Teddy, We Knew Ye Well Print
By Austin Ruse   
Thursday, 03 July 2008

We cannot know the state of anyone's soul. And we cannot know who is in Hell, though we know there are some. What we know for certain is that anyone who dies in a state of mortal sin is headed there and we can see certain external signs of a soul in danger. Consider Teddy Kennedy, who is dying.

Word spread quickly in May that he had collapsed and was rushed to a hospital in Boston. Kennedy had convulsed and with him so did official Washington. Pols and pundits rushed forward with encomiums about him. The sudden death of Tim Russert a short time later gave us a glimpse of what is in store when Teddy eventually succumbs; a state-like funeral with wall-to-wall news coverage, and of course a very public Catholic Mass, where his long-standing dissent from fundamental Church teaching will be praised as a profile in courage and his work for the poor lionized.

Kennedy has always seemed the embodiment of the wild younger brother of privilege. He cheated at Harvard by having another student take his Spanish exam. He was arrested for reckless driving at the University of Virginia. Remember Chappaquiddick? Washingtonians are well-versed in Kennedy stories of drinking binges and waitress groping. And there are the vivid and repellent images of Teddy during his nephew's rape trial, drunk and falling down steps in the family's Palm Beach mansion with his pants down. To many, Kennedy had become something of a national joke.

But it seems he cleaned up his act. He got an annulment from his long-suffering wife Joan. He married again, the womanizing faded, and he has cut back on his prodigious drinking. He is even spotted on weekdays attending Mass at St. Joseph's Church near his Senate office.

But what he has not changed is his brazen defiance of Church teaching on what several popes have called the most important human rights issue of our time, abortion. And he has called his church's eternal teaching on marriage bigoted. Nor has he felt any real pressure to change.

At the end of the 2007 Red Mass for the legal profession, it is reported that Cardinal McCarrick spotted Kennedy, stopped, and motioned him over, put his arm around him and they recessed together. Politically liberal Catholics have given Kennedy cover on abortion because he has been good for them on other things like the minimum wage.

Even so, there is a case to be made that Kennedy has been among the most harmful figures in American public life in the latter half of the 20th Century because of his central role in remaking the Democratic Party into the Party of Death and of leading millions of Catholics to believe it is acceptable to take an unborn life.

The Kennedys got into the abortion act very early. In 1964, Kennedy brother-in-law Sargent Shriver chaired a meeting at Hyannisport for the family, various advisors, and a gaggle of moralists and theologians, to examine the issue of abortion, just then beginning to percolate. On the clerical side was a virtual “Who's Who” of up-and-coming public dissenters: Robert Drinan, S.J., Richard McCormick, S.J., Charles Curran, and Giles Milhaven, S.J., who later helped found the pro-abortion group Catholics for a Free Choice.

The outcome would shape American politics for decades: The Kennedys took the position that Catholic politicians could accept abortion in certain circumstances. This was a full nine years before Roe v. Wade. Ted Kennedy took this position in his Senate campaign (though he was later credited, in error, with being pro-life) and went on to become the chief Catholic cheerleader in America for unfettered access to abortion up to and including birth.

The harm he has done is incalculable. It has taken millions of lives, harmed millions of souls, deeply divided our polity, poisoned our public discourse, and hardened our hearts. Kennedy will have much to answer for.

In a sweeter time, men were only sinners, and the sins were personal failings, weaknesses easily forgiven. We are now in the age of dissenters, and dissent is the ugly thing that poisons the soul and then strikes at the heart of the Church and society at large. Edward M. Kennedy, the "Lion of the Senate," has led the attack.

Kennedy now has a long and wasting disease. His brothers were not so lucky. They died in an instant. Were they prepared? We hear accounts of a Spanish waiter placing a rosary in the hand of the dying Robert and of President Kennedy calling for a priest to hear his confession the night before he died. Even if these stories are untrue, it is hard to imagine that the millions of rosaries said for the first Catholic president and son of Ireland did not have some powerful effect, and that even as the bullet sped toward him Kennedy did not feel his soul moved with regret or contrition.

Teddy is luckier. He has a good long while to consider eternity. How good it would be for Kennedy privately to repent in sacramental confession and publicly to make some small amendment for the massive harm he has done. Let us pray every day that Senator Kennedy does this and will be welcomed into Purgatory.


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