By IRWIN St. JOHN TUCKER
14 OARING to its climax, this Presidential campaign presents strange spectacles. Last night John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon met at a dinner honouring Alfred E. Smith, last and previously the only Catholic to run for President, who was defeated by Herbert Hoover, a Quaker.
So Nixon, a Quaker, toasted Alfred E. Smith, while Kennedy, a Catholic, heartily praised the living Hoover—like duellists between rounds! An atmosphere of gay banter prevailed, sharply contrasting with bitter speeches delivered during the day, before enormous crowds greeting both candidates in multitudes even surpassing those of the days of Franklin Roosevelt.
Their television debates, each watched by 100 million people, have grown sharper, but neither appears the winner. Biggest feature of the campaign has been repudiation of the religious issue by both parties and all candidates. But it keeps flaring Lip from the underground. At an Eisenhower rally in Detroit this week circulars were scattered showing a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan—antiCatholic secret society—with the legend that anybody who votes against Kennedy is allied with that terrorist band. It was promptly denounced by Eisenhower and Nixon, denying rumours that it was a sly Republican dodge intended to boomerang against Kennedy. The Democratic candidate frequently expresses hope that none will vote for or against him because of religion. His plea that Catholics be no longer regarded as " second-class citizens " reminds all that none questions the " right" of Catholics to fight for their country.
This wins strong approval from veterans who remember how well Catholics bore themselves in battle. —and who will recall the univeral reverence and affection won by Catholic chaplains. And — they remember Kennedy's heroism in disaster. But chief cause of subsidence of the religious issue is the sudden emergence of foreign issues. Both candidates pledged support of commitments in Europe, i.e. West Berlin. But Kennedy's suggestion of an apology to Khrushchev over the U-2 flight, and his repeated assertion that Quemoy and Matsu, two tiny islands off the China coast, are not worth defending, brought against him the accusation of appeasement of Communists Nik and Mao. He has urged that those statements be forgotten, but they will not down, despite unlikelihood of a Catholic engaging in appeasement of Communists.
On domestic policies the candidates are frequently likened by non committed observers to Tweedledum and Tweedledec. Their main difference is that Kennedy promises to spend much more Federal money and at the same time to reduce taxes, while Nixon pointedly asks him how he intends to do that. Kennedy says the U.S. lags. Nixon asserts we are ahead. Who knows? " Life " and "The Saturday Evening Post ", two most widely circulated publications, have come out for Nixon, largely because of Kennedy's vague economics, not because of religion. Another " foreign policy" keeps bobbing up. despite all attempts to keep it quiet. At the Thomist Congress in Rome, Fr. Wuenschle. an American Redemptorist, pointed out that under official definitions of the last century. non-Catholics arc "second-class citizens" in any Catholic country. He urged that this medieval concept be dropped in favour of the United Nations declaration of the Rights of Man.
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., of Dayton University, urged that the Ecumenical Council lay this same ancient ghost. One big question for this Council, he says, is to determine whether non-Catholics "shall be tolerated on principle. or only for expediency ". And the Osservatore Romano's unfortunately-timed editorial demanding complete subservience of every Catholic elected to office to his ecclesiastical superiors simply will not down, despite vigorous disavowal of it by Kennedy and 150 Catholic lay intellectuals in Washington. Ending the bigotry does require co-operative efforts by both Protestants and Catholics