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The EditorsSeptember 14, 2009

When the history of the United States Senate is taught 100 years from now, the syllabus will be organized around six names: Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Lafollette, Taft and Edward M. Kennedy. Ted Kennedy was arguably the most effective U.S. senator of the last century. His name graces nearly 1,000 laws, 300 of which he wrote himself, including some of the most far-reaching and lasting legislation of the postwar period: the Civil Rights Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, immigration reform, children’s health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act.

He was the third-longest serving U.S. senator, yet his success cannot be attributed simply to his 47-year tenure. Unlike his brothers, Kennedy possessed the character of a legislator: a tenacious will, a keen, tactical mind and patience to match his passion. His death on Aug. 25 silenced an unrelenting advocate for the nation’s poor and marginalized, a lifelong champion for universal health care and a vehement opponent of war as an instrument of foreign policy.

As the nation’s gaze was again directed to Arlington National Cemetery, where the Kennedys had assembled to bury the last of four brothers, we were reminded that Ted Kennedy’s death also severed our most visible remaining link to another era: a time when Catholics had finally found their way in national politics, on a path that had led to the White House. As the senator’s hearse paused at the steps of the U.S. Senate in a final tribute, we had a moment to reflect on how dramatically Washington has changed since it first welcomed the president’s youngest brother in 1962. Some of that change has been for the better, including a Senate that looks more like America than it did in Ted Kennedy’s earliest days.

Yet that increasing diversity has been accompanied by a dramatic decline in gentility, one of the hallmarks of true statesmanship. Kennedy’s legislative career began in a capitol in which partisans vigorously debated, but civility nearly always prevailed. This ethos shaped both his public and private lives. Kennedy’s capacity for friendship was legendary; he numbered his friends in the thousands. They came from both sides of the Senate aisle, from America’s boardrooms as well as its union halls, from the mastheads of both The New Republic and The National Review. His death was mourned by those both at the center and at the margins of national life. His talent for building effective coalitions is already greatly missed.

Like his five illustrious predecessors in the U.S. Senate, indeed like all of us, Kennedy’s life, in public as well as in private, was a mix of light and shadow. Yet unlike most of us, his successes and failures were on constant public display. His heroic defense of civil rights, for instance, even in the face of raging mobs during Boston’s school busing crisis, was accompanied by his tragic support for abortion virtually on demand. His courage during the depths of his harrowing, public mourning for his brothers was followed by moral and political disaster at Chappaquiddick and, later, in Palm Beach. It was obvious that he knew something of sin and suffering. In the end it seemed he had also learned something about redemption. His second marriage, in 1992, to a spirited Louisianan, Victoria Reggie, appeared to rescue him from the worst in himself and the ghosts of his past. It also brought new luster to his virtues.

One of the last survivors of America’s most famous Catholic family, he rarely spoke openly about his faith. At Kennedy’s graveside, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick read from the senator’s recent letter to Pope Benedict XVI: “I know that I have been an imperfect human being,” Kennedy wrote, “but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.”

Ted Kennedy had a complicated relationship with his church. Her faith was his own, he said, sustaining him through more tragedy than anyone should bear in a lifetime. The Sermon on the Mount and the church’s social teaching inspired his public life. Until his death, however, he remained at odds with some of those very same teachings. “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness,” Kennedy wrote, “and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings.”

In this final sentiment, perhaps, Ted Kennedy was not unusual, but simply one among many contemporary American Catholics who struggle to navigate the tension between their faith beliefs and their civic ideals and obligations. America is a moral complex in which truth and freedom appear in perpetual tension. This is truer today than ever before. Perhaps no one knew that better than Ted Kennedy, whose life was as complicated, as tragic and ultimately as inspiring as the place and the times in which he lived.

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13 years 6 months ago
Thank you for this fine article on a man who both supported and challenged many of my public sentiments.
13 years 6 months ago

I think this was a fair and respectful (which should be our first instinct when speaking of the dead), appraisal of Sen. Kennedy. However, I do think you missed an important aspect of his life to criticize. In this essay you bemoan the loss of civility in our current political discourse - well, Ted Kennedy himself certainly helped chip away at that dam. In 1987, on the floor of the Senate, and on national TV, he said this about Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork: "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy. . .No justice would be better than this injustice."

Those vicious slanders marked the beginning of a new era in partisan politics. And it just seems to be getting worse. Thanks to Ted Kennedy, we now have a new term, and that is "Borked!"

