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JFK: America's first Catholic president
November 23rd, 2013
07:13 AM ET

How Catholic was John F. Kennedy?

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - When John F. Kennedy was a boy, his mother counseled her children on Good Fridays to pray for a peaceful death.

Young Jack joked that he’d rather pray for two pet dogs.

If you’re looking for the CliffsNotes version of Kennedy’s Catholicism, that anecdote touches on the key themes: the pious Irish mother, the light-hearted irreverence, the ever-present prospect of death.

But there’s much more to the story.

In the words of one biographer, Kennedy was Mr. Saturday Night but also Mr. Sunday Morning, rarely missing a Mass.

He was famously unfaithful to his wife but fiercely loyal to his church, even when it threatened his quest for the presidency.

One scholar suggests that Kennedy was becoming more religious as the Cold War wore on. Another says that Kennedy’s public displays of piety were little more than political lip service.

As the country marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death - and it was far from peaceful, as we all know - almost every aspect of his life is again under the media microscope. But for all the ballyhoo about Kennedy being the first and only Catholic president, the topic of his faith remains largely untouched.

We’ve been told that he was venerated by many who shared his religion and vilified by many who didn’t. We know that his family shared sacraments with popes and confidences with cardinals. And we’ve heard about Kennedy breaking more than a few Commandments.

We also know that Catholics, particularly Irish Catholics, revere Kennedy, hanging his portrait in their parlors next to images of the Sacred Heart, naming their schools and children after him.

But the halo around Kennedy’s head has dimmed in recent decades as revelations about his marital infidelities and carefully concealed health problems have come to light.

“Being the first of any group to get to the White House is worth taking seriously and showing respect for,” said the Rev. John Langan, a Jesuit priest and ethicist at Georgetown University. “But there is bound to be a very ambivalent reaction to Kennedy at this point in our history.”

That still doesn’t tell us much about what kind of Catholic Kennedy was, to the extent that we can ever know.

“It’s hard to look into the soul of a person, especially a person who’s been dead for 50 years, and judge their religion and belief in God,” said Thomas Maier, author of “The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings.”

No doubt Maier is right. But Kennedy's Catholic faith remains central to questions about his character and his legacy. And even if we reserve final judgment for the Almighty, we can still probe history for clues about how religion inspired and guided his short and star-crossed life.

The Irish Catholic ideal

When Kennedy was 13 and attending a Catholic school for the only time in his life, a visiting missionary spoke to the students about his work in India.

Afterward, Kennedy eagerly informed his parents that “it was one of the most interesting talks I’ve ever heard,” according to the Robert Dallek biography “An Unfinished Life.

The Catholic missionary inspired two aims that day that would drive Kennedy for the rest of his life, according to Ted Sorensen, one of his closest advisers: the desire to enjoy the world, and the desire to improve it.

Few historians argue that Kennedy’s reputation as a womanizer isn’t well-warranted. But even tough-minded idealists such as Eleanor Roosevelt, who once regarded Kennedy as cocky and callow, eventually saw him in another light.

“My final judgment is that here is a man who wants to leave a record (perhaps for ambitious personal reasons, as people say), but I rather think because he is really interested in helping the people of his own country and mankind in general,” Roosevelt said after meeting Kennedy in 1960.

Kennedy put his personal mission another way: “Those to whom much is given, much is required.” That phrase echoes Luke’s Gospel, which, like many parts of the Bible, he learned from his mother, Rose.

Joseph Kennedy, the family patriarch, was often away making his millions and insisted that his children attend top private (and secular) schools such as Harvard. That left the nine Kennedy children’s religious education to Rose, a devout Catholic.

“At the time, it was the Irish Catholic ideal,” Langan said, “a big and active family where the father was successful in business and politics and the mother was the spiritual center, the person who held it all together.”

In other ways, the Kennedys were anything but typical Irish Catholics, said Kean University historian Terry Golway. They were lucratively rich. They mingled with Boston Brahmins. They went to Harvard, not Holy Cross.

“Some people saw them as a faux Catholic,” Golway said, “too big for their britches.”

But few historians doubt Rose Kennedy’s devout attachment to Catholicism.

She attended the country’s top Catholic schools, and she supervised her family like the nuns who ran those schools, according to biographer Barbara A. Perry.

Rose neither spared the rod nor tolerated emotional outbursts. Any bumps and bruises were to be “offered up to God,” the matriarch insisted, no complaining allowed.

“She was terribly religious,” John Kennedy said as an adult. “She was a little removed.”

Still, many say the stoicism Rose Kennedy instilled helped her son deal with the debilitating health issues that plagued his short life. Other historians theorize that Kennedy's poor health - he was twice given last rites before recovering - played a role in his wanton womanizing.

