Watching the funeral cortege of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy wind its way up Route 6, then Route 3 and finally through the streets of Boston, I could not help thinking that eloquence of the common man, when it manifests itself, far outstrips any words we writers have to offer. Along the highway, still an hour from Boston, people had pulled off the road, gotten out of their cars and stood by the side of the highway, applauding as the hearse drove by. In downtown Boston, the crowds appeared to be five or six deep in parts and the response was the same: applause for the Senator and a wave for the family. I could not help but think: Is there any other Senator in the land whose death would produce such an outpouring? Is there any other Catholic?

Last night, the crowds at the JFK Library stretched around the block and into the early morning hours. I saw a young man of Cub Scout age salute the flag on the casket. Many, many people made the Sign of the Cross as they passed. There were many people in wheelchairs, people who were especially grateful for the Senator’s work on behalf of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There were many Latinos, grateful for the Senator’s defense of immigrants’ rights.

The rightwing hasn’t been this loud and obnoxious since Notre Dame. The Senator’s death has put them in a lather. I half expect to turn on the radio and hear the words, "Now, live from the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, here’s Father Coughlin." Yesterday I wrote about some of the more indecent examples of criticism directed against the Senator while his body was still warm. Alas, it has not stopped.

The group Human Life International issued a statement upon the Senator’s death that is similar to those noted yesterday but it also insists that Kennedy be denied a Catholic funeral. "It is up to God to judge Senator Kennedy’s soul. We, as rational persons, must judge his actions, and his actions were not at all in line with one who values and carefully applies Church teaching on weighty matters. Ted Kennedy’s positions on a variety of issues have been a grave scandal for decades, and to honor this "catholic" champion of the culture of death with a Catholic funeral is unjust to those who have actually paid the price of fidelity."

Having pledged not to judge the state of the Senator’s soul, they write: "Every indication of Senator Kennedy’s career, every public appearance, every sound bite showed an acerbic, divisive and partisan political hack for whom party politics were much more infallible than Church doctrines."

And, to make the rightwing paranoia complete, enter stage left, President Barack Obama. "We now find out that President Obama will eulogize the Senator at his funeral, an indignity which, following on the heels of the Notre Dame fiasco, leaves faithful Catholics feeling sullied, desecrated and dehumanized by men who seem to look for opportunities to slap the Church in the face and do so with impunity simply because they have positions of power." I like the mention of "faithful Catholics," the implication being that people like me, or those thousands who lined the funeral route yesterday, are unfaithful.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe recently said he was worried that the "Catholic community risks isolating itself from the rest of the country" because of the demonization of political opponents. He noted that a majority of the American bishops do not support the "in your face" rhetoric and tactics of some of their colleagues who denounce anyone who doesn’t agree with them. And, he noted that by working with people who disagree with the Church rather than simply denouncing them, the Church in New Mexico was able to help that state’s legislature pass a ban on capital punishment. The full interview is a must-read.

The funeral of Senator Kennedy will be a moment to reflect upon the divisiveness of our nation’s political life in recent years, and of how those political divisions have begun to divide the Church, even the Episcopal bench. It can’t be stated too often: There are several steps, all of them complicated, in assessing whether a political stance is a sin or not, even if it is wrong. And, it can’t be reaffirmed too often that while we all strive for integration, the parts of very few men’s lives fit together into a neat package. Finally, it must be defended again and again: Different consciences can reach different conclusions in good faith.

 

 

