"Over time, however, the roster of pro-life Catholic Democrats dwindled. As early as 1972 the Michigan Democratic candidate for the Senate, Frank Kelley, found himself pinned between Catholics eager to have him declare his opposition to abortion and women's groups warning him that if he did so, he would 'be publicly denounced by Democratic women all over the State.' In 1973 pro-choice activists could still term Senator Edward Kennedy's position on abortion 'thoroughly revolting.' Two years later, to the applause of liberal commentators, Kennedy led the fight against any effort to restrict federal funding of abortions through the Medicaid program" — John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York, 2003).
In 1973, then, abortion activists had no qualms about denouncing Ted Kennedy's pro-life position as "thoroughly revolting." In 2009, however, it's difficult to find bishops and cardinals willing to use language nearly as strong or as obviously moral in describing Kennedy's three decades of supporting, advocating, defending, and funding abortion. It is, to put it mildly, disheartening.
Equally disheartening are the post-funeral comments of Cardinal O'Malley, whose post about Kennedy's funeral is filled with the strangely passive voice used by so many apologists taking up the "Kennedy was a Great (If Occasionally Flawed) Catholic" argument:
Because, you see, when Sen. Kennedy was doing all of his good deeds, he was motivated by the Gospel and Catholic doctrine, but when he mysteriously failed to advocate for the unborn, it was one of those strange mishaps, like Michael Jordan missing a game-winning shot ("Goodness, I guess he is human!"), or Babe Ruth striking out ("Well, who would thunk it possible?'), as if it was the exception to the rule. But for Kennedy, being a driven and vigorous supporter of the culture of death was the rule, with few exceptions. So, the funeral was controversial, in fact, because:
2). He publicly and very ardently supported abortion.
3). And embryonic stem-cell research, contraceptives, and "same-sex" marriage.
4). And he never publicly acknowledged or expressed remorse for these great public wrongs.
The best piece I've read so far about the Senator and the Cardinal is Phil Lawler's September 3, 2009, CatholicCulture.org piece, "The Kennedy Funeral: Boston's Latest Scandal." Here is the opening, but be sure to read the entire essay:
A week after the death of Ted Kennedy, the relevant question is not whether the Massachusetts Senator deserved a Catholic funeral, but whether he deserved a ceremony of public acclamation so grand and sweeping that it might, to the untutored observer, have seemed more like an informal canonization.
We cannot know the state of Ted Kennedy's soul when he finally succumbed to brain cancer. We are told that he was visited regularly by a priest in his last days; we assume that he made a sincere confession and received absolution. We can-- and should, and do-- pray that he receives the same sort of merciful judgment that we wish for ourselves.
That indeed is the purpose of a Catholic funeral: not to honor the deceased, but to pray for the salvation of his soul. Yet that central purpose was never acknowledged during the long, elaborate ceremony last Saturday in Boston's basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help: the beautiful structure known to local residents as Mission Church. From the first greeting to the final commendation, the ceremony was a celebration of Kennedy's life and his public career. There was never a hint that Ted Kennedy might need prayers, that his eternal salvation could be in question-- that he, like the rest of us sinners, can only rely on the compassion of an all-merciful God. On the contrary, at several points during the service, priests and eulogists stated flatly that Ted Kennedy was already in heaven, enjoying the rewards of a virtuous life.
As I've asked and argued elsewhere, why must it be assumed that expanding federal programs, opposing school choice, and growing the welfare system are each an iron-clad, can't-be-debated part of Catholic social teaching? Those matters, which are bound up in policy and prudential judgment, can be disagreed upon and debated among Catholics and others of good will. More importantly, who are the most poor and downtrodden, the most naked, the most vulnerable in our society? Surely it is the unborn, no? The bishop continues:
The challenge for us as Catholics in the United States — and it is a challenge both personally and as a community — is to bridge that disconnect and pull that whole seamless garment of the defense of life together, rather than rending that garment in twain and choosing one, while almost, or actually, excluding the other. The social teaching of the Church and her pro-life stance surely are interwoven as a seamless garment.
Yes, there certainly was a "disconnect"; it is the sort of gaping chasm many Catholics, including myself, see as evidence of a brazen and conscious repudiation of clear Catholic teaching. After all, as has been pointed out many times over, Sen. Kennedy offered rather articulate and strong renunciations of abortion in the early 1970s. But the senator, prior to his death, made no such public renunciations of abortion or acknowledged the deep and abiding damage done by his decades of publicly supporting abortion. The much-discussed private/partially-public letter from Kennedy to Benedict, while containing admissions of "human failings," also insisted, "I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith." That, to put it mildly, is hard for many Catholics to swallow—not because they pretend to know the soul of Ted Kennedy, or because they think he should be in hell, but because his public record does not reveal the work of a man who "never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings" of the Catholic Church. Which is why this passage from Bishop Morlino's column is more than a little disconcerting:
I’m afraid, however, that for not a few Catholics, the funeral rites for Senator Kennedy were a source of scandal — that is, quite literally, led them into sin. From not a few corners has come the question, “how on earth could Teddy Kennedy be buried from the Church?” There have also been expressions from some, that “whatever happens in Church, Senator Kennedy will now face justice, which will lead him inside the gates of Hell.”