“His continual, almost heroic sexual performance,” wrote Catholic scholar Garry Wills, was a “cackling at the gods of disability that plagued him.”

Well before her son's playboy days, Rose neatly noted her children’s medical histories and church milestones such as baptism, confirmation and first Holy Communion on small index cards.

She left rosaries on their beds, tested their knowledge of the Catholic Catechism and oversaw their prayers for hints of apostasy.

Rose regularly took the children on walks to the local parish or the zoo, where she would show them the lions and explain how they once devoured faithful Christians. It was an effective, if morbid, method to hold the children’s interest, Perry notes in her book “Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch."

As the Kennedy kids grew up, Rose pinned questions about priests’ sermons and Holy Days on the family blackboard, expecting the children to discuss them at dinner, according to Perry.

The matriarch continued preaching the faith well into her children's adulthood, advising them that praying the rosary was as good a way to relieve stress as any drink or pill, and a good bit better for their figure.

And Rose wrote to Jacqueline Kennedy to “remind Jack about his Easter duty” to attend the sacrament of confession. “I’m sure that the church is quite near” to their home in Washington, she nagged.

Teasing and testing

Surrounded by his mother’s intense piety, Jack Kennedy couldn’t help but tease and test her.

He interrupted her Bible stories to ask odd questions such as what happened to the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? Who took care of the ass after the crucifixion?

Later, Kennedy’s questions grew more probing.

Traveling through the Middle East as an adolescent, he visited Jerusalem, where Christians believe Christ ascended into heaven and Muslims believe the same about Mohammed.

Upon his return to the United States, Kennedy promptly asked a priest, “Mohammed has a big following and Christ has a big following, and why do you think we should believe in Christ any more than Mohammed?”

Get this boy some religious instruction, before he becomes an atheist, the priest told Kennedy’s parents, according to Dallek’s biography.

Later, Kennedy teasingly threatened to teach a Bible class - then a strictly Protestant practice - when his parents pressured him to dump his married girlfriend, Inga Arvad.

“Don’t good works come under our obligations to the Catholic Church?” he needled his mother and father.

“We’re not a completely ritualistic, formalistic, hierarchical structure in which the Word, the truth, must only come down from the very top - a structure that allows for no individual interpretation - or are we?”

Kennedy even ribbed Rose and Joe while fighting in the Solomon Islands during World War II. He told them he had dutifully attended Easter Mass at a native hut, even as enemy aircraft circled overhead. And his parents would be pleased to know a priest had devoted all his energies to Kennedy’s salvation.

“I’m stringing along with him,” Kennedy wrote, “but I’m not giving over too easy as I want him to work a bit - so he’ll appreciate it more when he finally has me in the front row every morning screaming hallelujah.”

The lion’s den

Joking aside, Kennedy took his faith seriously, according to several biographers, especially when it became a political issue.

In 1947, when Kennedy was a representative from Massachusetts, Congress held a hearing on public funding for parochial schools. He exploded when a Freemason testified that Catholics owe their loyalties to their church, not their country.

“I am not a legal subject of the Pope,” Kennedy countered. “There is an old saying in Boston that we get our religion from Rome and our politics from home.”

The congressional contretemps was just a prelude to the prejudice Kennedy endured during his 1960 presidential run.

Protestant leaders - from backwoods evangelists and radio preachers to prominent pastors such as Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale - warned the country would go to hell with a Catholic in the Oval Office.

“I’m getting tired of these people who think I want to replace the gold at Fort Knox with a supply of holy water,” Kennedy complained.

Against some advisers’ counsel, the candidate decided to directly confront the anti-Catholic bias with a televised speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston in 1960. It was like Daniel walking into the lion’s den, a journalist said at the time.

In the now famous speech, Kennedy said he believed that America’s separation of church and state is “absolute” and that a presidential candidate’s religious beliefs are “his own private affair.”

“I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me,” Kennedy said.

The Protestant ministers pressed Kennedy on those pledges in a question and answer session that followed, according to Dallek, but the candidate’s calm reassurances seemed to win many of them over.

“He responded with such poise and restraint that the ministers stood and applauded at the close of the meeting, and some came forward to shake his hand and wish him well in the campaign.”

A ‘little less convinced’

As president, Kennedy continued to say his daily prayers, morning and night, his sister Eunice told historians. But “that doesn’t mean he was terribly religious,” she said.

“He was always a little less convinced” than the rest of the Kennedy clan, Eunice continued, especially his brother Robert Kennedy, who took after Rose.

Still, Eunice said John always hustled off to Mass on Sundays, even while traveling. Maier, the Kennedy biographer who called him Mr. Saturday Night and Mr. Sunday Morning, said The New York Times’ index of the president’s travels show him faithfully attending Mass once a week, wherever he happened to be.

