According to Michael Paulson at the Boston Globe in an article earlier today, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who gave the final commendation at the funeral of Senator Kennedy, was under intense pressure not to afford the senator, whose deep faith and life of prayer have become more public in the past few days, a public Catholic Mass.  Cardinal O'Malley's decision to preside (NB: technically, whenever a bishop is present at a Mass he "presides"; the main celebrant today was former president of Boston College, J. Donald Monan, S.J.) apparently comes against the advice of some who would have kept him from paying tribute to Senator Kennedy.  Or even letting him have a Catholic funeral.  These past few days have been marked by vociferous debate among Catholics over Kennedy's Catholic bona fides: Was he a "bad" Catholic for his support of abortion; or a "good" one for his defense of the poor?  Perhaps he was just a Catholic, like the rest of us, struggling to balance the dictates of his conscience with the art of the possible.

Cardinal O'Malley's decision to attend the funeral is largehearted, compassionate, pastoral, sensitive and, above all, Christian.  In this overheated environment, when some in the church are ready to condemn and anathematize, the calm presence of the leader of the Boston archdiocese at the funeral of a man--with whom the cardinal disagreed on many things--who led a life of faith, is something that places our church in the best possible light.  Kennedy's parish priest noted the senator's deep faith; his children and grandchildren noted his service for the poor; his biographer has spoken of his love of the Gospels, most especially the Sermon on the Mount.  Cardinal O'Malley has been clear about his strong opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage; at the same time, his simple presence at the funeral shows his support of forgiveness, compassion and that quality perhaps most missing in today's church: mercy.

Comments

Anonymous | 9/2/2009 - 3:02pm
Dear Matt Bowman,
I know for a fact that mafia dons get Catholic funerals.  It seems to me that you wish for the Catholic Church to declare itself God, rather than having it continue to be an advocate for the sinner.
Anonymous | 8/31/2009 - 2:38pm
The NRLC is the religious wing of the Republican Party and prefers electoral victory to actual results.  It is not shocking that it would give Kennedy a zero rating.
 
I am offering facts, not rationalizations.  If you continue to ignore them, your relevance will decline.  Your choice.
Anonymous | 8/31/2009 - 2:16pm
It's a statistical certainty that among the 40-50,000,000 americans killed in the womb since 1973 are two United States presidents.
Anonymous | 8/31/2009 - 12:25pm
Michael Binder please explain how Kennedy's voting record - 100% on every single issue related to abortion,even partial-birth - resonates with a call for "common ground" or "reducing abortions" or with Catholic Social Teaching?
http://www.ontheissues.org/Social/Ted_Kennedy_Abortion.htm
Anonymous | 8/31/2009 - 12:24pm
Binder: 
Even if you dismiss Roe for the sake of argument, can you defend Kennedy's pro-abortion voting record below:
[url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Social/Ted_Kennedy_Abortion.htm]http://www.ontheissues.org/Social/Ted_Kennedy_Abortion.htm[/url]
Where there is a will, there is a way. 
And there is no one more blind that one who refuses to see.
 
Anonymous | 8/31/2009 - 10:02am
Senator Kennedy did not cause abortion to become legal, this was done by the court on valid constitutional grounds (as deciding who is and who is not subject to legal protection is a FEDERAL question - the opposition to Roe is more on the ground of State's rights than the rights of the unborn - it is more about the triumph of the Federalist Society than the Magisterium).  Don't blame Ted Kennedy for the incorrect strategy by the National Right to Life Committee and the Pro-Life office of the USCCB.   Electoral opinions, pro and con about abortion have no impact on it legality, until and unless a bill is offered to restrict abortion in the U.S. Congress within the confines of the 14th Amendment.  Until such a bill is offered, any posturing on this issue is rank tribalism and nothing more.  It is not a sin to oppose such pandering. 
 
