I'll bet you donšt remember the telegram Al Smith sent to Pope Pius XI the day after Smith lost his bid for the presidency.
To refresh your memory, Al Smith was the Democrat candidate in 1928. He was a four-term governor of New York and immensely popular. His Republican opponent, Herbert Hoover, was greatly admired for his work in feeding the European victims of World War I (then known as The Great War).
Smith had a lot going for him, but he also had one big strike against him: He was Roman Catholic.
That didn't sit well with Middle America, which was largely Protestant and somewhat fearful of Catholics. If Smith became president, they feared, he would kowtow to the pope, who would tell Smith how to run the United States.
So Smith lost, Hoover won, and the Great Depression hit, with Hoover getting the blame. It was a bum rap, but a significant part of Americašs political mythology still blames Hoover for the Depression.
In any case, the joke of the day after Smith lost was that he had sent Pope Pius XI a one-word telegram: "Unpack."
So the pope didn't get his chance to come over and take over. It would be 32 years before a major party would again risk nominating a Catholic. This time, in 1960, the Democrats were luckier. Their candidate was the handsome, young John F. Kennedy, and he became the first -- and so far the only -- Roman Catholic president wešve ever had.
The relatively progressive pope during Kennedy's presidency, John XXIII, stayed home. That was a good idea, and today's pope, John Paul II, ought to take heed of it. The United States of America does not need the Vatican meddling in its affairs.
But that's exactly what it's doing. Last week, the Vatican issued a 12-page set of guidelines opposing state approval of homosexual unions.
The guidelines instruct Roman Catholic lawmakers to vote against laws that might legalize gay marriage. Where such laws already exist, the lawmakers are urged to try to repeal them.
We're talking here about American lawmakers. A bunch of guys in Rome are telling our American lawmakers which laws to pass and which to repeal.
And not just Catholic lawmakers, either. Quoth the guidelines: "Since this question relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow are addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society."
In its guidelines, the Vatican acknowledges that "men and women are equal as persons."
Considering the second-class status the Vatican has traditionally assigned to women, perhaps this should have been what made headlines last week. Imagine: "Vatican Says Women Now Equal to Men."
But, of course, the Vatican doesn't mean it. That's why the press was impressed. Donšt look forward to seeing a female pope during your lifetime, or even a woman parish priest blessed by the Vatican.
Consistency has never been a strong point for fundamentalists. Men and women are equal when it serves their purposes, unequal when it doesn't.
Now I happen to be against gay "marriage." By pushing for it, I feel lesbians and gays are simply energizing the sex police, who will move heaven and earth to get their way. Gay marriage is too much "in your face" for the fundamentalists.
Call it something else and you'll get my vote.
Getting back to the Vatican's guidelines, they state that: "To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good [gay marriage] is gravely immoral."
Do you or I -- or our elected officials -- really need the Vatican to tell us what is moral?
Are there still people in this world, I wonder, who persist in believing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has any idea of the difference between right and wrong?
Is it wrong to molest children? If children are molested, is it wrong to protect the molester so his behavior is neither discovered nor arrested?
The church apparently thinks not, judging from its behavior.
Sexual misbehavior by priests, as well as cover-ups by bishops, archbishops and cardinals, has been shown in recent years to be common within the church. The many cases that have come to light have been so massive and so diffused geographically as to give the impression it goes on everywhere within the church.
What has proven rare is for anyone wearing a black robe or a peaked hat to blow the whistle on such behavior.
I feel sorry for the good priests. They end up tarred by the same brush used on their errant brothers. Yet one has to wonder what kind of value system these guys have when they look the other way as the bad priests use children as sex slaves.
These are the people who would tell us what is moral?
Here's what these "moral" people in Rome have told our lawmakers to do:
"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clear and publicly and to vote against it.
"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him, and make his opposition known."
OK, you Catholic politicians, you have your orders from Rome. They're quite clear. Pope John Paul II approves of them. Carry on.
Š2003 SF Gate