Ted Kennedy’s Mixed Catholicism

By Jacqueline L. Salmon There’s no doubt that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy came from the “social justice” tradition of Catholicism … Continued

By Jacqueline L. Salmon

There’s no doubt that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy came from the “social justice” tradition of Catholicism — a belief system that more conservative Catholics view as a rather wobbly kind of faith.

Probably one of the best articulations of his faith came in a 1983 speech he gave at Liberty Baptist College (Jerry Falwell’s school–now called Liberty University). In it, Kennedy made clear that, unlike orthodox Catholicism, he didn’t see one path to Truth:

“I am an American and a Catholic,” he said. “I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?”

(Many thanks to CBN’s David Brody for the transcription). Like many American Catholics, Kennedy differed significantly from Catholic teachings in crucial areas: embryonic stem-cell research, contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion. Indeed, he had a 100 percent score from the abortion-rights group NARAL on abortions and 0 percent from the National Right to Life Committee.

Yet his supporters would argue that he lived out his faith by championing causes long embraced by Catholicism–compassion for the poor and vulnerable, support for arms control, suspicion of war, the right to health care, the rights of workers.

Kennedy worked with Catholic bishops and Catholic Charities officials on issues like immigration, the federal minimum wage and health coverage. But he earned plenty of criticism from Catholic leaders for his support for legalized abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

  • jack31961

    GodSpeed Senator Kennedy, but he was an embarresment to the Catholic church.

  • bjs2033

    A man who dedicated his life in service to his brothers and sisters has passed away. Agree with him or disagree with him, if you truly believe in the Gospel, aren’t you commanded to love him? Does love lead one to line up for a chance to issue self-righteous condemnation of a brother who has left this life? Does love lead one to honor the memory of that life by debasing oneself to engage in petty bickering with those who would condemn? In my estimation, it does not. Peace be with each of you, and, God willing, between all of us.

  • tsantaniello

    Senator Kennedy was born a Catholic but I suspect remained a Catholic for purely political reasons (a large Irish Catholic voting block in MA may be a good reason). No rational person can consistently support policies that violate the sanctity of human life and really think they are Catholics.

  • conchfc

    The Kennedys have done more to promote and empower Catholicism in America than any other Catholic public figures. I would rather have Ted Kennedy represent my Catholic faith than Antonin Scalia any day.

  • BrianX9

    .But I know for sure that he wasn’t a Catholic. He intentionally separated himself from the communion of the Church, even though he might have (wrongfully) taken the Eucharist (“Communion”) at Mass.

  • mnlennon

    It is easy to see the real Christians here. Jesus would ask that those who are without sin, cast the first stone. No Human can pass that test. As He knew and taught, hate is the worst of all sins. The Catholic Church it-self has not been immune to a great many sins.

  • persiflage

    Kennedy was a Catholic with common sense, and probably would have eventually challenged the entrenched all-male hierarchy of the Catholic Church had he lived longer. Typically on these threads we hear the voices from the anti-Kennedy faction when it comes to the Catholic point of view. A lesser man or a man with less political clout would probably have been threatened into silence by a fear of ex-communication….such as was leveled at John Kerry for his liberal social views, when he ran for the Presidency.It’s curious that the few Catholic women that speak out so forcefully against abortion rights, birth control, and stem cell research will tolerate their own second class status in the Church hierarchy. True gender equality remains quite elusive in today’s Roman Catholic church. But of course, it’s much more often men – the conservative Pat Buchanan types that are the loudest when it comes to railing against liberal social views.Compared to Kennedy, can those same conservatives hold up any conservative Catholic of note that has contributed even a fraction of Kennedy’s legislative record in the Senate – I think not. There are many American Catholics (50% or more) on Kennedy’s liberal side of the fence when it comes to social issues, but they are seldom heard from in the public square. Jesus was by all contemporary standards, a liberal who held women in very high regard – so Edward Kennedy is in good company today. May God rest his liberal soul, amen.

  • sarno

    God bless the late Senator . . like all of us, he did some great things and had his failings. Unfortunately his votes against life issues left a lasting legacy that seems indefensible, especially given all of the advances in medical technology. I pray all of us Catholics can find a way to influence more of the “convenience Catholics” in congress, to understand that life is the most basic of all social justice issues.

  • warnerd1

    Others have covered the senator’s brand of “pick-and-choose” Catholicism — meaning he weren’t no Catholic. So let me comment on something else:”… his supporters would argue that he lived out his faith by championing causes long embraced by Catholicism–compassion for the poor and vulnerable, support for arms control, suspicion of war, the right to health care, the rights of workers.” These are “causes” championed by all. But the issue is: Which public policies achieve those goals?Sen. Kennedy supported policies that made people dependent on government; that did not empower people but gave more power to the government. His “solutions” were the easy way out — he would “give a man a fish” rather than “teach a man to fish.”That said, my Catholic faith says the senator will see the glory of God, whose mercy and love are beyond our comprehension.