“The popular perception is that he wasn’t all that religious,” Maier said, “but by today’s standards he would be called a traditional Catholic.”

Dallek said he believes Kennedy attended religious rituals more out of duty than desire. “This is the faith he was reared in, and something his parents expected him to do,” the historian said.

“As president it was kind of mandatory to go to church, to show that he was a man of good Christian faith. But was it something that informed his daily life and decisions as president? I don’t think so.”

Others, however, see echoes of Kennedy’s Catholic upbringing in his most famous speech, the 1961 inaugural address. In it, the new president urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

“The words chosen seem to spring from a sacramental background,” the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, first Catholic chaplain in the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote in a recent blog post.

“In fact, the whole speech was framed by his belief in a living and ever-present God both at its beginning and in the end,” Coughlin wrote.

Two months later, in a move that may have harkened back to meeting the Catholic missionary, Kennedy founded the Peace Corps.

A monk predicts the assassination 

Regardless of how faithful Kennedy was, Irish Catholicism is as much a culture as a set of religious rules and rituals, said Peter Quinn, author of “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America.

Kennedy’s gift for gab and love of language; his fierce loyalty and clannishness; his temper and his wit; his concern for the poor and sense of the tragedy of life - he lost a beloved brother and sister at a young age - all are hallmarks of Irish Catholicism, Quinn said.

“The church was the building block of Irish identity, and Kennedy was imbued in that culture.”

Golway agrees. “There was a chip on his shoulder, a sense of being embattled and having to fight for everything. That’s a very Irish-Catholic thing.”

Other historians believe Kennedy was becoming more religious, in the traditional sense, as the threat of nuclear war loomed over his presidency.

“He never talked about his religion, never,” said James W. Douglass, author of “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters.” “But at great personal risk, he was turning from war toward peacemaking.”

Kennedy would not have been the first president to “get religion” in the Oval Office.

Lincoln, an unorthodox believer, once said that “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go.”

Historians say Kennedy kept a note on his desk paraphrasing another quote from Lincoln, “I know that there is a God and I see a storm coming. ... If he has a place for me, I am ready.”

If Lincoln’s storm was the Civil War, Kennedy’s was the Cold War.

As Douglass notes, some Catholics had little confidence that Kennedy, the youngest elected president in American history, had the wisdom and humanity to carry the country through the existential threat.

“Maybe Kennedy will break through into that some day by miracle,” Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk and author, wrote to a friend.

“But such people are before long marked out for assassination.”

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church and state • Leaders • Mass • Politics • Prejudice

soundoff (1,019 Responses)
  1. Bert974

    Belief in the Christian religion accustoms the mind to accepting the government's explanation for any future presidential assassination or Battle Ship Maine explosion. In that frame of mind, you are guided by the media into focusing on Lee Harvey Oswald as a mental case or a communist spy rather than digging into Kennedy's medical records. You accept the World Trade Center attack at face value, a face television programmes have persuaded you to believe without question indicate an Islamic enemy. Then your country wastes trillions of dollars on a crusade against numerous foreign countries that lasts for decades. There is no "Atheism". There is a normal scientific scepticism supplemented by a few people who choose for whatever reason to be "Religionists".

    November 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Maddy

      Hmmm what about atheists in other countries, or do you think they don't exist?

      November 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
      • theBBT

        Yea, too Americanized. What about a universal point of view?

        November 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
        • Maddy

          You think atheists are too Americanized?
          I would think that a lack of belief in ANY gods IS a universal point of view.

          November 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
        • theBBT

          No, I'm saying Bert's explanation is too Americanized. I was agreeing with you.

          November 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
        • Maddy

          Ah, thanks for the clarification.

          November 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  2. Apple Bush

    Imagine if every Sunday morning the churches were empty and those people were out performing community service instead.

    November 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Then turn those buildings in to homeless shelters and make proper use of them.

      November 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • mirror

      Imagine if every morning the message boards of religious blogs were empty and those people were out performing community service instead.

      November 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Then turn this web site into to a porn site and make proper use of it.

        November 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • Martinez

        If the religious blogs are empty.. that means the atheists actually started doing something. Wow. Imagine.

        November 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • Vic

        Brilliant!

        November 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      I think some good work has been done here today. Let's get out there and hug some homeless people!

      November 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  3. Apple Bush

    The question isn’t whether one tells the truth or lives a lie. Regardless of your point of view, relative perception will determine the truth; lie or fact. This is a huge advantage for those that would exploit gullible people in a religious setting. Still, if you proclaim the exact opposite of your view point you are not changing or damaging anything at all. Now do morals apply when one is dishonest but no foul is committed? Does the ensuing anger or complacency matter? Words about religion do not affect the universe in any way. So now one wonders why the evil is not properly applied. One wonders why gods dirty finger nails would pluck a baby up to heaven, perhaps a midnight snack. The faith makes the arguments balance on unstable ground. Free fall would be the only possible revelation and would prove nothing.

