Jeb Bush’s John Kerry Moment

Senior Editor’s Note: We hope you were able to watch EWTN’s “The World Over Live” with Raymond Arroyo last night in discussion with TCT‘s Bob Royal and Archbishop Edward Kurtz of Louisville about the new encyclical. We’ll post the video as soon as it’s available. (Dr. Royal, author of The Virgin and the Dynamo: Use and Abuse of Religion in  Environmental Debates [1999] has also been interviewed on the BBC and on Interfaith Voices. Links to both programs will be available here soon.) In September, Bob will join Fr. Gerald Murray and Raymond Arroyo to cover the pope’s visit to the U.S. And in October, Bob will be back in Rome to cover the next synod. This is why we ask you to support The Catholic Thing, and why your generous response to our brief fundraisers is essential. When Bob or I appear on TV or radio to defend the Faith, we receive no monetary compensation. We have no corporate partners paying the salaries of TCT‘s staff. That’s why we come to you, our readers and our friends. No contribution is too small, and, believe me, neither is any too large. Thanks and God bless. – Brad Miner

During the 2004 presidential campaign, then-Senator John Kerry, who identifies as Catholic, offered his opinion about the relationship between Catholic doctrine and the scope of the Church’s authority when it published a document clearly explaining what the Church requires of Catholic politicians on the matter of same-sex unions.

The portion of the text, about which Kerry, as candidate for president, was particularly critical, reads:

If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of the following ethical indications.

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth.

According to published reports, in criticizing these requirements, Kerry also said: “it is important not to have the Church instructing politicians.” He also said that the document “is an inappropriate crossing of the line in this country. President Kennedy drew that line very clearly in 1960 and I believe we need to stand up for that line today. . . .Our founding fathers separated church and state in America. It is an important separation. It is part of what makes America different and special, and we need to honor that as we go forward and I’m going to fight to do that.”

Fast forward to 2015. In Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, the pontiff writes, “a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

When asked about the encyclical, Republican presidential hopeful, Governor Jeb Bush (who, like me, has yet to read the document in its entirety), said: “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”


He also said, “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issue before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

In other words, to quote cradle-Catholic Kerry, “it is important not to have the church instructing politicians.” For to do so is “an inappropriate crossing of the line in this country.”

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any Catholic, even a politician, respectfully raising questions about papal pronouncements, especially when those pronouncements venture into areas in which the occupant of Peter’s Chair has no expertise. However, the principle that candidate Bush advances is not merely affirming that mundane truth. He is in fact saying something at a much higher level of abstraction: that the concerns of politics are not the concerns of religion, which is indistinguishable from what candidate Kerry said in 2004.

But Bush’s principle is palpably false. Politics concerns the care of the community, which consists of human beings made in the image of God. For this reason, the Church has not only constructed houses of worship, but has created everything from schools, hospitals, orphanages, charitable institutions, and countless orders of religious that help carry out these missions.

Is candidate Bush really promising that under his presidential administration he would order the federal government to stay completely out of all these Catholic projects and let them flourish free of any state oversight? Has he discussed this with anyone at HHS, the IRS, the EPA, the DOE, or the EEOC recently?

What is even more stunning about candidate Bush’s assertion is that he, like candidate Kerry, treats the Vicar of Christ, not as one to whom he owes obedience, but rather as a religious pundit whose suggestions he is free to discard if he finds them politically inconvenient. But if religion is about “making us better as people,” as candidate Bush affirms, and if one’s religion requires obedience to its Magisterium, is not candidate Bush, by his reluctance to obey, denying himself an opportunity to improve his own character?

