The Catholic Thing
After Camelot Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Friday, 22 November 2013

Today is a sad anniversary, whatever you think of John F. Kennedy and his much debated legacy: A Catholic who announced in advance that his faith would not affect his public decisions as president – no surprise, since it didn’t much affect his private behavior, or that of his father or two brothers, either. A political moderate and Cold Warrior, who got us into Vietnam, with its troubling sequels for the nation. A man whose family and followers have been trying to argue ever since that he was really more like a modern progressive who would have reversed course in Southeast Asia, if he hadn’t been killed by a sniper in Dallas, fifty years ago today.

One of my earliest political memories is of working-stiff friends of the family, Catholic men angry about the elite mantra of the day, best summed up in a Washington clergymen’s sermon two days after the assassination: “We have been present at a new crucifixion. All of us had a part in the slaying of the President.”

The adults I knew back then were solid men who felt pride in a Catholic president, even if they didn’t agree with everything he did. But they resented the implication that, in the strange alchemy of elite opinion, “we” – not the liberal editorialists of course – but really “they,” in their religious and social conservatism, had killed the liberalizing Kennedy. They, not the actual shooter and Marxist Lee Harvey Oswald who, like school shooters today, was more a disturbed soul than reflective of anything larger in “American culture.”

The blaming of “America” was ideologically driven madness. Spiritually, it was what C.S. Lewis, who died the same day as JFK, once called, “detraction masquerading as the virtue of contrition,” concocted for unholy partisan purposes to make it appear that JFK was somehow a liberal martyr.

By strange national osmosis, brother Bobby Kennedy’s murder in 1968, at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian angered by his support of Israel, also became part of some national and Kennedy family myth – of what, we’re still not certain, but it was supposed to implicate “us all.”

There’s the Camelot myth, of course, created after the fact and not wholly fiction. Kennedy brought charm, intelligence, sophistication, and culture to the White House, and a youthfulness that – in retrospect – seems more and more like the relative innocence and “vigor” of the nation itself prior to the 1960s. Both sometimes seem to have headed into eclipse ever since.

Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, who defeated Nazism in Europe and knew how to run things, was content as president to make sure the government functioned – plainly and efficiently, efficiently because plainly. It was not everything you might desire from a modern presidency, but it was recognizably American and workmanlike.

JFK was not as different from Ike as he has often been portrayed by later mythmakers. Ike was unimpressed with the team of “the best and the brightest” – silly liberal hubris, as subsequent events in Vietnam and Cuba would show – that JFK assembled around him. Ike represented the old American practicality, realism, and modesty.

Kennedy, the real Kennedy, largely practiced those same virtues, but also knew how to make use of the new fascination with celebrity, intellectualism, and grandiosity. (James Piereson’s 2007 book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution is essential reading on the perception versus the reality.) He was perfectly suited to become the first president of the Television Age.

The Kennedys weren’t nouveaux riches. Papa Joe had made his money from booze and other businesses decades earlier, and bought his way into respectability and acceptance. And even into being a symbol for the dreams of struggling Catholics.

My own mother, an old-style ethnic Catholic in the Northeast, would spit nails at the thought of voting for a wealthy WASP like one of the Bushes, but was untroubled, tickled even, to peer through the Kennedy compound’s security fence in the 1960s at the mansion and the yachts floating nearby.

As presidents go, Kennedy wasn’t especially bad, or good. Serious historians tend to rank him a little above the middle of the historical pack. He created the impression of action and inspiration, which is worth something, especially in modern media culture. But in his three years in office, his record was pretty thin: some helpful tax cuts, cautious civil rights moves, tough talk on Communism.

But he also managed, in an early encounter, to get taken to the cleaners by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who thereafter thought him weak. The botched Bay of Pigs invasion of Castro’s Cuba didn’t help. Hence, Khrushchev’s later sending of missiles to Cuba, though JFK did hold the tiller steady during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Worst of all, he left us with Vietnam.

In light of these realities, “the eternal flame” set up by Jacqueline Kennedy at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery (Jackie also concocted the Camelot myth with Theodore H. White) seems more than a bit overblown.  

And yet, JFK’s death was a tragedy, for the country and for the world. It’s tempting to speculate what might have happened if Oswald had not carried out his murderous errand – or missed.

Would Jack and Jackie’s cosmopolitan White House, with ties to Hollywood and academic elites, have kept the country out of the cultural swamp of the late 1960s and 70s?

Would the race riots have happened? Or in the face of JFK’s popularity among American blacks and his personal charm – a word that doesn’t come to mind for his successor Lyndon Johnson – would relations between blacks and whites have become quite so poisoned for quite so long?

Would JFK’s own Democratic Party have taken its errand into the wilderness of the Counterculture? Would they have embraced so vehemently the abortion regime, radical feminism, the whole gay agenda?