    November 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Smoke on the Water

      You could reserve the reality piece for public presentation and then carry out the non-belief lack of activity in community forums.

      November 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  4. Me

    It has always been my opinion that the Catholic church teaches "Go Forth and Sin, YOU are forgiven."

    My church taught "Do not sin."

    I know many Catholics, live in a mostly Catholic community, and they all share certain charachteristics. Instability. Volatility. Hypocrisy. They are a fun-loving bunch, great to party with, but I would never want to live or work with them.

    November 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Actually that's not true. Catholics are taught that a fall from grace is "forgivable". None are likely to live a life without sin so the confession booths are lively with parishioners seeking absolution for their transgressions.
      Interesting though how your comment highlights the exclusiveness your faith has taught you. It's always an Us vs. Them with you people even when the core source material for your belief is the same.

      November 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
      • theBBT

        "Us people" are taught that whenever we draw a line and say "us" versus "them", Jesus is asking us to love "them".

        November 23, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          In the 70s I learned that the difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is that one group will kneecap you with a gun, the other will use a power drill. Feel the love?

          November 23, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
        • theBBT

          No. What part of "love your enemy" did they carry out? It is easy to merely call yourself a Protestant or Catholic. It is more difficult to follow what Jesus commands.

          November 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
        • Foxfire

          You really need to address Me's inflammatory anti-Catholic post, theBBT.
          It appears that you are just as anti-Them as he is.

          November 23, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • theBBT

          I love Catholics.

          November 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • You

      I guess you missed that "judge not lest thou be judged" sin. Kind of hypocritical of you.

      November 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
      • Me

        No question, judging others is one of my sins. Pridefulness is another. I will leave lie cheat steal adulter bully kill to others.

        November 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • CapitanJusticia

      Spoken like a true bigot! It must irk you to know that whatever pseudo Christian cult you belong to was derived from Catholicism, the original and authentic Christian religion!

      November 23, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Vick

        True – as Ragu is to pasta sauce, Catholicism is to Christianity!

        November 23, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
        • Joey

          I read this to say that you just called the Catholic religion terrible, because that is all Ragu is.

          November 25, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  5. palintwit

    I wonder what a televised debate between JFK and Sarah Palin would be like ?

    November 23, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      There's a short film that shows what that might be like: Godzilla vs Bambi

      November 23, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Me

      LOL I always assumed Palin was Catholic. Have you ever noticed how in so many of the bully news stories the bully is Catholic?

      November 23, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  6. News Flash

    "Remembering JFK," a must hear podcast. Listen to a real history lesson about JFK, the man, his legacy and his assassination.

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/centerstage/2013/11/23/remembering-jfk

    November 23, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  7. msMUSLIM

    Discussions of US politicians faith always seem a waste of time. Until recently the majority would not even consider a Muslim believer, and even now the numbers aren't high enough to get you elected. Adding to that, most on the east coast think changing ones religion shows flakiness rather than strength, so a politician usually has to stay with whatever god-based religion they had claimed by their early 20s. Guessing at what they really believe is a joke.

    November 23, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I hope that unbelief will out-poll Islam and other god-based religions, soon. We need honest people in public office and not nicely produced and packaged deceivers and self-deceivers.

      November 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Sara

      I'm not sure, msMuslim, what your point was in mimicking my post replacing atheist with Muslim. People are less willing to vote for either than a Christian, but more likely to vote for an atheist than a Muslim:

      http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/307.pdf

      Additionally, a white male raised in the US as a Christian (most politicians) is much more likely to drift toward atheism than Islam.

      November 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  8. Ben

    I think that most people are forgetting that 1960s American Catholicism was way different from the Catholicism of the majority of today's American Catholics. Kennedy died just before the Second Vatican council, after all.

    November 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  9. Sara

    Discussions of US politicians faith always seem a waste of time. Until recently the majority would not even consider a non-god-believer, and even now the numbers aren't high enough to get you elected. Adding to that, most on the east coast think changing ones religion shows flakiness rather than strength, so a politician usually has to stay with whatever god-based religion they had claimed by their early 20s. Guessing at what they really believe is a joke.

    November 23, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Science Works

      Sara there is a couple that are .way out there, like Cruz and the Gov. of Oklahoma, a few more could be added .

      November 23, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
      • Sara

        Yeah, Ill give that maybe the 5% of extremists might be somewhat genuine in their claims of belief, but it'll be a small group. Even there it's hard to tell when they come from regions comprised largely of extremists.