Perhaps there is a reason why the author of Psalms warned us: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” (146:3 -NRSV)


Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University, and 2016-17 Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his many books is Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • Manfred

    I respectfully disagree, Mr. Beckwith. Homosexual acts are not only a severe violation of Divine Law, but natural law as well. These acts have been referred to as “abominations” for, as even Justice Kennedy would argue, millenia. They “cry out to Heaven”.
    On the other hand, there is no empirical evidence of :Global Warming, Ten retrired NASA scientists wrote an open letter to the Pope warning him to stay away from the subject as it is more opinion than science. When Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, is invited by the Pope to serve as his advisor on the subject, and appoints him to the Pontifical Academy of Science, and he believes there are six billion too many people in the world already, the REAL SUBJECT is not climate change or global warming, but rather POPULATION CONTROL.
    This Pope demonstrates over and over that he is a fool. Mr. Bush was prudent in walking away from any “teaching” that neither he or we have any obligation to obey.

    • Caddie

      I agree with you, Manfred. This pope should not mix science and religion ——- advice given to Pius XII by Fr. Le Maitre and others which he humbly accepted and followed. A degree in chemistry doesn’t make one a scientist. Despite apparent simplicity of life style humility does not come through in some of his pronouncements.

  • John Willson

    John Kennedy and John Kerry were (are) not Catholics in any meaningful way. It is sad to see Jeb Bush following in such morally mushy footsteps.

  • RufusChoate

    You are very correct about the problem with American Catholics including myself, not just politicians of not faithfully and honestly accepting to what in taught in the spirit of humility. I believe it is this basic lack of humility in submitting to and assenting the authentic teaching of the Church is a function of the times not the increase in education or wisdom. Trust has been dampened and eroded by the desperate defensive battle against the violent ideologically based very real evils of the Left.

    When the Left wins at anything the innocent die, virtue destroyed and the world is worse for it.

    This Pope’s encyclical was written with the complicity of eliminationist Leftists. How can that not cause doubt in any sane man?

  • AndyEMalone

    I am not a Jeb Bush partisan but he was more faithful to the Gospel of Life than repeatedly documented Homosexual Bishop Robert Lynch in the Terry Schiavo obscenity.

  • I’d say it’s to Bush’s credit to treat the pope’s proposals for addressing climate change as an opinion of a non-expert. Of course, he should agree and act on the truth that God created the world and made men its stewards. I don’t see any indication that he feels otherwise, or that his political agenda should overturn this belief.

    Beckwith’s assertion that Bush’s remarks in the latest encyclical amount to the same dismissiveness that John Kerry expressed is a hastily made. Because of his affiliation with the Democratic party, Kerry would obviously have to depart from Church teachings to serve his constituents and party objectives. By contrast, Bush could logically adopt the teachings of the Church on the dignity of life and the definition of marriage while keeping in line with his party. He would be fine with the ‘what’ and ‘why’, but might differ on the ‘how’. As a politician, that’s his prerogative and his specialty. If the pope happens to offer statist solutions, or propose counterproductive measures, any politician should have the freedom to take another approach so long as they have the same goals and values in mind.

  • Jeannine

    Well, the pope is infallible in faith and morals, not in science or politics. The moral principles of a good society are elements of faith and morals, but people may legitimately disagree on how to apply the principles. The first part of what Jeb Bush says is about “economic policy,” which one might fairly argue refers to the application, rather than the principles themselves. Bishops are not economists, after all.

    It is the second part that is disturbing, because it indicates that religion should have no voice in the public square.

    I saw about three minutes of a television interview with Jeb Bush yesterday in which he stated that he would certainly officiate at a gay wedding if the people getting married were his friends and loved each other. So apparently he agrees with John Kerry about that issue as well.

    • Tarzan

      Jeb Bush just lost my vote in the primaries.

  • Arden Abeille

    Bush: “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get
    economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

    ECONOMIC. So for him,
    it is all about money. Well, thank you Mr. Bush for making it clear which master you serve, God or mammon.

    Bush: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

    If political efforts are not directed toward making us better people, then what ARE they doing to us?
    If our political efforts are not directed by our properly-formed consciences (hence by the practice and study of our religion), then what are they directed by?

