Kennedy's Catholic Faith

Most historians provide little account of Kennedy's faith. It is typically believed that he never took Catholicism seriously. This perception is understandable considering that he rarely displayed public signs of his faith nor did he abide by the tenants of Catholicism regarding sex. However, Thomas Maier, a Kennedy family biographer, sees it another way. According to Maier, even though Kennedy was never considered very religious in comparison with Bobby or his sister Eunice, he was a practicing Catholic. He attended Mass, followed the traditions of the church, and prayed. Lem Billings also confirms this but has stated that Kennedy held a certain amount of skepticism when it came to his religion.

In addition, others who knew him noted that it was not uncommon for Kennedy to side with the Catholic position in regard to a historical conflict. And that, according to Schlesinger, included his distaste for certain anti-Catholic words such as “liberal.” By many accounts, Kennedy's faith was something he rarely talked about. As Ted Sorensen put it, he was a “faithful adherent” and accepted it “as part of his life.” As for discussing his faith, Kennedy rarely did.

THEY SAID…

“I don't think he was a dedicated Catholic like his mother and sisters, but he was a good Catholic. I cannot remember in my life when Jack Kennedy didn't go to Church on Sunday…. I never, never, never remember in my life Jack's missing his prayers at night on his knees. He always went to confession when he was supposed to.”

— Lem Billings, as quoted in The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings

According to Maier, part of Kennedy's hesitancy to speak about his religious belief lay in his concern for his political career. When he ran for president he avoided taking pictures with bishops or nuns. When a Look magazine article questioned Kennedy's commitment to Catholicism, Cardinal Cushing immediately wrote a defensive response. He gave Kennedy a copy, but his advisors determined that it would do more harm than good.

There was one occasion that Kennedy allowed the public a glimpse into his religious affairs. While he was president-elect, the world witnessed the well-publicized baptism of John Kennedy Jr. Photographs documented the joyous event, and Life magazine made the baptism its cover story. The article captured the baptism that took place at the chapel in the Georgetown University Hospital. Reverend Martin J. Casey presided over the event as Jackie and an elated Kennedy looked on. The public saw a new side of Kennedy, and in fact, it would be one of the only times he was seen publicly practicing his religion.

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