  • Fate1

    warnerd1 wrote: “Sen. Kennedy supported policies that made people dependent on government; that did not empower people but gave more power to the government. His “solutions” were the easy way out — he would “give a man a fish” rather than “teach a man to fish.”Has Medicare made people dependent on government to their detrement? Has social security ruined the lives of people? Whether you understand it or not you are dependent on government unless you live in the woods. Services you receive come via government maintained system such as the airways, interstates, government oversight of food and drug safety, not to mention local governments maintain the local roads, stop lights, city lighting, police, ambulance and fire services, etc, etc, etc.Your problem is you will not admit your dependence on government and in the same breath ask others to go without its services. You would probably complain loudly about if an government service you use disappeared or stopped working.These infrastructures of government that support daily life are what Kennedy saw as the way to provide safety nets, provide security, and provide a good income for all. His work helped build a large and prosperous middle class. The republicans cannot say that and if they say anything they can only say they have tried to destroy that infrastructure and thus the middle class.So as you drive home tonight on government roads, complaining at people not obeying the government stop lights, cheering as a government policeman pulls over someone who ran a government stop sign, think about how when you go shopping you don’t worry if the meat is going to give you a disease, or maybe how you will actually listen to the government about the flu warnings, or even how the money you havd over to the clerk is so much easier than using gold. And if the weatherman, who gets his information from the government weather service says its going to rain, take an unbrella because they are usually right. So forget ever being free of government services when the truth is you use them all the time and love them, just not those services you do not use. Catholics call that being selfish but others call it being conservative. Either way it is not being a good Catholic to call government services wasteful or unnecessary when you use them every day.

  • PSolus

    “Senator Kennedy was born a Catholic…”This is a common misconception.Superstitions are not genetically acquired; they are environmentally acquired.

  • candomarty

    I would argue that the term “mixed Catholicism” would then also apply to the conservatives who see everything through the lens of so-called “pelvic issues” and conveniently forget the social justice teachings of the Church which have been prominent since Pope Leo XIII and before. I think Senator Kennedy acted more in the spirit of the Founder than these Catholic fundamentalists ever could hope to do. God bless him, and condolences to his family and the people of Massachusetts.

  • rohitcuny

    ” Indeed, he had a 100 percent score from the abortion-rights group NARAL on abortions and 0 percent from the National Right to Life Committee.”But then he acted as if NARAL DID have a monopoly on truth. Sorry, but that is not something I can respect. A 50-50 record between NARAL and the right to committee would have been more in tune with his “compassion for the poor and vulnerable.” For who is more vulnerable than the unborn? They cannot vote, they cannot march for their rights, they cannot even scream. And yet he showed no pity for them.

  • rohitcuny

    If there is such a thing as re-incarnation, then it would be poetic justice if in his next life Ted Kennedy ends up in the womb of a pro-choice woman who promptly proceeds to abort him. But it would be more compassionate if he ends up in the womb of a woman in Ireland, who gives birth to him, and speaks to him in loving tones.

  • cmcapcathletic

    I am a Catholic and I am sick and tired of this nonsense that American Catholicism is an entity unto itself. Catholics do not support abortion. Period. If one supports abortion one had better be ready to explain to God why burning a baby alive or sucking out his or her brains and dismembering him or her qualifies as a Christian act.One had also better stop refering to himself or herself as Catholic. One’s credibility suffers as a result. Pray for Senator Kennedy and the repose of his soul, but do not emulate Senator Kennedy.Let’s remember that according to history, Hitler was a baptized Catholic-that doesn’t mean that he was a practicing one. It’s about time that cradle Catholics take responsibility for their own actions and beliefs.

  • insight5678

    I think the analysis might be from the wrong perspective here. This sounds more like a case of someone who believed the truth resided in staunchly democratic views, and some of them happen to match with part of the Catholic faith he was born into. It seems that simple.

  • davidirby

    As a Catholic who is a pro-life/consistent- life Democrat, I would wish that Ted Kennedy (RIP) would have opposed abortion as well as such injustices as Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq. Politics in America and most western democracies, leaves most people like me with a choice of supporting the right, which has little moral justice to it beyond the abortion issue, and which isn’t even 100% on that and a left, with which we agree on almost all things, except abortion. We need such things as the “public option” in health care and it is sad that Ted can no longer lead us (here anyway) at this crucial time. Also, let it be noted that he received the Last Rites and will have a full Catholic burial. So, to those who express hate, rather than love for those who disagree with them, “Judge not that ye be not judged”.

  • arosscpa

    What is totally missing from the unenlightened ramblings thus far is noting the exchange of hand-delivered personal correspondence between the Late Senator Kennedy and Pope Benedict XVI during the last 6-7 weeks. I prefer to think that Mr. Kennedy manifested the state of his soul to the Supreme Pastor of the Church, and as any loving pastor would do, Benedict used the fullness of his office to bring forgiveness, peace and hope to a man, who like most of us, tended to wander from time to time.Teddy, Requiam in pacem.

  • usapdx

    MOST AMERICAN CATHOLICS HAVE THE SAME VIEWS ON THEIR CATHOLIC BELIEFS , VIEWS ON CHURCH TEACHINGS, AND NOT BAPTIZED BY CHOICE OR A FREE WILL. A PAIN IN ROMA WE SELF THINKING AMERICAN CATHOLICS BUT GOOD PEOPLE.

  • pioneer1

    Just a further example of how mythology-based belief systems are rarely followed in actuality by most folks. Abortion is clearly prohibited by the RCC, but Pelosi, Biden, kennedy and the other Dem politicos keep talking quickly and hoping that no one actually pins them to the wall. And lets remember how Kennedy was able to annul his first marriage of 24 years, throwing his wife and children under the bus so he could have a second church-based wedding. It was the purchase of an indulgence, just like the good old days of the 10th century.

  • paulc2

    I find it strangely comforting that the majority of posters on the On Fatih Webstie recignize the inconsistency of Ted Kennedy stands on life issues while calling himself a Catholic.