    “Bush, like candidate Kerry, treats the Vicar of Christ, not as one to whom he owes obedience, but rather as a religious pundit whose suggestions he is free to discard if he finds them politically inconvenient. But if religion is about “making us better people,” as candidate Bush affirms,
    and if one’s religion requires obedience to its Magisterium, is not candidate Bush, by his reluctance to obey, denying himself an opportunity to improve his own character?”


    “A Catholic is a person who has plucked up courage to face
    the incredible and inconceivable idea that someone else may be wiser than he
    is.” –GK Chesterton

    We all need to consider VERY carefully just exactly WHAT the Pope is trying to tell us with this encyclical. Beckwith’s sideways remark about Pope Francis’ speaking about something in which “he has no expertise” is not appreciated by this Catholic, for one. We could certainly say that Pope John Paul II “had no expertise” with respect to romantic love and marriage, and yet he had enormously powerful things to say about how these very things in which he had no personal expertise reflect and reveal our relationship with God. This Pope may not be an environmental
    scientist, and yet, guided by the same Holy Spirit, he may have enormously powerful things to say about our relationship to God through His natural creation. Let us pluck up the courage to face the incredible idea that he may actually be wiser in this matter than we are. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

    • RainingAgain

      Saint Pope John Paul II didn’t consult anti-life atheists for advice.

      • Arden Abeille

        The vast majority of scientists believe in God; the myth that they are all “anti-life atheists” is as far from reality as the myth that all Catholic priests are pedophiles.

        • Joan

          Interesting you know what the “vast majority of scientists” believe, but I’m guessing RainingAgain is referring to the specific scientists who advised the Pope at his invitation and formally presented this encyclical to the faithful. It is a bit much to have self-avowed atheists and abortion/sterilization/euthania proponents preaching on the pope’s behalf to Holy Mother Church. I agree no previous pope would have done so, and it is a scandal and abuse of power.

          • Arden Abeille

            Actually I do know what the vast majority of scientists believe; I teach a college course about science and scientists in modern culture, so it’s my job (among other things) to know how the images and stereotypes of science and scientists in our culture relate to the actual reality. What I don’t know–and I don’t know if RainingAgain does either–is who the “specific scientists who advised the Pope” were, and whether or not they were in fact “anti-life atheists.” Do you?

            My reply was simply based on the likelihood that they most likely were not, since most scientists are not. However, if the Pope went out of his way to find such scientists for this purpose, I expect he may have had a good reason to do so–perhaps to show that even people so far from God’s grace can (and do) indeed see scraps of God’s truth, and to invite them (and others like them) to seek for more of God’s truth in better places than they heretofore have. The church teaches us that God has engraved His truth in our hearts–all of us, even “anti-life atheists” have that truth deeply imbedded in us. To share the gospel with all is the Great Commission; one way to start doing that is to find the piece of the truth that a given person IS able to see and bring them along to the fullness of truth from there.

  • Mack

    Clearly, firmly, and charitably said. Thank you.

  • PaulJaminet

    The Pontiff only deserves obedience when he is speaking from the chair of the Church. When he is speaking personal opinions, he deserves the same deference as any other man. Surely climate change and the need for a global government are personal opinions, not teachings of the Church, whereas the sanctity of human life is a teaching of the Church.

    “if one’s religion requires obedience to its Magisterium, is not candidate Bush, by his reluctance to obey [the latest encyclical]” — this is what is at issue: is the latest encyclical Magisterial in its entirety?

    Moreover, the Kerry and Bush quotes are not comparable. It is not only that what Kerry objects to (the sanctity of life) is clearly a teaching of the Church while what Bush objects to probably is not; Kerry objects to the very act of teaching (“it is important not to have the church instructing politicians”), which is a fundamental part of the mission of priests, bishops, and Popes, whereas Bush only discusses his own exercise of personal judgment (“I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope”). Exercise of independent judgment may be his obligation as a Catholic, since we must follow Truth and not people who say “Lord, Lord” but speak falsely. You can question whether Bush’s conscience is well formed, but you can’t infer from his quotes that he is being unfaithful.

  • JR

    I agree that Bush is wrong to divorce Catholic faith from the political sphere as he does. This only shows how secular liberalism has infected even conservatives.