From the earliest days of the Church it was defined as sinful to enjoy the thought that someone might be in Hell. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit worked powerfully through history so that Hell could be avoided by the proper exercise of human freedom, and to take delight in the perceived foiling of God’s plan is wrong.
Pope Benedict XVI has written very beautifully that on the Cross of Christ there was lived out a conflict between God’s justice, in that someone who was Himself equal to God had to die in reparation for man’s sinfulness, and God’s mercy: from the very beginning, the Church believed and taught that Jesus died precisely so that sins might be forgiven. His body was broken and His blood was shed so that sins might be forgiven, so that there might be mercy.
I fully agree with the bishop's statement that it is sinful to enjoy thinking someone might be hell, or to wish someone would go to hell. And I have no doubt some people are expressing themselves in reprehensible ways (you can, after all, find just about anything on the internet). But the passage above raises a few questions:
• [The following paragraph was added on Sept. 7, 2009] Bishop Morlino wrote: "I’m afraid, however, that for not a few Catholics, the funeral rites
for Senator Kennedy were a source of scandal — that is, quite
literally, led them into sin." That's exactly the point, isn't it? Scandal, the Catechism explains, "takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. ... Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others" (par. 2285). So is the bishop admitting the the funeral was, in fact, a source of real scandal? Was there a failure on the part of Church leaders to handle this matter in a way that would teach and educate both the faithful and everyone else?
• Is the attitude described by Bishop Morlino really the prevalent stance among Catholics who are upset or concerned about the funeral? Having read many articles and numerous comments about the topic, I have a hard time believing so. It appears to me that many of those who are confused or even angry are simply wondering why a public funeral Mass—a rather extravagant, widely publicized (and televised), eulogistic, and liturgically problematic Mass—was afforded to a man who worked so long and hard against the Church on essential moral issues, and who never publicly disavowed that work. It's a good question, and they have a right to ask it.
• Within a week of Kennedy's funeral, those making offensive and inappropriate statements of his eternal destination are being called on the carpet for their objectively sinful actions. Fair enough. My question is this: how long after Ted Kennedy made it known in the 1970s that he was going to publicly support abortion (and, later, other evils), was he called on the carpet by bishops or priests for his objectively sinful actions? How often throughout his public career was he publicly confronted and chastised for his support of abortion, contraceptives, "same-sex marriage," embryonic stem cell research, and so forth? And why does Bishop Morlino only use the word "sin/sinful" regarding those comments, but never in referring to Kennedy's many public actions and positions? Is it really so hard to call a spade a spade?
• Where does Pope Benedict speak of a "conflict" between God's justice and mercy? I cannot find it. This is especially puzzling since the bishop goes on to emphasize: "On the cross of Christ, God’s justice came into conflict with God’s mercy. God’s justice was fully satisfied, but mercy triumphed in the conflict, according to the teaching of Pope Benedict." But this doesn't sound like anything I've read by Benedict (it doesn't appear in any of his encyclicals, at the very least). And John Paul II, in Dives in Misericordia (1980), his encyclical devoted to mercy, noted that "mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God's justice", and then further explained, "Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it..." (par. 4; emphasis added).
Through vicious attacks launched on blogs, a new form of self-righteousness, condemnation and gnosticism reveals authors who behave as little children bullying one another around in schoolyards- casting stones, calling names, and wreaking havoc in the Church today! What such people fail to realize is that their messages are ultimately screamed into a vacuum. No one but their own loud crowd is really listening. We will never change laws and bring about conversion of minds and hearts with such behavior. We make the Church and our efforts for life look ridiculous and terribly anti-Christian. Sowing seeds of hatred and division are not the work of those who wish to build a culture of life.
Once again, it's interesting how easy it is to chastise pro-life Catholic bloggers for being "vicious" and "bullying" and "sowing seeds of hatred" and being "agents of destruction and violence", but how hard it is to state the facts about Sen. Kennedy's public record. I suppose it was Kennedy's good fortune that he was never a pro-life Catholic blogger, otherwise he might have had to face public criticism from Catholic clergy.
Related Insight Scoop posts:
• Kennedy's letter—the pro-life one (Sept. 2, 2009)
• The funeral and the letter (Aug. 30, 2009)
• What is Sen. Ted Kennedy's "Catholic legacy"? (Aug. 27, 2009)
• Sen. Ted Kennedy's right to a Catholic funeral (Aug. 27, 2009)