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Kennedy’s (Very) Quiet Catholic Faith

Well, we suspected that we were speaking too soon in our previous posting. For here is already a topper for our ‘weirdest-assed commentary about Ted Kennedy’s demise’ award.

From the erstwhile news magazine, Time:

Ted Kennedy’s Quiet Catholic Faith

By AMY SULLIVAN / WASHINGTON

The wall heading down to the basement in my parents’ house is covered with framed photos of friends and family members. Yet hanging right there in the midst of them, next to graduation portraits and vacation snapshots, is a photo of Bobby Kennedy. In that reverential treatment of the Kennedy clan, my parents were far from alone. For million of American Catholics, the election of John Kennedy in 1960 as the first Catholic U.S. President was a personal triumph, and for decades after they showed their pride by hanging pictures of the President and his brothers as if they were part of the family.

It’s safe to say that no other American family has been so associated with the word Catholic as the Kennedys. But while they were famously Catholic, the hard-living Kennedys weren’t known for being famously devout. So it might come as a surprise that faith played a deep and important role for many of them, including Ted Kennedy. The Rev. Patrick Tarrant, who was at the Senator’s bedside the night he died, told ABC News that Kennedy was "a man of quiet prayer." Said the priest: "The whole world knows a certain part of his life very well, but I think there’s another part of his life that very few people know, and that is his deep faith."

Teddy’s relationship with the church was uneven. He felt more disconnected from his faith after losing four of his older siblings to early and violent deaths, surviving a plane crash that killed one of his aides, and experiencing the tragedy and scandal of Chappaquiddick. But he continued to pray, even when he wasn’t sure it would do much good. In the early 1980s, after the failure of both his marriage and his challenge to take the Democratic presidential nomination from Jimmy Carter, Kennedy would often walk across the street from the Senate office buildings to St. Joseph’s parish, where his brother Bobby also used to find solace in prayer.

When Kennedy spoke publicly about religion, it was usually in political – not personal – terms. In 1983, several months after he mistakenly received a fundraising letter from the Moral Majority asking for help battling "ultra-liberals like Ted Kennedy," he accepted an apologetic invitation to speak at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University). The Senator delivered an address on the topic of "Faith, Truth and Tolerance," but it was less a personal discussion of his faith than a chance to prove that he wasn’t afraid to show up in the lions’ den. In a speech that went after critics in the Religious Right, Kennedy quoted Pope John XXIII’s words at the start of the Second Vatican Council: "We must beware of those who burn with zeal but are not endowed with much sense."

Kennedy only fully embraced Catholicism later in life, particularly after marrying his second wife. Vicki Kennedy was one of a handful of prominent Catholic Democrats who strongly urged John Kerry to defend questions about his faith during the 2004 presidential campaign, and she served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign in 2008 in heavily Catholic areas. The now retired Monsignor Thomas Duffy remembers the Senator and his wife becoming regular fixtures at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington’s Chevy Chase neighborhood. "He and Vicki used to come to Mass rather regularly when they were in town," says Duffy, noting that her children also went to confession and attended religion classes. "We sometimes didn’t agree on certain issues, but we would always chat."

Kennedy also relied on his faith as he watched his two eldest children struggle with cancer. While his daughter Kara was undergoing treatment at a nearby hospital in the Mission Hill section of Boston, Kennedy used to stop for prayer at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, the church where his funeral will take place on Saturday, Aug. 29. The amount of time her youngest child spent in churches would have surprised and gratified Rose Kennedy. In 1995, Teddy spoke of her legacy, "She sustained us in the saddest times by her faith in God, which was the greatest gift she gave us."

As his faith became a bigger part of his life, Kennedy became more sensitive to accusations that Democrats were godless and hostile to religion. One week after the 2004 election, he placed a call to the left-leaning Evangelical leader Jim Wallis. "They’re saying we’re not religious," Kennedy told Wallis. "But we know that’s not true." Wallis spent an evening at the Kennedy home, talking with the Senator and Vicki, and left surprised by what he heard. "I’d never heard Ted Kennedy speak publicly about his faith the way some other politicians do," Wallis recalls now. "But the conversation was very personal and very theological – we talked about Scripture and Catholic social teaching and moral issues, including abortion." Kennedy, he says, "was deeply conflicted on abortion, feeling kind of trapped by the liberal side, frankly."

Indeed, abortion was the main topic for which Kennedy received criticism from church leaders. He had begun his political career opposed to abortion – in a 1971 letter, Kennedy wrote, "Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized." But like many other Democratic politicians, he became a supporter of abortion rights by the 1980s. By the end of his career he was regularly awarded a 100% positive rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his abortion-related votes, a record that put him at odds with Church leadership

John Kennedy’s election and Ted Kennedy’s decades-long leadership helped form a strong Catholic identification with the Democratic Party that still resonates. Catholic voters have shifted to support Republican candidates in some elections, but they maintain a connection with the Democratic Party that doesn’t exist in the same way with, for example, Evangelical voters. Those photos on the wall, and the Catholic social teaching behind the social-justice issues that Ted Kennedy championed, continue to exert a pull.

And ultimately, says Casey, Senator Kennedy’s relationship with Catholicism is one familiar to many American Catholics. "He went through a period of alienation from the Church," says Casey. "But he came back on his own terms. He made a form of peace with the Church. That should give hope to lots of Catholic Democrats that they might find a way to stay in the fold."

This article is so chock full of unintentional irony, it would be hilarious if not for the somber occasion for which it was written.

