tv 20th Century Catholic Politicians CSPAN March 25, 2019 12:44am-1:01am EDT
talks about 20th century catholic politics and politicians. he compares the challenges faced by al smith and john kennedy when the each ran for president. he also which houses the current sexual abuse scandal in the catholic church. interview was recorded at the annual american historic association meeting. >> john mcgreevy from the university of notre dame. your book which came out of few years ago, what did you learn? >> wanted to look at how american ideas of freedom intersected with the catholic global tradition. what i learned is there were moments of conflict and overlap. in the 19th century there was conflict over slavery. there is lots of overlap in the economy. there was overlap in the 50's on ideas about americanization. there were issues around sexuality, divorce, a lot of the cultural issues of the last 30
years. more than 90 years ago, al smith ran for president. why was that significant? >> al smith was an immigrant kid. he was irish dissent. he never got beyond eighth grade. by the 1920's, he runs in 1928, catholics are pretty significant percent of the population. they faced considerable discrimination in the 19th century, even the 1920's with the ku klux klan. smith being on the ticket was one marker that catholics were making it in national life. the fact that he lost was a marker that to run for catholic -- president is a catholic was a disadvantage. he lost pretty significantly in the south. >> they have a dinner in his name every year. what was he like as a person?
>> charming. very new york accent. that was controversial in the 1928 campaign, which had the first discussions on radio over american politics. he became a little bit bitter as an old man. he was bitter that franklin roosevelt, rich, sophisticated became perceived as the candidate of the common man and became a leader in the democratic party. in the 30's you see him shift a little bit ideologically. >> how so? >> he is kind of mad at roosevelt. he wants to see less government programs. it works against what he was doing as a pretty liberal democrat governor of new york state. there is a little bit of a sour and i would say to his career in the 30's. what we remember him for his becoming governor of new york. he became quite successful.
implementing all kinds of social wealth for -- welfare programs. that made him an icon for a lot of american catholics. >> why were catholics scorned? why did they face racism? >> the tension in the 19th century was very much i will obey the american government or the pope in rome? it seems odd to us now. that was a powerful fear in the united states in the 19th century. it was a powerful fear in europe, australia, canada. it was a great issue of the 19th century. i the 1920's, some of that fear has persisted, especially in the south. that was mixed up with smith as an immigrant, someone who did not support prohibition, and smith is a catholic. those three things kind of combined to make smith seem like a dangerous foreigner. to a lot of americans,
especially third and fourth generation who lived in rural parts of the country, they won't accept that. >> 32 years after his defeat, john kennedy becomes the democratic party nominee. what did he face in terms of anti-catholic bigotry? >> it is a different story by 1960. kennedy and his generation of politicians, most had served in the war. it was hard to assail their patriotism. other catholic political figures who become prominent in the 1950's and 1960's, that was lifted off the table. you can see catholics can be patriotic. even kennedy faced real questioning about controversial issues such as contraception, age-appropriate schools, divorce laws. are you going to obey the pope, or are you going to obey the constitution? he famously gives a speech in houston in 1960 where he says listen, i am absolutely going to
obey the constitution and i act as an american. not simply as a catholic. some catholics that he went too far in 1960. he made a point of saying my religious life is entirely separate from my political life. that is not something we would say to martin luther king jr. or other people in the 1960's whose religious life very much informed their politics. in retrospect, he probably handled it pretty well. he reassured enough white protestants to support him. he had overwhelming support from the catholic community. >> how significant was the speech in houston? >> a big deal. at least in the media at the time, it really took the issue off the table. the speech was early in the campaign and it really made it very difficult for richard nixon, his opponent, to talk about catholicism. even though nixon in some ways
wanted to. some of his advisers were doing it behind the scenes. his dad was a very famous strong-willed irish catholic businessman and ambassador to england. it is a good joke because people were worried that joseph kennedy had too much influence over his son. >> the catholic church is dealing with another crisis, the abuse by priests that dates back almost 70 years ago, how was the church dealing with that? >> they have not been successful so far. it is a terrible -- it is the biggest crisis in the history of united states catholicism. >> in the history echoprof. >> absolutely, no question. in terms of struggling to figure out what the right messages and effectively dealing with the problem of sexual abuse and the trauma it causes young people and all of those who are abused. it has been going on as you said 40 or 50 years.