Colin Donovan
13 years 6 months ago
The implication of this editorial seems to be that it is not possible to reconcile one's Catholic faith and one's civic ideals and obligations. You just do the best you can, compromising where you must. That may be the real legacy of the Kennedys. 
13 years 6 months ago

Sen. Kennedy, his family and most members of Congress and the President send their children to private schools. The Sen. consistently opposed educational freedom for inner city parents. No to vouchers/tax credits. The schools in most cases are Catholic schools. You failed to note this in your comments. A tragedy.

13 years 6 months ago
13 years 6 months ago
The editors need a refresher course in Catholic teachings found in the Catholic Catechism and Ted Kennedy probably never opened the Catechism or he would have known that all Catholics, in particular Catholic politicians,  by calling attention to their Catholic faith and in the same breath voicing support for abortion rights, a public act of scandal, as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 2284-6), is committed. Paragraph 2286 is directly applicable to  people in political positions. It reads: “Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structure leading to the decline of morals....” . Ted and the Kennedy clan were immersed in scandals, personal. political as well as religious and Pope Benedict XVI, who was criticized by some, was no doubt well aware that Senator Kennedy and his letter bearer, President Obama, were active and vocal supporters of abortion at all stages to the point that Obama voted against providing readily available medical care to a child born after a botched abortion and he had morally justified reasons for his silence. Excusing Senator Kenendy's ignoring or compromising Catholic teachings for political gain is the hallmark of the liberal subjective conscience which Cardinal Ratzinger refuted in his Conscience and Truth address to American Bishops in 1991.
13 years 6 months ago
Robert Bork was and is a radical and regressive ultra-conservative judicial activist.  My thanks to Senator Kennedy for insuring that Bork got Borked instead of the U.S. Constitution and the citizens of our great country.  Better to be the Borker like Senator Kennedy than the Borkee, which is what the American people would have been had Bork become a Supreme Court justice.
John Walton
13 years 6 months ago
de mortuis nil nisi bonum - even in his case.
13 years 6 months ago

It is unfortunate that Ted Kennedy's personal dedication to the  Gospel's  social action teaching as recorded in Mt.25 vs 34-46 was marred by his political choice to support and promote uterine homocide by way of the so-called "abortion rights" of women, for which he shared moral guilt and responsibility tens of millions of times.  His life was indeed a mixture of light and shadow, a combination in which we all share in some way, to some degree. Reflectively then, it's important to take to heart the following words of Jesus in judging Ted Kennedy's  numerous moral lapses, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!"

It's said standing behind every successful man is a woman. Kennedy was in some ways successful and for that success we can thank Victoria Reggie, whom he married in 1992, although it is troubling to ponder how, Ted Kennedy as a Catholic, was able to divorce and remarry apparently with Church aproval. At any rate as noted in "Camelot's End" it was Victoria who rescued him "from the worst in himself and the ghosts of his past" - that is, except for the demon of his preocupation with the destruction of human uterine life, his political choice!

However, in his end of life letter to the Pope, Ted Kennedy publicly confessed, "I have fallen short through human failing" which seems to me a lot like the confession of the Publican in the Gospel who humbly said, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner!" In response Jesus said he went away, "Justified." Yes, Ted Kennedy was an "imperfect human being" as he told the Pope in his letter, precisely the kind of person Jesus died for. Yes, Ted Kennedy "knew something of sin" as "Camelot's End" asserts. He was no saint, but through the mercy of God let's call him a repentant sinner!

Seventy years ago as a little boy my grandmother told me the following story which I see as applicable to Ted Kennedy. There was a "public sinner" proclaimed so by the village gossip because of his scandalous life. Wagging tongues said he would certainly go to hell when he died. One day he was thrown from a horse and instantly killed and the gossip became shrill - "See, God punished him, he is now in hell" Some months after his death a child walking past his grave tried to pluck a flower that was growning on it, but could not. Indeed even adults could not budge the flower. Finally his grave was dug up and the flower was found rooted in his heart and a voice from the grave was heard saying, "Between the saddle and the ground, mercy sought and mercy found!" Through the inexhaustable Mercy of God and the fervent prayers of his  Mom, the saintly Rose Kennedy, may Ted Kennedy rest in peace!    

13 years 6 months ago
It's obvious that some Catholics revere power over Catholic principles, get reelected and become national figures. An entire generation of politicians, born and raised in the bosom of the Catholicism, chose to be part-time Catholics in public life.  Sen. Kennedy's transformation into the most hard line abortion supporter is an example of this process. Somewhere along the way he went from a strong pro-life position (circa 1972) to a strong pro-abortion position and was rewarded for it by the Democratic party. The question then becomes can Catholics uphold their core values in a pluralistic political process? If the answer is no Catholicism has a grim future in America, much like what's happened to Europe. I hope that America Magazine explores this question in future articles: can Catholics in public life remain true to their Catholicism?
13 years 6 months ago

Just as Senator Kennedy used a go-between in his approach to Pope Benedivt XVI, President Obama, he used former senator John Tunney as a go-between with the KGB  to advance a Kennedy proposal to Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov designed to thwart President Reagan's hard line against the Soviets and enhance his chances at the presidency. The only difference, he insured that his appeal to the Pope would become known while making sure through his legislative skills that his possible treasonous actions against the President and the USA would remain buried.