    This Pope is not exercising anything close to being Magisterial in his statements on the environment or economics. A Catholic is not required to give any kind of inner assent that other more authoritative Church documents would.

    I as a Catholic reject this Pope’s statements on economicd not because as Jeb Bush and Kerry believe that religion and the public sphere should never meet but because the Holy Father is simply wrong.

  • Dan

    Jeb Bush’s position is a knee jerk reaction and unnecessary even for a politician who committed to not enacting far reaching environmental legislation. He could easily have said that the encyclical has a lot of good points (which it does) that are worthy of reflection but that some of the details pertain to spheres in which the Church has no special competence.

  • grump

    There are few things more depressing than the thought of another Clinton or Bush in the White House. JFK was the first Catholic to say that he wouldn’t take orders from Rome and he wound up being President. Jeb, no doubt, can read the polls that show religion, especially Christianity, is on life support. The cultural shifts, including a majority now backing “same-sex marriage” clearly are comforting to politicians who can conveniently separate their spiritual and secular lives into totally different spheres.

  • Michael Dowd

    Pope Francis has put the final nail in the coffin of his own credibility as well as that of Catholic Church.

    Here’ why as highlighted on the ‘Deus Ex Machina Blog’. I could not have said it any better and Mr Bush is correct

    “Concluding and for our purposes, what we are left with when analyzing the Laudato Sii encyclical is nothing more than a pseudo theology that is post-concilicar neo-modernism, dovetailing with a
    pseudo-science that is global warming, to shore up an ideology through which a small group of interest parties are trying to gain control over sovereign nations, all in the name of the “poor”.

    So at the end of the day, a Catholic must ask himself what does the Laudato Sii encyclical have to do with Catholicism and the salvation of souls?

    And the reasonable answer must be: Nothing.

    Just like the entire Francis pontificate”

  • Florian

    June 19th…I do not believe that Jeb Bush meant that a Pontiff should stay out of politics – only that a Catholic is not obliged to follow a Pontiff’s point of view if it is not ‘ex cathedra’ so to speak; Jeb Bush is a good and faithful Catholic unlike John Kerry who openly defies the Church on issues that form part of Church teaching…regarding the killing of human babies in the womb.

  • bernie

    I think Bush’s comment is being
    miserably distorted by many of the posts so far. Bush was simply
    saying that Christians must apply their belief in Christ in their
    individual lives with the rigor and conviction of the Faith that is
    their individual responsibility proper to their state in life as lay
    people. Kennedy’s and Kerry’s statements about life were manifestly
    contrary to the Truth. Every Catholic knows that murder is evil.
    Positions relative to lifting people out of poverty and misery,
    however, (every American politician’s sincere aspiration) cannot be
    advanced if it means the rest of us must live in an E.F. Schumacher
    “Small is Beautiful” world where, supposedly, everyone is
    “happy” in a rural primitive economy. I love Schumacher,
    but I also love Julian Simon (The Ultimate Resource” – man – and
    “Things Are Getting Better All The Time”). The world is a
    beautiful package of wonderful things designed to help us fulfill the
    will of God. That is not the same as saying we should promote a
    world of mindless material progress nor one of stagnation. Bush was

    justified in what he said, however difficult it may be to formulate

    common sense in in a public forum.

  • Jeanne Karras

    Oh for the Politician that will speak what he truly believes. The majority speak with a forked- tongue, say anything to get elected! The Pope speaks with the authority from God, to guide the people in understanding His teaching. If we followed God’s word we would not have the world problems we have today,. Pure and simple.

    • bernie

      ‘The only thing we can expect from a Pope’ is that “he wont destroy the whole thing”, Cdl Ratzinger when asked about Divine intervention in the election of a Pope. The Pope does not speak “with the authority from God” except for very specific situations and things

  • Tad

    In my humble opinion there is a growing confusion among Catholics. A controversial writings/mouthing
    by religious/academic authorities will not help us to grow in wisdom.