CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - After reading both the tributes and the critical comments concerning the late Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy this morning, I opened my Liturgy of the Hours to pray. There it was, still wrapped in the saran wrap that my mother had placed it in. She did so to “preserve it for generations” she said when she gave it to me. “It” was a “holy card” that bore the image of “John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”
These words were inscribed under the image: "35th President of the United States, Born May 29, 1917, Inaugurated January 20, 1961, Died November 22, 1963”. Now well into my fifties I still vividly recall that fateful day, November 22, 1963, when the nation stood still. I was an elementary school student at St. Matthews Catholic School in Dorchester, Massachusetts when the announcement came over the P.A. system “President Kennedy has been shot”. Many of us began to cry. Sister led us all, hands folded in prayer, across the parking lot to the Church. There we joined the entire school, local parents and our pastor, in heartfelt prayer for “our” President.
I remembered two other fateful days, April 4, 1968, when we lost a giant of the human/civil rights movement, the keeper of the dream, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and June 5, 1968 when we lost Robert F. Kennedy, another symbol and standard bearer of that dream. I took both of these assassinations deeply to heart, mourning the loss of two men whom I believed had a genuine vision for a better America. An America where all men and women were recognized as having human dignity because they were all God’s children, created in His Image. Back then the word “liberal” was associated with noble ideals. It involved having a concern for the poor and a bedrock belief that there were fundamental, inalienable human rights which must be recognized in the civil (positive) law because they were endowed by the Creator and revealed in the Natural Law.
As the years have past, the word has changed in its meaning and that claim has been eroded. However, it was that kind of noble “liberalism” which I thought characterized the late Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy when I was a younger man. I still remember that he began his political career as a strong defender of the rights of children in the womb. For example, in 1971, Senator Kennedy described his strongly Pro-Life position in these words: "While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized -- the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grown old.”
"I share the confidence of those who feel that America is working to care for its unwanted as well as wanted children, protecting particularly those who cannot protect themselves. I also share the opinions of those who do not accept abortion as a response to our society's problems -- an inadequate welfare system, unsatisfactory job training programs, and insufficient financial support for all its citizens. When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."
Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, by his later change of position on the fundamental human right to life, did more than anyone to change the meaning of those political labels. Calling the killing of innocent children in the womb a “right”, is certainly not progressive nor is it liberal, it is barbaric. Around the time I watched the Senator try to explain his about turn on the right to life I also came to understand that my childhood hero, his brother, John F. Kennedy, espoused an approach to Catholic faith that separated it completely from his public service. Unfortunately this errant approach became the rallying mantra for many unfaithful Catholics in the last few decades as they hid their infidelity to the clear teaching of the Catholic Church and failure to recognize the fundamental right to life behind a specious sophism. The error was laid out in the now famous speech that he gave to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association Rice Hotel, Houston, Texas on September 12, 1960.
However, it was only when the late former Governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Sr., was denied a speaking role at the 1992 Democratic nomination convention that my disillusionment with the Party called “Democrat” which I thought was the “protector of the poor” reached the point of no return. The Governor was the last Presidential candidate of the Democratic party who was genuinely Pro-Life. There once were many Democrats who defended all of the poor including those whom Mother Teresa called the “poorest of the poor”, children in the womb. No longer. Though I am encouraged there seems to be a resurgence in the party, such as those who are associated with “Democrats for Life” and I applaud the good work of Kristen Day. The late Pro-Life champion Governor Bob Casey Sr. once wrote these words concerning his own Party and its rejection of the Right to Life and embrace of abortion:
“It’s hard to think of anything more foreign to the principles of the Democratic Party or the whole American experience. Far from being “inclusive”, it excludes an entire class of fellow human beings from our care and protection. It’s the only “constitutional right” we’re ashamed of, avoiding the word abortion with contorted euphemisms like “reproductive rights” and “termination” and “evacuation”. Far from liberating women, abortion has become a lucrative industry, exploiting young women beyond anything ever imagined. When pregnancy comes at a difficult time, which is the worthier response of society: To surround mother and child alike with protection and love, or to hold out the cold comfort of an abortion clinic? Where is America’s true character to be seen- in an adoptive home or at the abortion clinic? In which role is a woman more empowered – giving life or taking it?"