Most importantly, there is a deep distinction between procuring an abortion and not fining doctors for performing abortions (that being the only sanction that was ever in force prior to Roe).  Not fining doctors merely moves abortion underground, it was not effective in stopping it.
 
Members of the pro-life cause need to look in the mirror if they want to know why abortion still continues.  They need to quit scapegoating Senator Kennedy and other Catholic politicians who are willing to point out the fraud they are perpetuating on the public - a fraud that is no longer working at election time since the majority of Catholic voters have seen through it.
Anonymous | 8/31/2009 - 9:57am
I don't begrudge Senator Kennedy a Mass of Christian Burial.  The fate of his soul is in God's hands - no amount of human opinion centered on the Senator's less-than-stellar record on abortion rights, the sanctity of marriage, etc. matters in the end.
What's particularly galling to me is that as a gay man, I struggle everyday to live my faith as best I can.  Whatever good I do in my life is known largely only to me and God (and that's all that matters).  Yet a man who, his mess of a personal life aside, made a career of spitting in the face of the Church's most basic beliefs receives a hero's sendoff by the Catholic Church.  A man who basked in the cheers of those, like him, who would send more than 50 million unborn children to their slaughter... and only become more ''venerated'' in the eyes of an increasingly secular society has the honor of a Prince of the Church presiding at his funeral mass.  Critics of my position will say, ''But you can't deny the good he did for the poor!''  I'm not so sure his motives were pure - after all, why do we reach out and lift up the poor?  It's because Christ taught us to see and love the inherent beauty, worth and dignity of every human being... but what does it say about a man who cannot recognize the inherent beauty, worth and dignity of those MOST vulnerable in our society... even more vulnerable than the poor?  I'll tell you what it says - it says that unborn children don't vote.
Lastly, I would have thought the Cardinal could have spent his time doing something more constructive that day for I wonder, in the end, if Cardinal O'Malley's presence meant anything at all; after all, Ted Kennedy and Joan Bennett were married by a Cardinal, and the Vatican magically wiped that marriage slate clean years ago, rendering Spellman's granting of the sacrament null and void.
Lovely.
Anonymous | 8/30/2009 - 7:56pm
Fr. Martin, your comments are wrong on several points.  You comment that some would have prevented the Cardinal from ''paying tribute'' to Ted Kennedy.  Your words are precisely why the Cardinal's attending might be misconstrued.  The Cardinal was not there to pay tribute to Ted Kennedy.  He was there to pray for him. His statement on Kennedy's death was sparse and cautious.  His words before the final commendation were cautious and deliberate.  To suggest that the reason the Cardinal went was to ''pay tribute'' is false.
Secondly, you undermine the Church's teaching by suggesting that there was a disagreement between Kennedy and the Cardinal on many issues.  No, this was not a disasgreement between two men.  Ted Kennedy had a disagreement with the Gospel of Life.  Your way of articulating the situation seems to reduce the seriousness of Kennedy's support for abortion to merely a disagreement between two equally valid opinions.  The decision confronting O'Malley in whether to attend or not was whether his presence would send a signal that being pro-abortion was simply a matter of opinion and whether one can be faithful to the Gospel and be pro-abortion.  Basically, the danger of the Cardinal attending the funeral is that people would conclude what you concluded in your blog: The Cardinal was there to pay tribute to Ted Kennedy and that the abortion issue is a matter on which good Catholics can have genuine disagreements.
I'm undecided as to whether the Cardinal should have attended.  I think there are good arguments for both positions.  But, your rationale makes me conclude that at least one person was confused by the Cardinal's presence.
Anonymous | 8/30/2009 - 1:37pm
In the many wrongs that people may do or allow, faith provides us the opportunity to reassemble and to keep going towards good.  Ted Kennedy was ,obviously, neither villian or saint.  He did many good things and some bad things.  The Cardinal's commendation made him neither more or less different than all of us.  We now have the distinct opportunity to go on, expanding what good there is and learning from the mistakes.  It sounds as though Senator Kennedy did some of that himself.
Anonymous | 8/30/2009 - 10:23am
I for one am not impressed with the cardinal's so-called largesse.  His role as "presider" was a poignant rebuff to the decedent and his family and his disdain was barely concealed.  As the head of a besmirched diocese it strokes me as especially hypocritcal and smug to see public judgement of this sort cast upon a member of Christ's faithful who did so much to advance Catholic social teaching.  As for the abortion issue, it would be nice if a member of the hierarchy were able to make a distinction between Catholic politicians who are anti-criminalization and those others who are "pro-choice."  I doubt if even the cardinal would like to return us to the days when doctors and women can be imprisoned on charges of homicide for an abortion.  Failing this distinction effectively removes Catholics from holding public office - something these bishops must certainly understand.  On another issue related to the funeral - the liturgy was disgraceful and the Redemptorists at the basilica (along with the Jesuit celebrant) should be remanded for basic instruction in liturgical celebration and the basilica staff should be told that basics such as the sung ordinary of the Mass be required for nationally televised liturgies with such dignitaries in attendance!