        November 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
        • Science Works

          Over education sort of like Texas and Kentucky.

          Jewish sect says exodus from Quebec tied to clash with education authorities.

          http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/11/22/jewish_sect_says_exodus_from_quebec_tied_to_clash_with_education_authorities.html

          November 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  10. boredofceleb

    No wonder Joseph Kennedy was a philandering man. With a pious wife like Rose, he must have felt like he was married to a nun!

    November 23, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • ronjayaz

      She certainly popped out enuff buns in the oven for a nun! Of course, I'm probably over looking the "I did it all for God" w/o enjoying it!

      November 23, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  11. Jones Redmond

    A well balanced article, nicely written and provides an in-depth look into the faith of John F. Kennedy.

    Looks like his faith was well-founded.

    November 23, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Science Works

      Do know about the founded part , but I do know the RCC is well funded by the fundies.

      November 23, 2013 at 9:52 am |
      • Science Works

        Do not know

        November 23, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Charm Quark

      JR
      Did you miss the bits that stated that old Rose brainwashed the kids to the point that it was an obsession? It is very hard to get your head right when exposed to an upbringing like that.

      November 23, 2013 at 10:11 am |
      • ronjayaz

        One thing is certain they were certainly knock-out handsome men.It was their arrogance that undid them.

        November 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  12. medic

    and Jesus said, let the one with out sin throw the first stone. Who are we to judge a person? There is only one person that has the right to judge. and we all will all be judged by him when our time comes.

    November 23, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • Colin

      Actually, he didn't. The story of the woman taken in adultery was a forgery that was added to the Gospel of John about years after it was written. Biblical scholars are pretty unanimous on this.

      November 23, 2013 at 9:33 am |
      • Colin

        " about 400 years"

        November 23, 2013 at 9:37 am |
        • boredofceleb

          Thank you, Colin, for clarifying that for us. From your previous posts one never would have guessed you to be a biblical scholar.

          November 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
        • Colin

          boredofceleb – I'm not. But those who are biblical scholars are pretty unanimous that the story was parachuted into the pre-existing text of John by an unknown 5th Century inerloper. For e.g. " The evidence for the non-Johannine (i.e. not from the Gospel of John) origin of the [story] of the adulteress is overwhelming. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts. No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospels do not contain it. When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the [story] differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.” Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, 1971),

          By the way, even conservative Christian bblical scolars accept it is a forgery. This is not contraversial, it is just not widely known.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:20 am |
        • FACTS

          Please. Most Bibles have an annotation with a comment about the question of the text.

          http://xwalk.ca/john8.html

          November 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
        • FACTS

          The following passage from John is usually accompanied with the footnote that most scholars believe that this verse was added to John hundreds of years after the book of John was completed. The reasoning is that in the earliest manuscripts of John these verses cannot be found. It is not until the 5th century manuscripts in which this passage can be found. Does this passage belong in the Bible?

          (John 7:53-8:11) And everyone went to his own house.
          But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
          Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down, and taught them.
          Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they say unto Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.
          "Now Moses, in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned. But what do You say?"
          This they said, testing Him, that they might have something to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with His finger , as though He did not hear.
          So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up, and said to them, "He who without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."
          And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
          Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
          When Jesus had raised himself up, and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"
          She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."
          (NKJV))

          This passage is not a forgery, what really happened was that some of the early manuscripts omitted this passage because the passage was misinterpreted as false doctrine.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • Wikipedia

        Not so fast!

        "Arguments against Johannine authorship

        Bishop J.B. Lightfoot wrote that absence of the passage from the earliest manuscripts, combined with the occurrence of stylistic characteristics atypical of John, together implied that the passage was an interpolation. Nevertheless, he considered the story to be authentic history.[18] As a result, based on Eusebius' mention that the writings of Papias contained a story "about a woman falsely accused before the Lord of many sins" (H.E. 3.39), he argued that this section originally was part of Papias' Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord, and included it in his collection of Papias' fragments. Bart D. Ehrman concurs in Misquoting Jesus, adding that the passage contains many words and phrases otherwise alien to John's writing.[19] However, Michael W. Holmes has pointed out that it is not certain "that Papias knew the story in precisely this form, inasmuch as it now appears that at least two independent stories about Jesus and a sinful woman circulated among Christians in the first two centuries of the church, so that the traditional form found in many New Testament manuscripts may well represent a conflation of two independent shorter, earlier versions of the incident."[20] Kyle R. Hughes has argued that one of these earlier versions is in fact very similar in style, form, and content to the Lukan special material (the so-called "L" source), suggesting that the core of this tradition is in fact rooted in very early Christian (though not Johannine) memory.[21]
        Arguments for Johannine authorship

        There is clear reference of the pericope adulterae from the primitive Christian church in the Syriac Didascalia Apostolorum. (II,24,6; ed. Funk I, 93.) Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad argue for Johannine authorship of the pericope.[22] They suggest there are points of similarity between the pericope's style and the style of the rest of the gospel. They claim that the details of the encounter fit very well into the context of the surrounding verses. They argue that the pericope's appearance in the majority of manuscripts, if not in the oldest ones, is evidence of its authenticity."

