When it comes to America’s most famous Catholic family, no true compass guides the Roman Catholic Church. After Ted Kennedy’s death, that’s clearer than ever.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley presided over the funeral of the world-famous US senator, who also happened to be an abortion rights advocate. When challenged by conservative Catholics, O’Malley defended his participation as a way to promote civility when discussing divisive issues. O’Malley also used the occasion to lobby President Obama, telling him that Catholic bishops would not support a health care reform plan that includes a provision for abortion or could open the way to abortions in the future.
At a graveside ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Cardinal Theodore A. McCarrick read aloud the letters exchanged between the dying senator and Pope Benedict XVI. In his letter, Kennedy listed the ways in which his public policy views mirrored the social teachings of the church. “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic,’’ he wrote.
The pope’s response was polite, if tepid. It reflected the ambivalence of a pontiff who knew the ways in which Kennedy’s views did not mirror church teachings, but did not want to point them out to a dying, yet still powerful, man. But now there’s no such reluctance when it comes to Kennedy’s son.
With Patrick Kennedy, the cassocks are off. After Representative Kennedy of Rhode Island questioned why the church is vowing to fight any health care bill that does not explicitly ban the use of public money for abortions, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence fired back. Tobin called Kennedy’s support of abortion rights “a deliberate and obstinate act of will’’ that was “unacceptable to the church and scandalous to many of our members.’’
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