Anonymous | 8/30/2009 - 8:23am
At the Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, at the senator's grave, some of a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Sen. Kennedy was read - his reply to the letter the senator wrote and asked Obama to deliver at the meeting between pope and president.  If I heard correctly, it was read (in part)  by the retired archbishop of Washington, who said it was a ''fatherly'' reply to the senator.  I just caught a bit of this online last night, live - maybe there will be an article somewhere.  
And on the subject of mercy - it seemed Obama was merciful himself - speaking at a Catholic church - after the way he was treated by some for going to ND.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 9:55pm
Mercy-we all hope for mercy for ourselves and our sisters and brothers in Christ for Christ preached mercy. The Cardinal extended that mercy to Ted Kennedy and beyond that, only God and Ted Kennedy know.
The small minds who self-righteously claim to know what kind of Mass Ted Kennedy or any other sinner should have actually demonstrate the face of those who crucified Christ. Would they recognize Christ if He were among us today.
I applaud the Cardinal, the Pope for his answer to Kennedy's letter, Cardinal McCarrick's decision to read the contents of that letter and all those who put aside, as I had to, their personal disagreement with Kennedy's failure to champion the cause of unborn children. As with all sinners though, even though he may have arrived late at his decision to regret his actions, he will receive the same wages as those who have toiled mightily all their lives to honor God.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 8:14pm
Teddy was implicitly apologizing to the pope for his defiance of Catholic teaching on abortion.  Fascinating.  I was very moved by it.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 7:18pm
Fr Martin used the gesture as a way of hitting at those who believe faith comes with a certain need for coherence . I think what the Cardinal did was in line with what most catholics would do  and not to be seen as anything extraordinary as the  Church has always taught that we will be faced with this moment and we need all of the prayers we can get and Ted Kennedy is no different from any other.This is not or at least should not be an argument against a more consistent catholicism as then we could say that anybody was a person of deep faith regardless of what their actions say. In this article we have a certain view condemned and anathemized with an air of christian superiority.  Ted Kennedy should have been called to task by those in Boston a long time ago if those who view abortion as a crime he was somewhat involved in had knowledge of it,he was not.Now it is too late and the Church acts with clemency as is right.Lord have mercy on Ted Kennedy !American bishops get clear on this.    
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 4:43pm
A 'final commendation"  referring, of course,  not to words of praise but to the commending of the deceased into the merciful hands of God.  One would hardly think such an act that Cardinal O'Malley offered would provoke criticism since aren't we all in need of that mercy and especially at the hour of our death? A question.  Are we now living in a so-callled Christian society where the importance of that has been forgotten???,  condemning (rather than commending) our brothers and sisters becoming sadly a too, too popular (Catholic?) blood sport?
Tha readings today at Senator Kennedy's funeral made interesting points about human vs. divine judgment, from Paul's Letter to the Romans asking, "If God is for us, who can be against us?",  to the famous Matthew 25 Gospel reference to how final judgment will be assessed and by Whom: "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."
Thank you, Fr.Jim and America's writing staff,  for your  continued persistence in underscoring for your readers true Gospel values.  Keep fighting the good fight  and the victory is Christ's!, a victory that results in a kinder, more just and compassionate society, the kind of society Ted Kennedy's years of devoted public service also hoped to build. 
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 2:01pm
It is the wisdom and genius of Catholicism that all who die. whether the greatest of sainta or the darkest of sinners, receive the same prayer from the Church:  May God have mercy on her soul; may God have mercy on his soul.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 1:24pm
During the reading of the gospel, I thought about the meaning of the word righteous
  Why do so many of those who vocalize their personal righteousness condemn others for their indiscretions?
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 4:37pm
The underlying question for you and your readers, Fr. Martin, is not whether we should pray for those who have died. 
 
