On a famous day in Houston 45 years ago, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, had to assure a skeptical audience of evangelical clergy that his presidency would not be controlled by the Vatican.
On Friday, a U.S. president who is a favorite of evangelicals and two former presidentsone a Southern Baptistattended a pope's funeral, signaling an enormous shift in the American religious landscape over the past two generations.
In part, scholars say, President Bush, his father and former President Bill Clinton attended Friday's funeral recognizing that Pope John Paul II's record as an advocate for human rights transcends politics. But President Bush's personal admiration for John Paul also illuminates the fact that over the past 25 years millions of like-minded evangelicals have forged alliances with conservative Catholics on a host of hard-fought cultural issues.
Common opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, research on embryos, and doctor-assisted suicide combined with John Paul's robust anti-Communism to reduce, although not eliminate, historic animosities between the two groups, scholars said.
This time last year, a poll by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and U.S. News & World Report found that rank-and-file evangelicals held John Paul in higher regard than Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.
The two groups' shared values were once again vividly on display last month as evangelical and Catholic organizations provided much of the public advocacy on behalf of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed after a long court fight.
While Florida's Catholic bishops supported Schiavo's parents and a Franciscan friar acted as the family spokesman, Bush flew from Texas to Washington ...