The KGB document, a May 14, 1983 memo from KGB head Victor Chebrikov to his boss, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov, designated with the highest classification, was first reported in a February 2, 1992 article in the London Times, titled, "Teddy, the KGB and the top secret file," by reporter Tim Sebastian. Russian President Boris Yeltsin had opened the Soviet archives. Sebastian discovered the document in the Central Committee archives specifically.

It never made the news in the USA. nor did his KGB contacts during the Carter administration.
How God will decide the fate of Ted Kennedy's soul is beyond the understanding of mere mortals  but the trurh behnd Ted Kennedy the man should be made known to all men and women.

And for those who believe in the superiority of one's own conscience or subscribe to "Between the saddle and the ground, mercy sought and mercy found!" Ted might be having a cold one with Hitler, Stalin, Andropov and Mao in heaven or that other place. The Last Judgmnt is yet to come.
The KGB, Kennedy, and Carter
Kennedy and the KGB

Winifred Holloway
13 years 6 months ago
There were some times in the past when I deplored Ted Kennedy's personal failings and his defense of the pro-choice position.  However, beginning in the 1980s when even Democrats were bailing out on the poor and the marginal, Ted was still there fighting for them when it was decidedly uncool.  And he never stopped.  He didn't fear being called "unpatriotic" when he voted against giving President Bush the authority for the war in Iraq.  In my mature years, I see the integrity in his public life.  And in the newly discovered small and personal gestures toward the grieving, the sick, and the outcasts that were taking place out of the range of photographers and reporters, I see a wise and big heart.  A Christian heart, in fact. 
13 years 6 months ago

As Cardinal Arinze recently made very clear, the intrinsic evil of abortion is not a matter of Church law; it is a matter of divine law.  Thou shall not kill.  Kennedy's support of abortion was a problem in view of the 5th commandment not just "Church teachings."

It is indeed tragic that the Church's "social teaching" is said to have dictated his views on a host of matters affecting the civil order, but not the 5th commandment apparently, or the Church's repeated declarations that the right to be born is the fundamental right underlying all other rights.  The Senator's statement that he always respected the fundamental teachings of the Church is at best a cry from someone very lost.

Senator Kennedy made an awful compromise with the culture of death in order to maintain his political base as a liberal Democrat.  What a shame.  In the intensely poignant words of St. Thomas More, "Why Richard it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and lose his soul, but for Wales..."  Wales in this case could quite easily be substituted for the U.S. Senate.

13 years 6 months ago
Whatever criticism could be leveled at Edward M. Kennedy and admittedly he deserves some, and some of that harsh. Even so, it cannot be denied he took the risk of public service and this country not to mention the world knows the price both he and his family has paid for taking that risk. For this reason, Senator Kennedy regardless of one's personal opinion concerning his conduct public or private, deserves and should receive the respect of all Americans. This is not to say everything he did or said in life was right or wrong! It is simply to acknowledge his humanity and our own. If we make such an acknowledgement then we can safely ask God's mercy for Edward M. Kennedy's soul and ours as well.
Mary Motte
13 years 6 months ago
Simply to thank America for this thoughtful and careful piece so incisively touching the complexity of life in relationship to Gospel faith.  Thank you!
13 years 6 months ago
Senator Kennedy ensured that women were not forced to kill their unborn children in back alleys. We all owe him a debt of thanks.
13 years 6 months ago
Many priests I know do not want to talk about abortion because they do not want to be associated with the one issue "intrinsic" crowd. Years in the confessional has taught them that these people have either been involved in abortions and want to quell their guilt or don't know what they are talking about.
The dictum of the Church is, "Ubi caritas et unum deus ibi est." The intrinsic crowd lacks charity, the prime virtue of Christianity. They can only see their own political ideology; they stridently object to abortion but refuse to give health care to the poor. Don't kill before birth but afterwards is all right. I think Jesus referred to them as whited sepulchers. For Jesus the virtue of charity was paramount.
Many of the condemnatory submissions to your blog lack compassion and charity. Let Ted Kennedy lie in peace and let him be remembered for the good he did for the poor and disenfranchised rather than the evil he done. RIP
13 years 6 months ago
Senator Kenndy's long career has resulted in more killing of innocent babies through abortions than any other American.  Why he was able to still call himself Catholic and receive the Eucharist is a disgrace to the Bishops and the Church.  The remaining so called Catholic congressional people who support abortion should be turned away from taking the Eucharist so the public understands that as long as they are promoting abortion they are not in line with the Church.  Senator Kennedy and no other American can do good deeds that make up for the death of the unborn.  As long as the Bishops let these people represent the Catholic Church they too are responsible for abortion deaths.  Many others in the world history who have been responsible for millions of death have had good qualities.  It is sad that you editors continue to support the left and in so doing perpetuate their abortion programs - what are your good qualities that make up for your position?   Patrick
13 years 6 months ago
 J C Van Damme
JCVD, I am a total fan.
Good to see America is on the ball when printing comments.
13 years 6 months ago