We’ll never know. But it’s safe to say that more than an American president was wounded and died in Dallas fifty years ago.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (21)Add Comment
written by Manfred, November 22, 2013
Thank you for a well researched and written article, Dr. Royal. Let me treat the Kennedy subject from the perspective of traditional Catholicism. The Church had always taught that one mortal sin, unrepented, could consign the soul to Hell for eternity. At the time of Vat II this teaching appeared to be softened by the the introduction of the term "grave matter" in lieu of mortal sin. Kennedy was a chronic, habitual adulterer who even stooped so low as to seduce and carry on a lengthy affair with a very young White House intern. In a split second, his brains were splattered over his wife and the back seat of a limousine. His brother Bobby, another adulterer, was struck down by bullets in his brain in the kitchen of a hotel through which he was being escorted by his handlers. Neither had time for "a good Act of Contrition".
Jack Kennedy's speech to the Protestant ministers in Texas prior to his election gave cover to every catholic(sic) politician since then and has made the Catholic Church today a farce. "What doth it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?"
The Kennedy "Legend" should serve as a good example to every serious Catholic who reflects on their story.
written by Jack,CT, November 22, 2013
I say no arguments just Prayer
for a great man...
written by Mack Hall, November 22, 2013
Thank you.
written by Sue, November 22, 2013
Another one of the talking hairdos stuffed inside the Trojan Horse of the totalizers. At least Huxley, dying the same day, shared the truth of "the plan" in his book. And C.S. Lewis gave us "Mere Christianity".

But we Americatholics get what we deserve when we become mesmerized by the glamor and sizzle of photogenics.
written by Other Joe, November 22, 2013
There is a tide in the affairs of men. Anyone who was alive then would know that the tide was much bigger than the personality of the president in 1963. The 60s was on with or without him. The countercultural tide swept up his brothers and most of the following generation of Kennedys. The tidal wash even foamed over the steps of St. Peter's at the Vatican. JFK was no King Canute. Or maybe he was. "The pill" was a much greater influence on the society of the time than any political leader, the smartest of whom command the tide to rise while it is visibly still rising.
written by St. Pius X, November 22, 2013
It's beyond me why Boomers feel such a need to protect such a scumbag.

The White House Pimp pimped a 16 year old to a married father of four in the White House (and that's what we know about), but no big deal, he seemed cool to Boomers--the generation who ruined the greatest country in the history of the world!

No, it makes sense that the White House Pimp poisoned everything he touched. It's not meaningful whether or not he would have lived.. The cancer he was a part of was already terminal and the evil was coming whether or not one extra pimp was around to see it.

written by Ted Seeber, November 22, 2013
The worst was yet to come- the sexual revolution, which has succeeded in destroying any hope of traditional family structure for a majority of our citizens. I agree with Other Joe. The pill, and other drugs, is what caused the downfall of the hippies, not Vietnam.

The Kennedys were adulterers and scoundrels going back to Papa Joe's moonshine running days. The whole family is cursed because of it. As are many of us, by the same sins.
written by DXM, November 22, 2013
Like all big league politicians (and most minor league politicians), Kennedy was a massively narcissistic self-promoter. The complete mess that nearly all the Kennedys have made of their personal lives is symptomatic of their self-centered (and utterly unCatholic) character.
written by Chris in Maryland, November 22, 2013
What's really pathetic about the Church in the U.S. is that the Kennedy compound in MA is where the radical left clergy repaired with the Kennedy clan to concoct the "pro-choice" dogma of the progressive-catholic-AMCHURCH.

Fast forward to just a few years ago - when KATHLEEN KENNEDY-T writes an Op-Ed in the New York Times literally stating that Barack Obama is a better model for Catholics than our beloved Pope Benedict - and CAROLINE K takes the podium at the Democratic Convention and lays claim to abortion and contraception as central a central part of her identity as a "catholic woman."

Fast forward to this year - when KATHLEEN and CAROLINE spouted that they think they should be Pope.

Truly - these 2 womaen are the magisterium of the progressive AMCHURCH.
written by Famijoly, November 22, 2013
As I write this, it is about 9 a.m. CST, shortly after I celebrated Mass for the repose of the soul of John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death.

This column, written by a Catholic on November 22, 2013, reflects on the impact of the presidency and assassination of the only Catholic President in the history of the United States. I sensed a genuine effort at balance in Robert Royal's prose. The concluding line that "more than an American president was wounded and died in Dallas fifty years ago" is, in my opinion, what we Catholics in America should be focusing in any consideration of the administration and assassination of the only Catholic to serve as President of the United States.

While Robert Royal spews forth, unabashedly, the long discredited official version of perpetration, and, sadly like too many in the Catholic press, negatively broad-brushes candidate John Kennedy's 1960 Houston speech, he does bring up points for consideration regarding the context of John F. Kennedy's time and the aftermath of his administration and assassination. These are the pressing questions that have shaped the course of history for the last five decades and shape our culture today. For me, taken in the context of our American society, where there is still much anti-Catholic sentiment, the Kennedy presidency and assassination is a great case study for American Catholics. In short, we are to be, as Jesus said, "salt of the earth and light for the world," to participate in our spheres of influence to do our part to fulfill Christ's command to "go out to all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you." Yet we are not to get overly caught up in the concept of a Catholic White House or a Catholic Congress or a Catholic Supreme Court because as our Lord said to Pontius Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world" to which St. Paul would echo in Philippians chapter 3, "Our citizenship is in heaven."

