Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reflections on Cardinal O'Malley and His Blog Entry on the Kennedy Funeral

Source: Cardinal Seán's Blog » On Senator Kennedy’s Funeral

This article is written with Canon 212 §3 in mind:

They [The faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

What I say here is written with full recognition and respect of Cardinal O’Malley being the head of the Archdiocese of Boston and possessing the authority as a successor to the Apostles.


It is no doubt that the public funeral which praised Ted Kennedy was scandalous to many.  Ted Kennedy was not only failing to oppose abortion, but he was known for his active role to expand the rights of abortion and opposing limitations, earning a 100% rating from NARAL.

Now much has been written about Kennedy and whether he had repented in the end to merit a public funeral instead of a private one (See here for a canon lawyer’s take).   This may indeed be true.  I do not have the facts to judge, and I certainly do not have the right to judge whether or not he died in a state of grace.  However, the point is he not only failed to protect life for the unborn, he was an active opponent of such attempts to do so.

In other words it was an active choice on his part.  Sins of Commission, not of Omission.

It is because of this I find the blog of Cardinal O’Malley very troubling indeed in speaking about the controversy of the funeral.

The first area of alarm comes when the Cardinal writes:

Needless to say, the Senator’s wake and Catholic funeral were controversial because of the fact that he did not publically support Catholic teaching and advocacy on behalf of the unborn. ­­­Given the profound effect of Catholic social teaching on so many of the programs and policies espoused by Senator Kennedy and the millions who benefitted from them, there is a tragic sense of lost opportunity in his lack of support for the unborn.  To me and many Catholics it was a great disappointment because, had he placed the issue of life at the centerpiece of the Social Gospel where it belongs, he could have multiplied the immensely valuable work he accomplished.

As I said above, Kennedy did not sin by omission.  He sinned by commission.  His actions were in opposition to the protection of life, not a failure to act for life.  In contrast, Pope John Paul II wrote:

In this way, and with tragic consequences, a long historical process is reaching a turning-point. The process which once led to discovering the idea of "human rights"-rights inherent in every person and prior to any Constitution and State legislation-is today marked by a surprising contradiction. Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death.

On the one hand, the various declarations of human rights and the many initiatives inspired by these declarations show that at the global level there is a growing moral sensitivity, more alert to acknowledging the value and dignity of every individual as a human being, without any distinction of race, nationality, religion, political opinion or social class.

On the other hand, these noble proclamations are unfortunately contradicted by a tragic repudiation of them in practice. This denial is still more distressing, indeed more scandalous, precisely because it is occurring in a society which makes the affirmation and protection of human rights its primary objective and its boast. How can these repeated affirmations of principle be reconciled with the continual increase and widespread justification of attacks on human life? How can we reconcile these declarations with the refusal to accept those who are weak and needy, or elderly, or those who have just been conceived? These attacks go directly against respect for life and they represent a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights. It is a threat capable, in the end, of jeopardizing the very meaning of democratic coexistence: rather than societies of "people living together", our cities risk becoming societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted and oppressed. If we then look at the wider worldwide perspective, how can we fail to think that the very affirmation of the rights of individuals and peoples made in distinguished international assemblies is a merely futile exercise of rhetoric, if we fail to unmask the selfishness of the rich countries which exclude poorer countries from access to development or make such access dependent on arbitrary prohibitions against procreation, setting up an opposition between development and man himself? Should we not question the very economic models often adopted by States which, also as a result of international pressures and forms of conditioning, cause and aggravate situations of injustice and violence in which the life of whole peoples is degraded and trampled upon? (Evangelium Vitae #18)

In other words, Kennedy did not "fail" to support abortion and thus diminish his record as the Cardinal put it.  The right to life is key and without it, all other areas of social justice are just so much straw.  Kennedy opposed the right to life, actively and it negated his other work.

The second statement of the Cardinal I found deeply disappointing was when he wrote:

At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another.  These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church.  If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure.  Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us.  Jesus loves us while we are still in sin.  He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end.  Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

I would like to remind the reader that Pope John Paul II used the very strong (some would call "harsh") label of Culture of Death.  Pope John Paul II wrote:

At another level, the roots of the contradiction between the solemn affirmation of human rights and their tragic denial in practice lies in a notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way, and gives no place to solidarity, to openness to others and service of them. While it is true that the taking of life not yet born or in its final stages is sometimes marked by a mistaken sense of altruism and human compassion, it cannot be denied that such a culture of death, taken as a whole, betrays a completely individualistic concept of freedom, which ends up by becoming the freedom of "the strong" against the weak who have no choice but to submit. (ibid #19)

Yes Jesus still loves us in our sins.  However, we must atone for our sins.  St. John wrote in his first epistle, chapter 4:

20 If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

It is estimated that an average of one million to 1.5 million unborn children are aborted in America alone each year.  The Catholic Church believes these unborn children are human persons.  This is a real evil which Kennedy lent his support to against the clear teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject.  Now it is indeed possible that he could have repented on his deathbed, and we are required to pray for his soul and not wish him in Hell.

However, to speak of the "good" he has done, while downplaying the evil he did in life is to indicate we do not think abortion important.  It's as if we spoke of Mussolini for bringing stability to Italy and making the trains run on time while ignoring that many people were killed on account of what he did.

Cardinal O'Malley has indeed spoken out on life issues.  However in the way he writes here he makes it possible to believe that while yes Kennedy was wrong on abortion, he was right on other issues and Other Issues > Abortion.

This is not what the Church teaches and I don't think the Cardinal intends it either.  But his words are written in such a way that one might think him indifferent on the issue of life… that it is not as important as other issues.

Really all we can say of Kennedy is that while he did some good things, he also did some terrible things which run counter to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, and these terrible things were on an issue the Catholic Church teaches is fundamental.

So let us not lionize Kennedy.  Let us not speak of him as a tragic hero.  He was a great public sinner for whom we pray God will have mercy on his soul and remember that Matthew told us in Chapter 7:2 — "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get."

So as we pray for his soul, let the Church in America look at his legacy and say "Never again will we permit such a scandal in the Church."

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