        November 23, 2013 at 11:17 am |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Well, I for one am glad it was added. The Islamic tradition could use such stories. Under that system people would just go ahead and stone the bitch.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:26 am |
        • Colin

          Bottom line is, there is no version of the Gospel of John earlier than about 450 CE that has the story in it. None. In any language – zero. This inlcudes Vaticanus and Sinaticus.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
        • Colin

          To, Tom – that made me laugh out loud.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:28 am |
        • FACTS

          So? That is exactly what my Bible says, too. Great.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:33 am |
        • Colin

          The false pedigree of the story of Jesus and the adultress is just one of many, many untruths modern scholarship has unvelied concerning the bible. To wit:

          1. The ending of Mark, where the Apostle see the resurrected JEsus, is a forgery added in about 500 CE.

          2. The only reference to the Christian God, the Holy Trinity, in the entire Bible, was a forgery added in about the twelth Century. Think about this for a minute. The entire bible contains NO reference to the Christian God. None.

          3. Of the 13 letters attributed to Paul of Tsarsus (Saint Paul) 3 are definite forgeries, i is very likely a forgery and 2 are questionable. The remaining 6 are likely authentic.

          4. The Letters of Peter and John were not written by Peter or John.

          5. None of the authors of the Gospels were who the Catholic churcjh claimed they were, none of them likely met Jesus and they are wildly inconsistent between themselves.

          No, the Bible is an extremely poor book in terms of historical accuarcy. It is better described a a collection of myths.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:45 am |
        • Facts

          Thanks for not posting any sources...I just have to take your word on it? And that's it?

          November 23, 2013 at 11:47 am |
        • Facts

          "2. The only reference to the Christian God, the Holy Trinity, in the entire Bible, was a forgery added in about the twelth Century. Think about this for a minute. The entire bible contains NO reference to the Christian God. None."

          Are you on crack?

          http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Bible-Verses-About-The-Trinity/

          November 23, 2013 at 11:49 am |
        • Facts

          1. Not so fast...

          http://jamestabor.com/2012/08/25/the-strange-ending-of-the-gospel-of-mark-and-why-it-makes-all-the-difference/

          November 23, 2013 at 11:50 am |
        • Facts

          2 strikes. Should I go on? Another fastball right down the middle to strike this guy out?

          November 23, 2013 at 11:52 am |
        • Colin

          FACTS, I suggest you google it – try "historical Jesus" . Once again, none of my five points are particularly contraversial –

          November 23, 2013 at 11:52 am |
        • Facts

          Of course I have googled it and read a lot on the subject. Not all people agree.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:56 am |
        • Colin

          FACTS – The King James version has this verse. It is called the “Comma Johanneum”. It is in the First Epistle of John.

          But, before you declare victory, a bit of background is useful. In the historical context in which Christianity arose, it found itself in the unusual position that every single book in the Bible, both the Tanaka, or Old Testament, and the New Testament were written before the Christian god was fully developed. The Christian god is, of course, the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – thee gods in one. But, it was only around the time that John’s Gospel was written (about 95 C.E.) that Jesus had been elevated to the status of a god in some Christians’ minds and the matter was still very controversial and would remain so for centuries. The Holy Spirit had also still not been added to the mix – and would also not be definitively so added until a few centuries later.

          This gaping hole made naturally made Christians uncomfortable. One medieval biblical transcriber decided to take matters into his own hands. He went so far as to change the First Epistle of John to include a specific reference to the Holy Trinity. It is this forged passage that is now known as the “Comma Johanneum.” It states “there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.” “The Word” in this context is a reference to Jesus.

          This passage does not appear in any manuscript of the First Epistle of John until the 1400s. NONE of the thousands upon thousands written before then contain it. However, because it was in the manuscripts that were used to create the King James Version of the Bible, it appears in many English translations today. As its fraudulent origins are now generally accepted, many modern versions of the Bible exclude the passage, while others include it with a footnote pointing out its dubious authenticity.

          November 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
        • Facts

          So? That is common knowledge. We discuss it in church.

          November 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
        • Colin

          FACTS – as to the forged ending of Mark, it first appears in the Fifth Century. Your theory requires abelief that the story was originally in MArk, disappeared for 400 years and then magically reappeared in the Fifth Century. Where was it hiding for half a millenium?