Golly, if JC Van Damme's comment is correct, I wonder if JPII was involved in abortion also since he talked about it so much.  And Cardinal Arinze too.  And Mother Theresa.  And I guess they all lacked charity.  

This kind of commentary and third-rate psychoanalysis (note the anonymous source, "many priest I know," and implication that pro-life voices are reacting to guilt over involvement in abortion) is what passes for "charity" among those who constantly decry a lack of charity in the Church.  It could just as easily be asserted that those Catholics who assail the "intrinsic" crowd have themselves been involved in abortion at some point in their lives and are projecting their feelings of self-loathing, fear, anger, and guilt on to anyone who points out how awful abortion on demand is.

13 years 6 months ago

Abortion: Is this what you mean? Senator Kennedy voted against:

1) Voted NO on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime. 2) Voted NO on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life. 3) Voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion. 4) Voted No on parental notification of minors who cross state lines for abortions. 5) Voted NO against a ban on human cloning (Source: [url=http://www.ontheissues.org/social/ted_kennedy_abortion.htm]http://www.ontheissues.org/social/ted_kennedy_abortion.htm[/url])

And the band plays on...Senator Kennedy gave unprecedented scandal to American laity and Catholic politicians with his principles. There are much more balanced and clear memorials to the late Senator in "The Catholic Thing" than we find here by the editors.

It is also productive to review the legacy of his many "good works" for the poor and marginalized. Yes, Senator Kennedy was active, but was he correct in his political philosophy and practical application of his views? Being active isn't the same as being right. I would argue that he was woefully off course. Charles Krauthammer assesses his positions as "taking too far." For example, he over shot on Civil Rights creating reverse discrimination and quotas. Second, he fostered a "culture of dependency" through his social reform which ultimately failed miserably and had to be refashioned under the republicans.
As mentioned previously, his foreign policy was often disastrous fighting tooth and nail against Reagan and to a certain extent the Holy Father in tearing down communism.

Senator Kennedy may have professed to be a catholic, but as heard in today's Epistle of St. James at Holy Mass today: I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works (cf. Jas 2:18). 