An excellent book published by Orbis in 2008 that I highly recommend is "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters" by Catholic lay theologian James W. Douglass. That book addresses the fact in the closing line of Royal's column: "More than an American president was wounded and died in Dallas fifty years ago."

Eternal rest grant unto John, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

written by Bart Clark, November 22, 2013
Dear Famijoly, huh?
written by Guest, November 22, 2013
I always marvel that so many are infatuated with this man, his father, or his siblings. What a terrible example and scandal they have caused. It is almost mind numbing to see all the attention given to such fluff and decadence.

Just do not get it.
written by Rosemary, November 22, 2013
It may not be good to conflate the man and the office of president. Either we speak of the man or the office. If you take Kennedy out of the office, who is he? How did he conduct his personal life? Did he make it clear that God was his guide? (Those were the days when such would have been met with wide approval.) It does not appear so. Even then, his staff must have reached a point of feeling demoralized, knowing what they did.

Okay, let's put Kennedy back in his office: did it appear that God was his guide in making decisions on a public level? Again, it appears not, based on what we know now about his lack of judgment on the many crises that we seemed to fall into during his short presidency. That, I believe, is the case study for American Catholics. Do our public lives reflect our personal lives and vice-versa?

Kennedy probably did not know that his lack of virtue in his private life had spilled over to his public life. Surely, he like most of us, never even saw it happening.
written by Jack,CT, November 22, 2013

I so hoped that us fellow sinners could
have let today be a day of MOURNING and
not all the usual citiques of any Kennedy.

My heart and Prayers were for all 'Poor Souls"
including "US" future ones,perhaps my
esteemed cont. feel it "Fair" to Attack
the victum?

I want to be clear President Kennendy was a
Man,as Mortal as the rest of us.

So, Mr Royal-
Thanks for the Class you showed for a flawed
but truly signifigant man,there has been
50 years to slam him and as seen above
NO day is sacred even for our fellow
Catholic and President who gave his life
for his country if not saving lives in
the military he died serving and protecting
the rights of the same critics above and i
think he would be just fine with this-

written by Seanachie, November 22, 2013
Fifty years after JFK's death, he remains celebrated in our country. That is no mean achievement...especially in today's throw-away culture of immediate gratification. Keep in mind too that Peter denied Jesus three times (sinner?) and yet was the rock upon which Jesus built His Church. Perhaps Jesus has been (is) more tolerant, even welcoming, of JFK than some of us. Who knows?
written by Jack,CT, November 22, 2013
Chris:JFK as prolife
Yup a pro life dem!.
written by Chris in Maryland, November 22, 2013

I understand that JFK may have been pro-life, and I hope he was truly so, unlike his brother Edward. I also think JFK was a very brave man to have volunteered for combat (when he could have so easily avoided it), as did his older brother who gave his life. And I also greatly admire RFK for enlisting in the U.S. Navy, and being willing to live life from the deck level, where most men actually do live.

Today - 50 years hence - the Kennedy descendants identify themselves as pro-abortion (and all the rest) following the example of their Uncle Edward. The family - while a credit to the nation - are not, and tragically so - a credit to The Church - and their most vocal members posture as critics of Christian morality held by The Church.

While my only comments were about the family's legacy per The Church, in answer to your note about "a pro-life dem," I can only reply that that was 50 years ago. Today, all "Dem" senators are pro-abortion, and there are few if any pro-life "Dem" congressman.

Which is not to say that the "Rep" establishment is "pro-life" (I understand they are not). It is just to say that the "DEM" political machine is waging open war against the unborn. But compared to the "Rep" establishment, at least you can say that the "DEMs" are "honest" about abortion.
written by Jack,CT, November 23, 2013
Chris: Thanks for the note,
You are exactly right
and I guess all we
can do is truly pray
for life,I suggest
people pray through
the Intercession of
another great Man
The Most Venerable
Fulton J Sheen-
God Bless Chris
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, November 23, 2013
I refuse to be caught up in the leftist, progressive hysteria over JFK's demise. After all, everyone gets to die. Before then, we Catholics are called to evangelize, to proclaim the Gospel, to bring others to Christ by the proclamation of how the kerygma has changed our lives.

So let's compare how two Christians, who died on the same day, fared on this criterion: C.S. Lewis is credited with causing many, many people to come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have never heard - even one time - anyone lay claim to the fact that they came to know Christ because of Jack Kennedy's witness to the Gospel. In the end, as far as we Catholics are concerned, that's all that matters.
written by Chris in Maryland, November 23, 2013
Thank you Jack for your kind response, and I join you in prayer through the intersession of the great Catholic man Fulton Sheen. God bless you and all, and a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.
written by Jack,CT, November 23, 2013
God Bless All And a Wonderful Holiday to All!
Thx Chris God Bless!

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