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.