By George Weigel
The trajectory of history rarely follows a predictable arc.
Addressing the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during the 1960 presidential campaign, Sen. John F. Kennedy may have imagined that he was striking a blow for tolerance and inclusivity when he told the assembled Protestant pastors — many of whom could no more imagine a Catholic president than General Franco could imagine a Protestant Spain — that they need not fret: Catholic authorities would not influence his decisions as chief executive. In fact, what the first president baptized a Catholic did was to drive a wedge between religiously-informed moral conviction and public policy that has been exploited by politicians ever since.
One such politician was Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, a favorite would-be presidential candidate of the Great Mentioners. Cuomo went to the University of Notre Dame during the 1984 campaign and declared that, while he accepted the Church’s teaching on the inalienable right-to-life of the unborn, that teaching was a “religious value,” and it would be difficult to translate “our Catholic morality into civil law.” Cuomo may have thought he was laying down covering fire for Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, then the Democratic vice-presidential candidate and the governor’s fellow-New-York-ethnic-Catholic. But by ignoring the fact that the Church’s teaching on the inalienable right to life from conception until natural death is based on truths of the moral law that can be grasped by anyone willing to think seriously about them, Cuomo reinforced the myth that the Catholic Church’s pro-life stance and its opposition to abortion was somehow akin to the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
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