John Allen has a nice piece on Archbishop Chaput of Denver here. I'd like to quote a few of Chaput's lines from his address at Houston Baptist University and comment (the full text can be found here). The first is from
One of the ironies in my talk tonight is this. I’m a Catholic bishop, speaking at a Baptist university in America’s Protestant heartland. But I’ve been welcomed with more warmth and friendship than I might find at a number of Catholic venues. This is a fact worth discussing. I'll come back to it at the end ...
I’m here as a Catholic Christian and an American citizen -- in that order. Both of these identities are important. They don’t need to conflict. They are not, however, the same thing. ... No nation, not even the one I love, has a right to my allegiance, or my silence, in matters that belong to God or that undermine the dignity of the human persons He created.
Fifty years ago this fall, in September 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. ... His speech left a lasting mark on American politics. It was sincere, compelling, articulate -- and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life. And he wasn’t merely “wrong.” His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.
[Kennedy’s speech] has at least two big flaws. The first is political and historical, the second is religious.
Early in his remarks, Kennedy said: “I believe in an America where the separation of Church and state is absolute.” The trouble is, the Constitution doesn’t say that. The Founders and Framers didn’t believe that. And the history of the United States contradicts that. ... America’s Founders encouraged mutual support between religion and government.
The Houston remarks also created a religious problem. ... Fifty years after Kennedy’s speech, we have more Catholics in national public office than ever before. But 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. And at least one of the reasons for it is this: Too many Catholics confuse their personal opinions with a real Christian conscience. 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. Maybe it’s different in Protestant circles. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I say, “I doubt it.”
Archbishop Chaput touches upon a huge misconception about the separation of Church and State. It often is misunderstood to mean that religion has no place in the public sector. Many Catholics have internalized that misunderstanding and very conveniently leave their faith in the vestibule at church. The two mistakes Kennedy made are really one mistake with two aspects. The mistake is to think that one's faith does not extend into one's public life; that faith can be "private."
We are not to try to establish a theocracy in the U.S., but Catholics are to integrate their faith into their secular decisions. If we did this, health care, politics, the arts, the internet (including blogs), and all manners of public institutions would look different. Moral decisions do not exist solely in the realm of one's private life. In fact, no human decision of any import is strictly private - we are public, communal beings. My imagined private decisions shape me, and I then interact with other people. Take internet pornography, for example - an obsession for millions of American men and women. What happens in the privacy of one's home even at that moment is not strictly private. The people involved in producing the pornography were effectively objectified in its making. The pornography shapes its viewer to see other human beings as objects for one's sexual gratification. I once spoke with a man at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, who was debating leaving his job with a phone company. His job involved making sure that people had access to the internet, but then told me that some absurdly high percentage of internet usage (I want to say over 75%) was for the viewing of pornography. He was having moral qualms about the job that helped him provide food and shelter for his family.
More on this later - I have an appointment to get to! Sorry!