What They Wished For
American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960–2004

Lawrence J. McAndrews

The extraordinary rise of Catholic influence in presidential politics, from Kennedy to Kerry


“I know of no book quite like this one; it examines the changing relationship between presidents and Catholics on three major political-religious issues: war and peace; social justice; life and death. The book is a must-read for all those interested in the relationship between religion and politics in recent American history.”
—Patrick W. Carey, author of American Catholic Religious Thought: The Shaping of a Theological and Social Tradition

“Lawrence J. McAndrews has written a superb study of American Catholicism’s influence on the nation’s politics. No one has told this story before. A truly original study, based on extensive research, it is a major contribution not only to the history of American Catholicism but also to the nation’s political history.”
—Jay P. Dolan, author of In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension

"In a time when many of the American hierarchy’s attempts to affect policy in this country seem at best feeble and at worst reprehensible, it becomes important for Catholics to remind themselves of their church’s profound impact on the development of American policies, and especially on the commander in chief himself. McAndrews’ book does just that. Its weight signals its rich scholarship. . . . His treatment of his subject is both consistent and compassionate."
—James P. Cahill, U.S. Catholic magazine

"This detailed and impressive study is ably documented with 100 pages of endnotes, strengthening the book's credibility."
—Al Menendez, Voice of Reason

“This engaging book chronicles the complex relationship between the Roman Catholic Church in the US and the American presidency from 1960 to 2004. McAndrews (St. Norbert College) focuses on the church’s social teachings concerning war and peace, poverty, and the various ‘life’ issues, such as abortion. . . . McAndrews does a good job of showing how the church was able to inject moral discourse into the public sphere even when it faced dissent among its own members and a concern for political expediency from presidents.”
—R. P. Cimino, CHOICE

"Political and religious historians alike will benefit from this book packed with rich archival research. Chapters provide thorough accounts of American Catholics’ relationship to particular presidents and offer new insights. . . . This is an indispensable book for understanding that tricky relationship."
—Neil J. Young, Journal of American History

"McAndrews has offered an important contribution to historians’ efforts to understand the ways that the U.S. Catholic hierarchy has approached political questions on the national stage in the second half of the twentieth century."
—Sharon M. Leon, American Historical Review

"McAndrews is a tireless researcher. The volume is detailed and far-reaching, and it is likely to serve as the definitive source concerning the political activities of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy in the second half of the twentieth century."
—Timothy A. Byrnes, Journal of Church and State

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Roman Catholics constitute the most populous religious denomination in the United States, comprising one in four Americans. With the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960, they attained a political prominence to match their rapidly ascending socioeconomic and cultural profile. From Vietnam to Iraq, the civil rights movement to federal funding for faith-based initiatives, and from birth control to abortion, Catholics have won at least as often as they have lost. What They Wished For by Lawrence J. McAndrews traces the role of American Catholics in presidential policies and politics from 1960 until 2004.

Though divided by race, class, gender, and party, Catholics have influenced issues of war and peace, social justice, and life and death among modern presidents in a profound way, starting with the election of President Kennedy and expanding their influence through the intervening years with subsequent presidents. McAndrews shows that American Catholics, led by their bishops and in some cases their pope, have been remarkably successful in shaping the political dialogue and at helping to effect policy outcomes inside and outside of Washington. Indeed, although they opened this era by helping to elect one of their own, Catholic voters have gained so much influence and have become so secure in their socioeconomic status—and so confident in their political standing—that they closed the era by rejecting one of their own, voting for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.

Page count: 472
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Lawrence J. McAndrews is a visiting professor of history at the University of Hong Kong.