Kennedy's Letter to Benedict, and Reply

One reader asked for the text of the letter from Senator Kennedy to Pope Benedict XVI, hand-delivered by President Obama to the pope on his recent visit to Vatican City, portions of which were read yesterday by Cardinal McCarrick at the graveside service.  The full text is below, along with the Holy Father's response:

Most Holy Father,


I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me and I am so deeply grateful to him. I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our church and inspire our world during challenging times.

I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer over a year ago and although I am undergoing treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me.

I am 77-years-old and preparing for the next passage of life.  I’ve been blessed to be part of a wonderful family and both my parents, specifically my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that i have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my past.

I want you to know, your Holiness, that in my 50 years of elected office I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I’ve opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a U.S. Senator.

I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I’ll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.I’ve always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness. And though I have fallen short through human failings I’ve never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith.

I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”

And the pope's response. 

The Holy Father has read the letter in which you entrusted to President Obama, who kindly presented it to him during his recent meeting.

He was saddened to know of your illness and asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particular grateful of your prayers for him and for the needs of our universal church. His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God, our merciful Father.

He invokes upon you the consolation and peace of our risen savior, to all who share in his sufferings and trust in his promise of eternal life, commending you and the members of your family to the loving intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Holy Father cordially imparts his apostolic blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord.

James Martin, SJ


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9 years 4 months ago
Now we learn from Ed Klein on NPR that one of Kennedy's favorite topics of humor was Chappaquiddick itself.  Shocking.
9 years 4 months ago
I would only note that we don't know the full reply from the pope.  Cardinal McCarrick stated that what he was reading was an excerpt, or words to that effect.
This is unfortunate as it will undoubtedly lead to endless speculation about the full text, kind of like the 3rd secret of Fatima.
9 years 4 months ago
Protocol question:
Who signed the letter from the Vatican? The Pope, Secretary of State Bertone, who? Or does the Pope normally refer to himself in the third person in correspondence? If not, why doesn't the letter bear his signature?
It was certainly a prayerful exchange, but if this is a once-removed reply, I wonder if that means anything in the nuanced world of the Vatican. Was there a direct letter from Pope to EKShriver?
Thank you also, Fr. Martin, for your posts on redemption and O'Malley's generous attendance. How grotesque if he had not presided. Ted's sons' statements were remarkable.
It was interesting to see Mission Church again after 60 years or so. In those days, I was dragged by streetcar as a young child to mid-weekly novenas, where when parishioners sat, I slid along the seat behind them to escape at the end of the pew. In addition to the crowds, my most vivid memory is of crutches of those healed there stacked in a container on the wall.
9 years 4 months ago
A politician offering an opinion at election time has absolutely no effect on the legality of abortion in America, especially at the state level.  An opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade, which was a tragic but essentially a constitutionally correct ruling also has little or no effect on the status of the unborn - no matter how much the pro-lifers shout about it.  What would have made a difference was abortion legislation that works within the constraints of the 14th Amendment.  Such legislation has not been proposed, however, and won't be because it would make abortion a non-issue at election time.  The National Right to Life Committee and the Republican Party use this as mostly an electoral and fundraising issue, which prevents them from making any real progress. 
I fear more for the souls of politicians who perpetuate this fraud more than I do those who reject it.  Most Catholic voters are now seeing through this for what it is and I suspect there is no going back.  This is actually a good thing for the pro-life movement, as it may force them to actually offer something that might work - or even better support the kind of societal change on the economic front that might actually reduce abortions.
9 years 4 months ago
His intentions were good, and that is very lauadable and I hope God has mercy on him and brings him into his kingdom.
On the other hand, by their fruits you shall know them, and unless we are respecting the most fundamental of rights, all our other attemps at justice are poisoned at the root.
On the first hand again, any and all sin and error is totally incompatable with the love and truth of God, so we all are not as just and holy as we should be.
But, back to the second hand, summum ius summa iniuria, making the wrong call on a prudential issue or incorrectly applying an ethical principle is not by several million (if that few) orders of magnitude as grevious as defending and enabling cold-blooded murder, be it on the scale of an individual or handful of people or, say, a count that makes Hitler, Stalin, and all the other 20th century genocidal maniacs combined look like ametuers.
Lord have mercy on us for our offenses, surely, lets not forget that ever, but Lord have mercy on him especially, since he is now unable to help himself. Ted Kennedy did many good things, but no amout of pretty words nor citing how good his intentions were nor recalling the things he did in service of justice will undo the evils he championed, compromised with, and/or failed to oppose, only God can forgive that (which again, I sincerely hope He does).
9 years 4 months ago
''The Holy Father cordially imparts his apostolic blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord.''   The Holy Father has spoken.  End of discussion.  If the trads/ conservatives cannot accept or believe even what the Holy Father says then they are truly a bunch of rabid pharisees.
9 years 4 months ago
Dismissing Kennedy's support for abortion and the consequences by some generic statement from the Pope does not help the living because the statement does not actually absolve Kennedy nor guarantee his forgiveness.  Branding those who articulate the Church's grave position on this matter as rabid Pharisees is like persecuting the prophets who might have been able to save those in the same path of destruction.  That goes with silencing this comment.
9 years 4 months ago
I found Senator Kennedy's letter an interesting example of the Parable of the Prayers of the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18) applied in a single letter.  The fourth and fifth paragraphs were Pharisaical but the rest was Publican.  In charity, I think we need to emphasize the texts of humility found in the senator's letter.  It seems as if Benedict XVI did.
9 years 4 months ago
So Ricky, are you a prophet?  Give me a break.  I am branding rabid pharisees those who won't follow the example of the Holy Father. You won't let it go, you  just continue to disparage this man. And DON"T TWIST my words, I am NOT branding those who articulate the church's position on abortion, just those pharisees who are full of vengence and purport to speak for God or the pope or as you say "the statement does not actually absolve Kennedy nor guarantee his forgiveness"  Hrubis, sheer hrubis. Forgive him as you are forgiven.
9 years 4 months ago
I hope that the portion of the Vatican's reply that was not read by Cardinal McCarrick was more personal and warmer that what was read, which sounded to me like a form letter.  If not, was the language Vatican code for disapproval of Senator Kennedy's public support of a woman's right to choose, same sex marriage, and stem cell research?  I prefer to remember the Senator's enormous contributions in many areas of social justice, and I was glad to see that he received a proper Catholic send-off.  I was especially pleased with the grave site presence of Cardinal McCarrick, a good and holy man.
9 years 4 months ago
Virtually every sentence in the Senator's letter begins with the word ''I.''
9 years 4 months ago
It was leaning toward a form letter I'd say.  In Rome Ted Kennedy was a "nobody" as one Vatican cleric stated recently.  
I would assume the part not read probably dealt with the Church's teaching on human life, since the pope made that so clear to Obama by giving him that encyclical to read.  But very hard to tell.  I can't figure out why the whole letter wasn't read.  
What about a man's right to choose?
9 years 4 months ago
I think what Teddy saw as funny was the lather people on the right have over it.  Such foolishness is a bit comical, as I doubt he was laughing at the incident.  If it was, it is because laughter is a healer of pain.    As for a man's right to chose, I would rather you focused on a worker's right to an adequate income to raise as many children as God gives the family.  That would be more in keeping with Catholic doctrine.


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