Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Death of Senator Kennedy: What Meaning for Catholics?

By: Dr. J. P. Hubert

The recent death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and its aftermath have been very instructive, especially for the world’s Roman Catholics, many of whom have become extremely confused by the response of several high-ranking U.S. prelates.[1] In the interest of fairness and complete candor, it is necessary to state clearly that Senator Kennedy was simultaneously a notorious and public denier of the Traditional Roman Catholic faith[2] and yet a defender at the same time of some of the Church’s most important teachings in the areas of Social Justice and Christian Charity.

In the days surrounding his demise, celebratory wake at the J. F. K Library and the funeral Mass at Boston’s Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, (known as the Mission Church) nothing but laudatory comments were heard from friends, relatives, colleagues and the elite media. This is to be expected in that it is generally thought to be in extremely poor taste to criticize the dead, especially if the person in question has been a member in good standing of the elite secular regime as is the case with Senator Kennedy.

Regaled as the last remaining member of the true liberal left the so-called “Lion of the Senate”, Mr. Kennedy was celebrated for his tremendously prolific contribution to key Congressional legislation over his 47 year career and his laudable personal concern for and interest in the plight of minorities, immigrant communities, the poor and disabled in the United States. There is no question that Senator Kennedy advocated forcefully for the “least of those among us” especially in the areas of publicly financed health care for all Americans, public education and equal public access for persons with disabilities etc. The question however is--were these initiatives truly based on Roman Catholic teaching in the areas of Social Justice and Christian Charity or were they the logical outgrowth of liberal political policies which Senator Kennedy embraced throughout his career?

While Christian Charity and Social Justice are important parts of Traditional Roman Catholicism in practice, they do not make up the entire body of relevant Catholic teaching where issues of public policy are concerned. There exists an entire corpus of Traditional Catholic teaching which is applicable to issues of public policy specifically the moral responsibility of any legitimate government to uphold the Natural (moral) Law and to further the “common good.” On careful analysis, Senator Kennedy’s actions in the areas of Christian Charity and Social Justice seem to have been less relevant to his religious commitments then they were to his leadership of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

That his motivation was primarily political can be recognized in virtue of the fact that he was absolutely notorious in his rejection of Roman Catholic teaching in the areas of the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of (heterosexual) marriage, his support for abortion on demand including public financing of abortion and the particularly heinous partial birth abortion procedure, embryonic stem cell research, destructive human embryonic cloning for biomedical research, gay “rights” specifically same sex “marriage” and the codification in law of the “right” to engage in sodomy etc. All of these firmly held public policy positions were the very antithesis of a proper interpretation of the Natural Law and Traditional Roman Catholic teaching. The fact that Senator Kennedy despite claiming to be a Catholic in good standing could embrace these anti-Catholic views establishes beyond reasonable doubt to this writer that his fundamental underlying loyalty/predisposition was to political party and not to his self-professed religion.

Certainly, there was no one who so effectively championed the causes of the liberal left the way Senator Kennedy did. This was undoubtedly enhanced by his being highly motivated, and very likable and engaging on a personal level. For these attributes he should be celebrated by all true liberals. Many political moderates as well will also find much of Senator Kennedy’s legislative accomplishments to their liking such as the need in justice to provide a living wage and the necessity of providing frequent increases in the “cost of living” especially in benefit of the working poor.

On occasion even some conservatives could find themselves in agreement with the senator on issues such as the “no child left behind” legislation which he championed with former President George W. Bush and his life-long insistence that the United States should avoid wars of aggression[3]—a position which meant that he was virtually a “dove” throughout his entire career on the issue of war. Without doubt, this was an area where his secular political leanings coincided with the teachings of the Catholic Church with respect to the Just War Doctrine. However, since he rejected so much of Traditional Roman Catholic teaching, it is safe to say his consistent anti-war advocacy was also a function of his liberal political views rather than a foundational commitment to the Roman Catholic deposit of the faith.

The fact that Senator Kennedy appeared in some respects to be a good and faithful Traditional Catholic was extremely difficult to harmonize with his very forceful and public advocacy for positions which were contradictory of and antithetical to the faith. This no doubt bothered many Catholics and served as a way for non-Catholics to effectively ridicule the faith.[4] From the perspective of what is deducible on the basis of the public record, it is necessary to conclude that Senator Kennedy was not committed in any serious way to Traditional Catholicism—the faith of his mother Rose who he indicated was such an inspiration for him and his siblings. In the interest of upholding the dignity and reputation of Traditional Catholicism this is something which must simply be admitted lest it serve as the occasion of further scandal. This seemingly harsh judgment has nothing to do with the very public moral shortcomings of the Senator which assuming proper contrition, repentance and penance in combination with a public recanting of his un-Catholic views on social policy would have served as a magnificent testimony to the truth and power of the Catholic faith.

Unfortunately, we are left to wonder whether Senator Kennedy ever came to regret his tremendous influence and tireless work on behalf of so much evil and whether he confessed it sincerely in sacramental confession prior to his death—as seems to have been implied by the U.S. Catholic hierarchy—we can only hope and pray that he did. Rather however than serving as an occasion of clarification for the faithful, his death and burial have managed to further muddy the waters for serious Catholics who endeavor to understand the requirements of their faith and to live by them completely and consistently.

For a different view, see THIS...


1. Retired Theodore Cardinal Mc Carrick of Washington D.C. who officiated at the graveside ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley who presided at the funeral Mass at the Mission Church through their very presence served to legitimate Senator Kennedy’s aberrant and decidedly anti-Traditional Catholic views on highly visible moral issues which have been truly infamous and a source of great scandal for the faithful.
2. His advocacy of abortion “rights”, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning for biomedical research, and same sex marriage laws etc. placed him clearly outside the Traditional Roman Catholic Church’s teaching. As far as the public record is concerned, he never repudiated the above policy positions. If he did so privately in sacramental confession prior to his death--something we are led to believe happened based on the statements of his private Priest and Cardinal O'Malley that he obtained salvation--it is particularly tragic for faithful Catholics who would have been so positively influenced by a public recantation.
3. Paleoconservatives such as Patrick J. Buchanan largely reject foreign wars of aggression even though Neoconservatives largely favor them. Neoconservatism however is an aberration. It is not really conservative in any meaningful sense and shares a lineage with Marxism.
4. Those who otherwise might have accepted the principled Catholic position were left to conclude that since someone as prominent in public life as Senator Kennedy did not subscribe to Catholic Church teaching on these issues, the church was not credible or it would have reprimanded him publicly.