Not a Prodigal Son

Kerry has a different language, a different connection to ritual, and a different relationship to Jesus than that of Bush.

BY: Deborah Caldwell


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Between 1962 and 1965, Catholics worldwide gathered in Rome for the

Second Vatican Council

, which brought sweeping change to the church. Many Catholics at that time, particularly Americans, felt liberated by new Vatican encouragement to think for themselves and to evaluate moral decisions based on Christian conscience. This is why, for example, so many American Catholics--upwards of 90 percent--reject church teaching banning artificial birth control: to them it seems wrong, and they feel Vatican II gave them license to make that decision.

The Rev. John Ardis, director of the

Paulist Center

in Boston, where Kerry often worships, believes the senator typifies Catholics of his generation. "Vatican II called us to a greater participation in the church. It called us to greater ownership of the church. For the Paulists, that would also mean we emphasize taking our faith into the workplace," Ardis told Beliefnet on Wednesday. "And that is clearly what he has done--taken it into his life's work."

Vatican II also emphasized what is called

Catholic Social Teaching

, a body of ideas about how the church deals with issues in the world. Since the 1960s, liberal and moderate Catholics inspired by those teachings have been loosely called "social justice" Catholics--emphasizing work with the poor, fair wages, nuclear non-proliferation, environmental concern, and just immigration practices. In addition, many of these Catholics emphasize what the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago coined the

seamless garment

life ethic: that all life is sacred, and therefore abortion


war-mongering, poverty, and the death penalty are wrong.

Conservatives argue that Vatican II had some negative side effects, including an increase in divorce among Catholics. John Kerry typified his generation of Catholics in that way, too. In 1970, he married Julia Thorne, an Episcopalian who is the twin sister of Kerry's Yale friend, David Thorne. Kerry apparently didn't insist on a Catholic upbringing for the children. Kerry and Thorne did, however, have the marriage recognized by the Catholic Church. "He and Julia got a priest's blessing on Long Island before they got married in a more ecumenical ceremony on my grandmother's lawn," David Thorne said.

Julia battled depression and chose to end the marriage in 1982. After six years of formal separation, the couple finally divorced in 1988.

In 1992, Kerry met Teresa Heinz while fumbling his way through a Portuguese hymn at a Catholic Mass in Rio de Janeiro. They were both attending a United Nations-sponsored Earth Summit. When they wed three years later, Kerry's divorce forced them to marry outside the church, which doesn't officially permit it. But Heinz Kerry was reportedly uncomfortable in what is called an "irregular relationship" with Catholicism. So in 1997 Kerry applied for and was granted an annulment of his previous marriage--an act that allowed them to receive communion.

When Kerry is home, he attends the Paulist Center in Boston, an easy walk from his house. It is not a traditional parish; its members describe it as an "intentional community" because they choose to worship there--many of them driving from all over New England. Built in 1970 by the Paulists (a religious order like the Jesuits), it operates with the permission of Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston, but is financially independent of the Church.

The Paulist Center emphazes liturgy, music, and helping the needy. It attracts as many as 1,000 worshippers at its four weekend Masses, and has 2,400 families on its mailing list, says Ardis, the center's director.

"He worships here regularly when they're in town, but we've never sat down and had any kind of at-length conversation about his faith," Ardis says. "In some ways I probably have the same relationship with him that priests have with most parishioners--which is more contact at Sunday Mass rather than at other times. With only about 10-15 percent of parishioners do you have a higher level of relationship than that."

The center has a nuts-and-berries sort of reputation, with a lot of campus-ministry types in attendance. It is sometimes picketed by pro-life activists because it is Kerry's home church. But it isn't all that unusual; similar intellectual, liberal-leaning Catholic centers full of pro-choice Catholics dot the American landscape, especially in university towns.

Ardis says Kerry is committed to the social justice work of the center, including a Wednesday night dinner for 200 homeless people, a food pantry and a tutoring program for inner-city children. Kerry once participated in a 20-mile walk for hunger sponsored by the church, and he has served the homeless at least once on a Wednesday night, Ardis says. "If we look at his track record, it is reaching out to the most needy of society," says Ardis.

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