It is whether you believe that all persons, without exception, who are Catholic and whose bishops allow them to receive communion, should be accorded a Catholic funeral, no matter what their public actions are.  An enthusiastic public Catholic segregationist?  A Catholic known to be a mafia don of a violently criminal syndicate?  An unapologetic Catholic director of abusive and polluting labor camps in third world countries? A Catholic cleric well-known to collaborate in his government's violent persecution of the Church? A vocal Catholic proponent of unrestricted torture? An outspoken Catholic abortionist, or Frances Kissling? 
 
If you view any such activities as irrelevant to the question of whether a Catholic receives a Catholic funeral, then at least you would be consistent. 
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 4:30pm
There is a book entitled ''That Man is You'' by a Belgian, Louis Evely. He too suffered at the hands of the institutional Church. The book was published 42 years ago. In it there is a chapter depicting the last judgment. As I remember it, ''the faithful'' are all gathered. Suddently a rumor begins to circulate that the ''not so faithful'' are going to be allowed ''in''. Some react angrily and say how unfair this is for, after all. they have played by the rules. It is in that moment that they are damned. Perhaps something to ponder. As I recall, Jesus said ''let he who is without sin cast the first stone...'' It is good that more prudent heads have prevailed, or at least that those making the decision would like a more generous measure applied to themselves. Matthew 7:1-5 They may well be in need of it.  It might be profitable for those advancing a stingy approach to meditate on this passage.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 2:41pm
As I understand it, the senator had fairly regular sacramental care in his last days. Given that, it would be unreasonable to think that there is not a chance he recanted his obstinate rejection of the Church's teachings, and thus there is probably no reason to not provide a funeral. But, I suppose there are some who might judge the situation differently. The title of the article is absolutely correct, the cardinal was very merciful in doing what he did, since he might have assesed the situation differently and denied the funeral. However, we are in the business of mercy, and I hope the senator will one day see heaven.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 2:25pm
I watched the funeral Mass on TV and felt very proud to be a Catholic.
It also, for me, showed how rich a life can be when steeped in faith, and how much the Catholic Church has to offer our time.
Anonymous | 8/29/2009 - 2:19pm
Providential...
From today's Office of Readings a selection from Ven. Bede: "His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth."
Anonymous | 8/30/2009 - 9:07pm
I don't know how to respond to Unimpressed Cleric's comment.  I agreed with 3/4 of it.  But then it veered into the demagoguery that Teddy shamefully committed regarding Robert Bork.  Teddy wasn't just against "back alley" abortions; he consistently advocated, fomented, fostered and encouraged a woman's "right to choose," and we all know that has resulted in 50 million dead.  JP II said that their blood "cries out from the ground."
Cardinal O'Malley, who obviously looked like he was at Golgotha, had good reason to have thinly veiled contempt for the whole situation.  In the 17th century, Teddy would have been given a pauper's burial with no mass.