13 years 6 months ago
Regrettably, Senator Kennedy compromised against the divine law of the commandment to respect life.  This was in direct opposition to his Catholicity.  It is unfortunate that one who spent his life trying to make amends for his personal failings by doing good for others (agree or disagree with his methods), would allow all of his good work to be trumped by the killing of so many innocents.  If only he had included the entire social justice package in his political dogma...from conception to natural death.  This is the fundamental split within our Church and Senator Kennedy did nothing whatsoever in his public work to mend it while all the time proclaiming his Catholicity.  It is truly unfortunate. 
13 years 6 months ago
The editorial concerning Ted Kennedy is well done and certainly necessary.
I am always astonished at the way a person who has served the common good is so often remembered for his/her misdeeds than for the generosity of service.
The editorial should serve to remind us all to"Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Kennedy owned up to his wrong-doing and stayed humble before Godde. He got up, dusted himself off and did his best.
Please, God, may I do as well.
Jeannine Burbach
Bernard Campbell
13 years 6 months ago
Thank you for your article, "Camelot's End."  Ted was a repentant sinner.  This public repentance should be a source of joy for all, especially Catholics.  It seems to me that God gave him time and an opportunity of repent and rejoice, prior to his death.  There must have been times during his final year that all his grief hit him.  Yet, despite all the tragedy he experienced and lived with he remained faithful to his belief in a loving God.  If I were a prominent and active politician like Ted, it would be difficult for me to balance evil and good in a very complex world.  It seems to me that people mourned his death because they were admirers of his spirit of hope and courage in the midst of his own evil and the evil in the world around us.  Like all of us Senator Kennedy was far from perfect.  But, despite his failures he still fought on and did not run away from his responsibilities and challenges.  May we have many more "repentant sinners" in leadership positions in our great nation and wonderful world.
13 years 6 months ago
Did you see the hateful "BURY OBAMACARE WITH KENNEDY" signs carried by many at the 9/12 rally? Did you know that they were produced and distributed by American Life League, a Catholic organization?
13 years 6 months ago
My faith is my own also and, thanks in part to Senator Kennedy's example, I've recently begun helping women get access to abortion clinics.  I know it's against "Church teaching," but my faith tells me that helping my fellow women in such need is a higher calling.
13 years 6 months ago
Saint Thomas More did not compromise his faith for political correctness. He knew his faith and followed it. From his Harvard expulsion through his first marriage to his reversal on the abortion issue,Teddy always missed the chance to be a "Profile in Courage". That was his greatest tragedy. Thomas saw what was really important.  
13 years 6 months ago
Soon after +Ted Kennedy's death I called my brother back in Baltimore, MD, to see how his children were doing as the first days of school were beginning.  He said, "James and I were down watching a special on Kennedy."  I held my breath, not knowing what would come next.  Just six weeks earlier my brother and I were having a conversation and he commented that it was amazing that he and I were of the same parents, same home and upbringing, and we were so radiacally different. He said, "you are such a liberal- democrat, and I'm an on the books a democrat, but a conservative republican at heart." With this back drop I was now holding my breath. Joe went on to say "that a great man had been lost... that in the past 40+ years all that had to do with the poor and marginalized, Kennedy went to bat for Duff." Much like our dad, who stood at the reel-to-reel tape recorder in the 60's capturing the + John and + Robert radio shows; so that we could listen to them, time and agian. My brother made sure his son, at least was exposed to +Ted as they watched that special. This excahnge for me has been the greatest testimony to +Ted Kennedy.  And I pray +he now know's the blessing of his labors.
13 years 6 months ago
Let's pray for him...How many children died because of his stand on abortion? He did good things, but he had a great responsability....He is now in God's mercy
Joris Steverlynck-Gonnet
13 years 6 months ago
13 years 6 months ago

I am not a subscriber to your magazine. A friend lent me her copy.

I read the editorial Camelot's End and found your opinions confusing and somewhat hypocritical for a Catholic magazine.

First, I disagree that the Kennedy era was Camelot. Oh, some people called JFK's marriage and election a story book romance come true, but Pres. Kennedy was no Arthur. He was an inexperienced senator whose lack of experience led world leaders to test him - a la the Bay of Pigs fiasco. His tragic death led to an unfortunate legend.

To equate his brother Ted with the other distinguished senators in your opening paragraph does a disservice to those fine men. Ted Kennedy was a power broker who learned how to work the system to his ends. He was a politician's politician. Look what he did in his home state. He determined to block a republican governor from appointing a republican senator, but wanted to reverse that when there was a  democrat governor. If his brother was not JFK, if his name wasn't Kennedy, Ted would probably never have been a senator.

What really troubled me was your - and in turn America's - acceptance of what I call the weak or non existence of Catholicism in our "Catholic" politicians. As a young man, Ted showed one trait that revealed a lot about his character. I refer to his abandonment of the woman in his sinking car as he saved himself. His long delay in seeking help, his lack of trying to save her, told me where his priorities were.

When he began his political career, he was pro-life. When that stand became unpopular - a possible threat to his career - he became pro-choice. Ted would always follow where the crowd led. If it conflicted with his church's teaching, so be it.  As you stated " Ted...had a complicated relationship with his church." How true! If a church teaching would lose him votes, he abandoned that teaching.

He was a sandal to serious Catholics. He gave Catholicism a bad name. When a public figure calls himself a Catholic, but ignores or refutes the church's teaching, then he damages the church's image in the country. It seems the "modern" day Catholic feels free to set their own standards of what they will believe or not. Ted was not alone in this lack of sincere belief. There are several prominent politicians who call them selves Catholic but are not.

The world is a blend of secular and sacred. Ted chose to conform to the secular leanings of his cohorts. That was his choice. It would have been better if he had chosen to conform himself to the sacred. Standing by the church's principles - pro-life,  marriage as a serious commitment between a man and a woman, - would have been an inspiration to those who vacillate with the times. He could have been remembered as a man of true courage and principle in a materialistic world.

Instead, he made deals. Ted Kennedy was not a hero to me. He was just another example of one who sells out to prevailing attitudes that are ever changing. Truth is immutable. Ted was fickle.

Rosemary Nichols

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