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John F. Kennedy’s Fateful Mistake


I grew up in Boston, in the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Dorchester, Massachusetts. My family had a picture of John F. Kennedy and the Pope on the wall. We took pride in the fact that he was the first Catholic president of the United States of America. When the announcement that he had been assassinated came over the intercom at St. Matthews School, we formed a single line for procession to the Church to pray, and then to weep.

There certainly was a Kennedy Mystique, and not just among Catholics. It is now overshadowed by the Kennedy Mistake. That’s the notion that a Catholic in politics can deny fundamental moral truths and hide behind the “I’m personally opposed but” sophistry. The mistake is rooted in an address President Kennedy gave on September 12, 1960, before the Houston Ministerial alliance.

Kennedy Did Something

Many of the nation’s most influential Protestant leaders had joined together to oppose him because of his Catholic faith. They could sway thousands, perhaps millions of votes. The election was shaping up to be a very close one and Kennedy couldn’t afford to lose any votes to anti-Catholic prejudice. To quell their fears, he made his faith a private matter. That was the fatal mistake.

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