          November 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
        • Colin

          FACTS – do you read your own posts? You just said I was "on crack" for saying there is no reference to the Trinity in the earliest biblical manustcripts. Please post one if yo udisagree – a non-forged clear reference to the doctrine of the Trinity.

          November 23, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
        • Facts

          We discuss the points that you brought up. We just come to a different conclusion.

          Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'”

          Genesis 3:22 states, "And the LORD God said, 'The man has now become like one of us...'"
          The first reference to the God in relationship (which we call Trinity).
          I've got to run, but thx for talking.

          November 23, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
        • Facts

          "us"

          November 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
        • Colin

          Genesis!! Genesis!! You cite a book written 500 before Jesus was born by a faith that reject him as the Messiah as a reference to the Holy Trinity.

          Wow, just wow!

          November 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
        • Martinez

          Christians believe Jesus existed before he was born on Earth. I think Facts is saying 'Let us create God in OUR (the holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit's) image. There is Jesus in Genesis, long before.

          November 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
        • Colin

          Yeah Martinez, but Christians are comadeering the religios books of a Judaism to do so. The us of the terms "us" in Genesis is actually due to the fact that Judaism was still poytheistic when Genesis was written. The fact that this is one of the best biblical passages they can come up with to support biblical support for the Trinity shows how weak their position is.

          Christians might also wan to claim that passages from the Hindu Vedas support the Trinity, but that would be just as silly as claiming Genesis does.

          The fact is that the Bible, supposedly the word of the Christian God, does not even mention the Christian god. Stretches credibility a little, doesn't it?

          November 23, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
        • Martinez

          I think that was his first example of Jesus in the Bible. And then there are plenty more after that. The Jewish leaders were so clueless about God. All through the OT they questioned, denied and were reprimanded by God. By the time God slips on human skin to pay them a visit, they commit crimes (lie, try to murder) against Him.

          November 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • FACTS

      This passage can be found in translations that date from the second century. This can be confirmed by the comments on this passage by the Early Church teachers which range from Didascalia (third century) to Saint Augustine (430 AD). Saint Augustine gives us a little more insight into the problems of this passage by many of his time;

      This proceeding, however, shocks the minds of some weak believers, or rather unbelievers and enemies of the Christian faith: inasmuch that, after (I suppose) of its giving their wives impunity of sinning, they struck out from their copies of the Gospel this that our Lord did in pardoning the woman taken in adultery: as if He granted leave of sinning, Who said, Go and sin no more! (Saint Augustine, De Conjug. Adult., II:6.).

      November 23, 2013 at 11:26 am |
      • Colin

        I like that rationale – people who disagree are "immoral" and driven by a deep desire to have their wives commit adultery. lol

        November 23, 2013 at 11:34 am |
        • FACTS

          That's the kind of sh*&T people do. Not just weak in faith Christians, but everyone. Maybe you too?

          November 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
        • Colin

          "Weakin the Christian faith." I like the assumption that comment is pregnant with! The Christian faith is itself the product of a weak intellect and/or emotional weaknes.

          November 23, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
      • Colin

        FACTs, you said "This passage can be found in translations that date from the second century" Name one..

        November 23, 2013 at 11:36 am |
        • FACTS

          I was quoting from that website I posted (I posted in the wrong place!).
          Look at this: http://mindrenewers.com/2012/02/10/the-pericope-adulterae-and-the-oldest-manuscripts/

          November 23, 2013 at 11:39 am |
        • Colin

          The fact is, there is none. No version of John prior to the 400s has the story. If you know of a Second Century gospel that does, you should publish it as it would be a major historical find.

          November 23, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Ben

      And why do you judge that everyone should be judged by "him"? I have children that I helped create but I would never presume to have the right to judge them now that they are adults. I'm an adult, so what gives your God the right to judge me?

      November 23, 2013 at 11:30 am |
      • Facts

        You are a father, not a God.

        November 23, 2013 at 11:45 am |
      • Roger that

        what gives your God the right to judge me?

        Because 6,000 years ago, when the earth was formed, someone stole an apple.

        November 23, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • sam stone

      judgement is a bad joke, designed to scare the gullible

      November 23, 2013 at 11:56 am |
      • but

        If we are free from judgement...if what we do doesn't matter (unless we get caught by other human beings)...nothing reallly matters.We are just brainwashed to behave well so our masters (those who run the world) profit on our work.
        Life sucks and we are slaves.
        Slaves! We are not free. And it doesn't matter that we are persecuted our whole lives to profit another person.
        Being an atheist sucks. No wonder everyone calls us trolls.