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 8/31/2009 - 10:29am
The 14th Amendment was enacted, in part, to overturn Dred Scott.  It also had the effect of federalizing the decision of who does and does not get legal protection under the laws and constitution.  Roe was correct because it upheld the principle that the protection of the unborn is a federal question, however tragic the results.  To continue to make this argument, particularly at election time, is to perpetuate a fraud. 
I would prefer it if pro-choice Catholic politicians used this argument, rather than the Mario Cuomo pluralism argument in justifying their position.  The fact that they do not shows either respect for Catholic bishops who, quite erroneously, echo this argument or a fear of upsetting Catholic voters who may not react to kindly to a frontal assault on the Bishops themselves.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 12:14am
I hear alot of "the church says this'' , ''teaches that''  defend the church'', ''intrinsic evil'', ''church teaching'' etc.  What about what Christ taught?  LOVE your enemies, ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God, remove that beam from your eye first before complaining about the speck in mine, judge not lest ye be judged, and ''forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us''.  Kennedy was human, did good things and bad things, he was a sinner just like everyone on this post.  Don't judge lest you be judged. Let God judge. Tough to argue w/ Christ, tougher to follow if you worship church speak!
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 7:32pm
If Roe was decided ''on solid constitutional grounds,'' then so was the Dred Scott decision of 1857. The latter said that a slave had no rights, since he or she was not a citizen, and could be bought and sold. It is amazing the lengths that intelligent people will go to nuance the legality and morality of abortion.
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 6:04pm
Hi Patrick.
This is certainly a Catholic website. As for "politicizing of our Church's beliefs," that would seem to describe certain bishops who have done everything short of slapping bumper stickers on cathedral pulpits.
Much as you might wish, we're not the northern version of the Republican Party at prayer- not yet, anyway.
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 4:00pm
Roe was not decided on solid Constitutional grounds.  The "right" to an abortion appears nowhere in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, or any other document dating to the Founders.  It had always been regulated or banned on a state by state basis.  Justice White called it a judicial atrocity, Judge Noonan of the 9th Circuit has basically said the same thing. 
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 3:10pm
 There is a major difference between being for abortion and not banning it.  There is an even bigger difference between effectively opposing abortion and demagoging the issue in such a way that reform never happens, thus keeping it an electoral issue for the Republican Party.  Like it or not, Roe was decided on sound constitutional grounds, given the plain language of the 14th Amendment (and the intent of its authors and of the founders themselves - chiefly James Madison) regarding both review of state legislative action and the start of legal protection.  The Magisterium, at most, applies to cases where the legislature is contemplating the legalization of abortion.  That has not been the case since Roe was decided, since the hands of the legislature are, for the most part, tied.  While there are possible ways to limit abortion legislatively, these should be done only on a nation-wide basis - and none of these has been proposed by the movement - which has always been, and is becoming more and more, the religious wing of the Republican Party.  Sadly, many bishops and Catholic organizations have fallen into the trap of participating in this political farce.  The Pro-Life movement is not entitled to its own set of facts, no matter what they see on Fox News. 
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 12:22pm
Amen, amen.
I am so grateful for Catholic writings that resonate and celebrate the Catholic Faith that I know.  Thank you, Michael Winters for the courage and clarity of your writing.
I am befuddled at where all this right wing paranoia and hatred is coming from.  I don't hear it in Church, at the Masses that I attend.
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 11:50am
Hi Bill,
It isn't "love" to enable someone to persist in dissent and the politicizing of our Church's beliefs.  There can be no love without truth, remember?
This is Catholic website, and I expect to get Catholic material here.  What I get is often a 'spiritual' version of the Democratic Party's platform. 
As a matter of integrity, at the very least, one should be honest enough to uphold the teachings of the Church without compromise if one is going to write as a "Catholic". 
At least the Protestants had the integrity to face their dissent squarely and act accordingly.
Patrick
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 9:29am
Michael,
I think it's about time you resign from blogging for America (after yesterday's disgraceful and ad hominen attack on Patrick Madrid) and from the Catholic Church for that matter for, in endorsing relativism in this thread, you have publicly gone against the teachings of the Church.  "Different consciences can reach different conclusions in good faith" on certain matters, but not all.  The late Senator was not contrary to the Church on many absolutes or non-negotiables, which the Church teaches one can never support "in good faith". 
I pray for your conversion.
Patrick Dunn
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 10:58am
The Holy See has been silent on his death.  That speaks louder than words.
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 9:12am
Re: "how those political divisions have begun to divide the Church"   The controversy is not political, but moral.  If the GOP supported abortion, then the Church will oppose them.  The Church is not divided;  every bishop upholds the truth that life begins at conception and must be afforded the right to live.
Re:  "Different consciences can reach different conclusions in good faith."  What if those conclusions violate the rights of others? 
 
Anonymous | 8/28/2009 - 11:06am
Since when do Catholics tell other Catholics to get out of the church? I recently discovered a popular term among right-wing Catholics is CINO (Catholic in Name Only), no doubt inspired by talk radio yappers' term for Republicans who drink diluted Kool-Aid, RINOs.
"They'll know we are Christians by our love." Remember?