the public scandal has been going on since 2002. there are famous early cases we can trace back to the 1980's and 90's. i think the frustration has been since 2002 and it is seen as to have not been resolved. the good news is that it does seem like there are very few new cases since 2002. that is what we are seeing now. we are still seeing, uncovering, more signs of cover-up. everything has to be opened up. >> the pope, how do you view his role in all of this? >> i'm sympathetic to it. he is an 82-year-old argentinian male. we have to keep that in mind. this is not somebody who thinks about gender and sex issues the way may be an american who is 25 does. that said, i think his instincts
have been pretty good. he is learning. he is willing to admit when he makes mistakes. it will be entering see what happens in february with this global meeting. this is a huge issue in australia, germany, ireland and chile. it will be interesting to see how far they can go to develop global policies around sexual abuse. i'm not alone in this, in the united states, germany as well, the policies around sexual abuse by priests are well set and maybe working. that is post 2002. what we haven't had is clear punishments and clear policies around bishops who cover-up sexual abuse. >> you teach at a catholic institution. when you are talking to students
18-21 years old, probably more progressive than previous generations, does this come >> yes. we have students on all points of political spectrum. edison we are quite proud of. you hear a kind of disillusion and a sense of what is this institution. the headlines of the new york times over the last year, most of which were on sexual abuse, might not be the institution you join. i'm a catholic. i worry about that. i worry about the future of the institution. it is much better than that. this problem is significant, severe, and has to be dealt with. we go back with the issue of the catholic church and politics. there is a nice history to that. catholics are clearly associated with the democratic party from the 19th century through to the 1950's. the data we have tells us they started to shift more, especially affluent catholics. eisenhower is very popular with many catholics. kennedy stop that. kennedy was unbelievably popular
with catholics of all income backgrounds, and ethnic backgrounds. we think he got 75%, which is a huge number. since then, broadly, euro american catholics drifting towards the republican maybe it is 55-45 now. latino catholics, who are a huge percentage of the church are increasingly democratic. >> your member his assassination? >> no, i was two days old. >> what was the church going through? what were catholic priests and nuns dealing with? >> it is hard to recall. we learned a lot about his personal life over the last 50 years. think our culture is generally less empathetic to heroes and people who are perceived as leaders. kennedy was a hero for american
catholics. the country was in trauma after his assassination. nothing like this had happened since the death of lincoln. kennedy was so young and charismatic. i think it holds a particular point with catholics. he was their hero. he was not an ordinary catholic. the kennedys are not ordinary catholic family. they are very sophisticated family. they were catholic family and subconsciously so. there was a similar pride. having him killed like that i think was a great trauma. >> those who do remember that recall they were in school, the nuns were crying. they dismissed classes. it was obviously a national crisis. >> it was traumatic and overwhelming. >> who are the catholic leaders today? >> that is an interesting question.
in the political sphere, there are quite a few. you can talk about nancy pelosi, joe biden, a lot of figures. you can talk about the young congresswoman from brooklyn, alexandria ocasio-cortez, she is a self identified catholic. i just saw today that catholics are about 30% of congress. that is a pretty high number because the catholic population is maybe 20% of the population. if you'd said 30 years ago or 50 years ago that catholic have a majority in the supreme court, no one would believe that. that is an interesting story about the conservative catholic legal culture. it has really propelled catholics to the forefront. that is a great story. very interesting. in terms of politics, those are leaders.
the on politics there are catholics scattered all over american life. corporate leadership, media leadership, universities. the president of stamford who just to step down as a catholic. they are deeply embedded in american life. catholics run the gannett of american life, they are some of the poorest immigrants and mostly recent immigrants, as well as some of the most powerful people in the country. >> in terms of research, teaching this to your students as well, anything stand out? any particular stories, individuals, or things you have come across that surprised you or intrigued you? >> when you teach this material to students, i have been a dean for 10 years. some of the figures students don't expect, there is dorothy day, a great catholic radical of the mid-20th century. a pacifist, terry strongly
antiabortion, very opposed to nuclear war. to tell her story is to startle university students because she seems so anomalous. she was an immigrant -- she was an american student who was a radical. socialist in the early 20th century, lived in greenwich village. she converted to catholicism and stunned all of her friends. she had an abortion before she converted. she may have looked out on that with regret, but it was part of her life then. she devoted her next 50 years to willing the catholic worker movement, a radical movement. reminding people around us how
unequal in many ways our society is. that is a story that is striking in terms of culture. sometimes i will have them read stories about brian o'connor. those are deeply catholic stories. i have to think about that a little bit more. there are leaders across american life right now. >> clearly you find this interesting. >> generally, being a historian is an amazing occupation and i always have to realize how lucky i am to be in this business. writing and teaching. the history of religion and catholicism in particular, my own fascination right now is with catholicism is a global institution. how you compare the american