        November 23, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  13. elliott carlin

    It's too bad he didn't live to seniority–if Ted is any example, you sort of have an idea of what he thought about RCC teaching as it relates to abortion and drowning young girls.

    November 23, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  14. Stephen B Gomes

    No matter what your opinions are about JFKs catholic morals, he left a great humanitarian legacy with Peace Corps and stressed that spirituality was as important as materials things. In giving, we receive.

    November 23, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  15. Jenny

    Rose and Joe Kennedy – who was the worse? Those poor kids.

    Although I hate his religion second only to his promiscuity, Kennedy did good with what he had and though the election was bought for him, made a good president after all. The wit; the intelligence; the humor. The caring for those less fortunate.
    Try to find a politician like that ever again.

    And his birthday is listed in the honor roll in the Freedom From Religion Foundation for his insistence on separation of church and state. That is rather amazing for being Rose Kennedy's son.

    November 23, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • elliott carlin

      Good thoughts.

      November 23, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  16. Circus Circus

    How Catholic? Does it really matter?

    November 23, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • elliott carlin

      Well, it sort of did for Ted Kennedy, Sir Osis of Liver. He wrote up his mea culpa to the Pope just before passing away. He knew he lived the life of a devil.

      November 23, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  17. bostontola

    Sectarian enmity is surprisingly strong. As recently as the last 50 years, Protestant/Christian, Sunni/Shiite hate and violence is up there with inter-religion hate and violence. It's easier to understand why people of different religions hate. I could understand rivalry between different sects, but they've killed each other with such intense pa$sion. What fuels such pa$sion? Is it the intense desire of the followers or the appetyte for power of the sectarian leadership?

    November 23, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • boredofceleb

      Here's a theory of mine– If only we could deport all believers of ANY faith (ie. atheists excluded), our country would be far better off as only serious intellectuals would remain and we would be removing the dimwits of society.

      November 23, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  18. Reality # 2

    JFK, yet another misguided, conned Catholic:

    For example-

    From the topic:

    ""Kennedy put his personal mission another way: “Those to whom much is given, much is required.”"
    Luke 12: 48

    But did Jesus really utter these words??? Based on rigorous historic testing, he did not. For example, It is a single attestation found no where else in the scriptures. http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb452.html. For an added review, see Professor Gerd Ludemann's book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 347-349.

    November 23, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • Priest

      Its not important what you believe to be truth or reality. What is important is how you live your life

      November 23, 2013 at 8:11 am |
      • AtheistSteve

        And what if one chooses to live their life unclouded by superstition and mysticism? If God is imaginary isn't it important to work against the promotion of bad ideas? If he's real isn't it still more important to treat this life as if it's the only one we can be sure of? Ethics and a pursuit of equal human rights should suffice to appease a supposedly all-loving God...not adherence to inane proclamations of sin from ignorant 2000 year old desert dwellers.

        November 23, 2013 at 8:26 am |
        • AtheistSteve

          As opposed to what? Your complete lack of evidence to the contrary? At least my view makes no appeal to magic.

          November 23, 2013 at 9:14 am |
        • AtheistSteve

          Hmmm...the imposter I was replying to has disappeared. Well just dismiss the above remark.

          November 23, 2013 at 9:43 am |
        • Emmanuel

          A bitter atheist. I'm shocked!

          You believe in magic, sure as the sun rises. You believe you're a self creating man god or else that you just POOF appeared from thin air.

          November 23, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
        • AtheistSteve

          Nope.
          Pretty sure that my existence is due to my parents doing the nasty. Biology, not magic and no god required.

          November 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Martinez

      Luke 1:1 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2 just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

      We can distinguish three stages in the formation of the Gospels:

      1. The life and teaching of Jesus. The Church holds firmly that the four Gospels, "whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up." [Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum 19; Acts 1:1-2]

      2. The oral tradition. "For, after the ascension of the Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done, but with that fuller understanding which they, instructed by the glorious events of Christ and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now enjoyed." [DV 19]

      3. The written Gospels. "The sacred authors, in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches, the while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus." [DV 19]

      November 23, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • MarylandBill

      Yeah, I majored in history and know a bit about historical critical methods. The level of incredulity applied to what Jesus said, not his miracles which are generally rejected out of hand, but what he said is far higher than it is for the words of pretty much any other historical person.

      November 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Emmanuel

      You should stop reading the atheist conspiracy websites.. People will think you're a kook.

      Luke is widely accepted as authentic. There are plenty of historical events which are believed based on one authentic source.

      You should ready Catholic geniuses. They're so much smarter than you. How can you be sure Catholics are wrong until you read the most intelligent ones?

      November 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

      The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

      earlychristianwritings.com/

      For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

      Current RCC problems:

      Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

      Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

      Current problems:
      Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      November 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.