I grieve the loss of Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy. I also mourn the loss of the dream he once championed. Over the next few days, I will pray for the repose of the soul of Senator Kennedy and comfort for his family. There were admirable things which he did in his career. His family is an American story that needs to be reflected upon. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, his dear sister, who died earlier this month, kept the real dream alive. She remained a faithful defender of all the poor, including children in the womb and those who were especially abled. She and her husband, Sargent Shriver were signatories of the wonderful document entitled “A New American Compact: Caring about Women, Caring for the Unborn” which was published in 1992 as a full page ad in Newspapers. We republish it today in a related story. A word to the Democrats who know the truth about the real loss of the soul of their Party, it would make a TREMENDOUS platform for a New Democratic Party.
We also publish the excellent discussion on the correct interpretation of Catholic Canon law concerning funerals by a great Canon Lawyer Ed Peters entitled “A Catholic Funeral for Ted Kennedy?” On that, we trust the judgment - and submit to the authority of - the good Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley who has the authority under Canon Law to make this decision. He is a holy, faithful and pastoral Bishop. None of us know what happened between the Senator and His Lord. In fact, all indications are that he regularly met with his priest, received the Sacraments and died in a state of grace, thank God, leading his family in prayer.
I have read many of the articles by Pro-Life friends on the death of the Senator from Massachusetts, some have been quite strong in their renunciation of his horrid record on the fundamental human rights issue of our age, the right to life, and understandably so. Yet, they have shown a proper respect for the dead and compassion for those who mourn his loss. Others have been, well, distasteful. I choose to follow the clear admonition of the Lord to “mourn with those who mourn”, and yes, that includes mourning the millions of children lost through the intrinsic evil of legal abortion on demand made possible by those who lost their way during their life like the late Senator. As for President Obama giving a Eulogy at the Funeral, there is nothing inappropriate about it. That is unless he uses it to promote a political agenda at odds with the truth about the dignity of every life, including the lives of our first neighbors. Giving a Eulogy at the funeral of a friend is certainly not the same thing as a Catholic University conferring a Law Degree upon him when he follows the same errant approach to the right to life which the late Senator sadly embraced. That was simply wrong.
Finally, it is reported that the Senator wanted a “good ending” to his life. I now suggest one. In the rush to rename the proposed “Health Care Reform” after him, let us honor the dead by protecting the living. No “Health Care” Plan should ever, ever, ever include the use of federal funds to enable a mother to “choose” to kill her own child. Yes, we should do all we can to help her and to help her child, not only in the earliest stages of life but through the birth and throughout their lives until natural death. However the very notion that intentional abortion is a “reproductive service” when it kills children or that it is “health care” when it injures the woman and kills the child is repugnant and must be absolutely rejected! Perhaps we can honor the clearer thinking Senator Ted Kennedy, the younger one who understood the truth, by recovering the heart of his early “liberalism”. Perhaps we could also help to put the progress back in “progressive” while we are at it.
The new “liberals” and “progressives” try to use the late Cardinal Bernadins’ “seamless garment” teaching to cover their anti-life perfidy. However, the fact is that even the late Cardinal would have been repulsed by the current state of the positive law which promotes abortion on demand and protects killing. The dignity of every human person, including our first neighbors in the womb, was not one “issue” among many in his view. It was and it is the very thread with which the garment is woven together. It is because of the dignity of every human person that we should love the poor, care about the treatment of prisoners, reject capital punishment as no longer justified and insist upon the entire palate of genuine social and economic justice issues for all men and women. Without it, the use of the term “seamless garment” is simply verbal theft.
Rest in peace Senator Kennedy and my deepest condolences to your grieving family. To my fellow Americans, let us honor the dead by protecting the living. No “Health Care” Plan should ever, ever, ever include the use of federal funds to enable a mother to “choose” to kill her own child.