsewhere it has been duplicated in significantly different versions, all of them rather unstable.
Not only that. In Europe itself, as well as in North America, “laïcité” has always had to face a very different model of relations between Church and state, the “religious freedom” of Anglo-Saxon origin that has thrived most in the United States.
Both of these models were born within Christianity, but they have produced different forms of the Church’s role in society.
The United States is the nation where today the confrontation between “laïcité” and “religious freedom” is most vigorous and decisive. And the Catholic Church is part of it.
In Italy, the scholar who is most insistently calling attention to this confrontation is Luca Diotallevi, professor of sociology at the Università di Roma Tre, vice president of the scientific committee of the “Social Weeks” for Italian Catholics, and an expert in high demand among the leadership of the bishops’ conference.
Diotallevi has entitled his latest essay, published by Rubbettino and in bookstores for a month, “Una alternativa alla laicità.”
He published an enlightening preview of his essay, with references to Europe and America, in the magazine of the Catholic University of Milan, “Vita e Pensiero”:
But here is the talk given by the archbishop of Denver on the evening of March 1, 2010, at the Baptist University of Houston: Click here.