My father is a very calm, imperturbable man. We speak just about every morning and his voice only rises when reporting that the Red Sox lost to the Yankees. He rarely calls in the evening but he did so last night. He had gone to Mass at St. Joseph’s Living Center, in Windham, Connecticut, the nursing home where my mother died two years ago and where his sister is a patient. The deacon preached the homily and, according to my father, had spoken ill of Sen. Ted Kennedy because he was not pro-life.
The news report of Kennedy’s death at the Catholic News Agency included this qualifying phrase: "though he worked hard for the poor" and mentioned his "dedication to education." The article managed four sentences on Chappaquiddick and an extensive account of his pro-choice voting record. (It also misspelled, three times, the name of Washington’s archbishop who is the Most. Rev. Donald Wuerl, not Donald Wurel.) The Catholic News Agency, alas, is not really a news agency like Catholic News Service. It is an ideological rant pretending to be a news agency.
Someone named Patrick Madrid, who runs a blog and is involved with something called the Envoy Institute at Belmont Abbey in North Carolina, decided to attack my colleague at NCR Sister Maureen Fiedler for her post remembering the late Senator. "Maureen, with all due respect," he begins, words that reek of condescension. He writes: "Whatever his positive qualities may have been, and no doubt he had some, the tragic reality is that Senator Kennedy's long political career was squandered by his vociferous, relentless promotion of abortion. And that, sadly, will be his enduring legacy. I agree with you that tears are appropriate upon hearing the news of this man's death, but not for the reasons you are crying them." I have my moments of hubris but it has never occurred to me to tell another soul why and why not to cry, still less in a blog post.
Who are these people? To what level of boorishness have the spokespeople for the pro-life community descended? And, it is any wonder we keep losing the political fight for life when some of our own exercise such obvious, callous, inhumane indecency as to ignore a lifetime of good works, render judgment not just on a man’s ideas but on his soul, and to speak ill of the dead when the body is still warm. It is shameful. And, I hope the bishops recognize that it is counter-productive to the pro-life goals we should share. Hatefulness is not attractive or persuasive.
To say that Sen. Kennedy was flawed is to say that he was a human being. To dismiss his career because of his stance on abortion is to be ignorant of the complicated way the issue of abortion manifested itself in the early 1970s: I think Kennedy got it wrong but I do not find it difficult to understand why and how he got it wrong. If the pro-life leaders would stop ranting for a second and study that history they might become more effective at advancing their cause. Besides, Ted Kennedy got many more things right than he got wrong.
Yesterday, watching the news shows, it was especially moving to see Kennedy’s political foes, conservatives like Sen. Orrin Hatch, come on and praise their former colleague. Kennedy maintained such friendships, which had their political usefulness, because of his heartfelt, contagious, infectious Catholic humanity, because he did not keep score, because he was quick to forgive, because he did not take himself too seriously, and because he saw that the promise of American democracy was greater than its failures. These loudmouths from the right should study his behavior and emulate, not castigate him. As I watched Sen. Hatch recall his memories of Ted Kennedy, I cried. I suppose Mr. Patrick Madrid will tell me I cried for the wrong reason. I don’t think so.