But still, we can’t help but note such howlers as:

Kennedy only fully embraced Catholicism later in life, particularly after marrying his second wife.

And, similarly:

Kennedy only fully embraced Catholicism later in life…

But like many other Democratic politicians, he became a supporter of abortion rights by the 1980s. By the end of his career he was regularly awarded a 100% positive rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his abortion-related votes…

Indeed, this article vies with the Newsweek piece written during the campaign about Mrs. Clinton’s ‘deep religious roots,’ as one of the most ludicrous news articles of all time – in the ‘religious professions by Democrats’ category.

And it’s not like it is written in tribute to a man who can do us no more harm. For, thanks to our media, his influence will probably only grow stronger beyond the grave.

The healthcare reform bill being the primary example.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Friday, August 28th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

17 Responses to “Kennedy’s (Very) Quiet Catholic Faith”

  1. catie

    This is ludicrous. Catholics like Kennedy, Pelosi, Kerry, et.al. gives the Catholic church a bad name. I’m embarrassed that this man will be given a grand send off by the Church. I guess it’s not uncommon for those who know they’re dying to become more religious no matter what their religious persuasion is. Well, I believe in purgatory and I also believe in a forgiving God. If he truly was remorseful and asked for forgiveness for Mary Jo and all the unborn babies he he “killed”, perhaps he will be spending a very long time in purgatory. If he truly was not, then he belongs in hell (which he probably does anyway-I’m not a big fan of death bed confessions).

  2. proreason

    Teddy was as much a Catholic as Arnold Swartzeneggar is female impersonating a man.

  3. MinnesotaRush

    “Ted Kennedy’s Quiet Catholic Faith”

    He had to be quiet about his Catholic faith. It was nonexistant!

    Which went first, the Ten Commandments or the Constitution?

    Teddie was about as Catholic as he was a public servant.

    From the Bible, written in red .. “There are those who say they know me, but don’t!”.

  4. Celina

    His faith wasn’t Catholicism, it was liberalism. I sincerely pray for the repose of his soul. Especially considering how many innocent lives he facilitated the slaughter of.

    http://hli.org/index.php/news/.....?task=view

    This may sound harsh but I think it is right on the money.

  5. Teresa

    Having the most pro-abortion president in the History of the U.S. speaking from the pulpit, and the probable unworthy reception of Holy Communion by a flock of faux (liberal) pro-abort Catholics is probably enough to qualify this event as a MODERN DAY ‘ABOMINATION IN THE HOLY PLACE.’

    ‘Zeal for His house consumes me.’
    May Jesus Christ help us.

  6. Danola

    This man was not a Catholic! He just used it when he needed it. Just like Pelosi, Biden, Landrieu, etc. They all should have been excommunicated many years ago for the terrible things they have endorsed and voted for. But they are not soley to blame. The Catholic Bishops and priest that have stood by their sides and have not denounced them should also be excommunicated for not following their faith (especially Archbishop Philip Hannan.) They are all a disgrace. Ted Kennedy was the icon of hypocrisy. May the eternal flame on the Kennedy grave burn ever bright!

  7. Celina

    As I understand it, someone who either procures an abortion for themselves or facilitates an abortion for others falls under excommunicato latae sententae. I could be totally wrong on this by their actions they have excomunicated themselves. No inquiry, no cleric involvement, nothing. Therefore if they have done so, and they present themselves for the Eucharist, they are doing so unworthily and are committing another serious sin.

    You are absolutely right, Dan. The bishops et al., should be excommunicated right along with them for allowing this sacriledge.

    • catie

      I have a good friend that had an abortion and has suffered ever since. She’s been through that Project Rachel and the retreats that are offered. You’re right that you excommunicated if you have had, or facilitated one. After this Mass for the babies the women and a few men that were there were invited to come back to communion. I went with her to the service which was really beautiful.
      I agree that all these pro-choice Catholics and their bishops, Cardinals, etc. should be ex communicated.

  8. VMAN

    I think the conversation may go something like this. Teddy: Er a hello Jesus it’s me Teddy. Jesus: Depart form me you worker of iniquity. I never knew you.

  9. Gila Monster

    Kennedy……. a Catholic…??? Who knew..!!!

  10. David

    sorry, I failed to read an above almost identical post

  11. JohnMG

    The Gospel reading from today’s Mass says it all: “Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; and in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.’ ”

    Both Matthew and Mark record this, and I believe that Jesus held His highest contempt for hypocrisy above all sin. I see some of this type every Sunday and it baffles me no end.

  12. ptat

    Wow, John–you leave nothing to be said! Except maybe “Amen”. Thanks!

  13. philmarlowe

    “But he came back on his own terms. He made a form of peace with the Church.”

    I won’t presume to dismiss the possibility of a death-bed conversion, but one does not return to a state of grace on one’s “own terms.” Rejecting God’s will and following our own personal code of morality, or immorality, is what separates us from God.

    The idea that anyone would hold Mr. Kennedy up as some sort of a Catholic icon is offensive.

  14. Danola

    This shows the demise of the Catholic Church. If any bishop had any credibility, they would excommunicate all of these murderers; Biden, Pelosi, Landrieu, Kennedy and many others. The church is afraid of these people and it is not for their donations……they don’t give to charity. Archbishop Philip Hannan was the advisor to JFK……that’s something to brag about. He attended the funeral of Ted this weekend. Hannan thinks he is one of the elite……he has lost his faith just like these politicians. He has sold his soul for power!


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