As Catholic scholars and prelates pay homage to the legacy of Benedict XVI after Thursday’s funeral outside St. Peter’s Basilica, we can fortunately reflect upon pope emeritus’s proudly conservative influence from a unique perspective. It is fictitious, yet verifiably authentic.

Today, we are envisioning a heavenly reprise of CNN’s old “Crossfire” show, as broadcast from a never-anticipated intersection of political ideology and doctrinal theology. Inside the pearly gates, two renowned authorities meet for the first time. They welcome the opportunity to finally and respectfully debate the historic question both had famously, but only separately, addressed.

Welcome to "Crossfire." Here is today’s question: Can Americans ever again elect a Roman Catholic as president with assurance that the president will not govern by taking dictation from the pope?

Let’s meet our famous guests:

— FOR THE AFFIRMATIVE: From Boston, Massachusetts, the future President John F. Kennedy. As the 1960 Democratic presidential candidate, he dealt head-on with this question, addressing Protestants at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association — and was elected America’s first Catholic president. The future president’s "Crossfire" words today are quotes from his 1960 speech.

— FOR THE NEGATIVE: From Bavaria, Germany, and later Vatican City, the future Pope Benedict XVI. Ten months before becoming pope, as Germany’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he raised this question to new prominence during the U.S. presidential campaign of pro-choice Catholic Democrat John Kerry. Writing in his role as Vatican arbiter of Church doctrine, the then-cardinal sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ task force on issues concerning politicians (Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C.), boldly outlining how the church will treat politicians who don’t conform to church doctrine. The future pope’s "Crossfire" words today are quotes from his 2004 letter.

(Today’s "Crossfire" column recasts and updates one I wrote in 2005.)

Mr. Kennedy, please begin.

THE FUTURE PRESIDENT: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.”

THE FUTURE POPE: “The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. ... In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it.’” (He was quoting from a church encyclical.)

THE FUTURE PRESIDENT: “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source — where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.”

THE FUTURE POPE: “Christians have a ‘grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. ... This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it.’”

THE FUTURE PRESIDENT: “I ask you tonight … to judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years in Congress … instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries.”

THE FUTURE POPE: “Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest … his pastor should meet with him … informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”

THE FUTURE PRESIDENT: “Whatever issue may come before me as President — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

In the 2020 presidential campaign, the Church’s policies, as declared in 2004, were neither rescinded, nor repeated. Joe Biden, who says JFK inspired his life of public leadership, became the second Catholic U.S. president. In his book, “Promises to Keep,” Biden recalled Kennedy’s words, shortly before winning the 1960 West Virginia primary, when he told a largely Protestant crowd: “I refuse to believe that I was denied the right to be president the day that I was baptized.”

And mainly, Biden recalled how JFK’s words played in the Biden family’s modest home:

“My Irish mom was thrilled.”

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(Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.)

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