I have not commented publicly about the death of Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, although I have read a large number of comments about the man and his legacy, with commentators both canonizing and demonizing him. I can’t help but be disturbed by much of what I read.
On the one hand, there have been many Catholics who have treated Senator Kennedy like he was the second coming of Louis IX, the saintly king of France. I almost expected some of them to be shouting “Santo Subito!” at his funeral. They laud his work for civil rights, education and health care in this county and consider him to be one of the great American politicians and a credit to the Catholic religion. Needless to say, these people have been those who agree with the late Senator’s liberal political views.
On the other hand, there have been many Catholics who have treated Senator Kennedy like he was the devil himself. I actually saw a Facebook comment in which someone called him a “murderer” and another mentioned that it must be very hot where the Senator is now. They declare confidently that Kennedy’s Catholic faith was all a sham and he didn’t take his religion seriously. Needless to say, these people have been those who disagree with the late Senator’s liberal political views.
So why am I disturbed by this polarized commentary? It is not because I have some fear or hatred of political partisanship. Frankly, I think political partisanship on a certain level is good, as it keeps all politicians – both liberal and conservative – honest (or at least closer to honesty than they would be without it). Our two-party system is genius because it prevents too much power from being placed in too few hands. So I have no problem with people agreeing or disagreeing with the political positions of the late Senator.
Rather, I am disturbed because it seems that too many people have allowed their political views to seep into their view of the Catholic Faith. They have allowed the temporal to overcome the eternal. Those Catholics who have unabashedly lionized Senator Kennedy should recognize that his unqualified support for legalized abortion is in direct contradiction to the Catholic respect for the dignity of the human person, and that the late Senator’s private life (which all too often became public) was in many ways not one to be emulated by those trying to follow Christ. Prayers for the Senator’s soul are more in order than instant canonizations.
Likewise, those who have demonized Senator Kennedy should also pause to consider their attitude. I will admit right here that I disagree with almost every single political position held by the Senator. Yet at the same time it would be complete hubris on my part to deny that this man took his Catholic faith seriously. Just because he held political positions abhorrent to me does not mean that I have the right to deny that he was a Catholic. As a public figure, his political positions are fair game for criticism and debate; however, the state of his soul and his status as a Catholic are not. Calling him a “murderer” devalues the word itself, as his support for legalized abortion, while terrible in so many ways, is not the equivalent to being a murderer. If Senator Kennedy was a murderer, what does that make someone like abortionist George Tiller – a really, really bad murderer?
Other than Senator Kennedy’s position on abortion and gay “marriage” I cannot think of any of his political positions that explicitly contradicted the Catholic Faith. I personally believe most of his other political views to be harmful, counter-productive, and perhaps even destructive to our country’s well-being, but those are prudential views in which Catholics are allowed to disagree. Yes, his positions on abortion and marriage are serious, and I in no way want to diminish them, but the uncomfortable reality is that we are living in an age where it is possible for someone to hold to such positions while sincerely attempting to practice their Catholic faith. Senator Kennedy was a child of this confused age, and all of its problems cannot be placed upon his shoulders.
In the end, I cannot help but think that Senator Kennedy was a flawed man, like all of us, with some terrible political views, but ultimately a fellow Catholic who, like all the deceased, is now in need of our prayers.