The Catholic Thing
Head Chef in the Cafeteria Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Thursday, 27 August 2009

When I think of Edward M. Kennedy (“Teddy” early on before the more respectful “Ted”), I first think of Terry Malloy, the character played by Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront.” Kennedy’s brothers got title shots (one was champ), but, like Terry, Teddy got a “one-way ticket to Palooka-ville!” Did he think, I coulda been a contender? Oh yes.

But unlike Terry, Teddy was no bum, and, despite some astonishing missteps, he got to hang out with the punchy Palookas in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, that Gleason’s Gym of blow-dried heavyweights, the United States Senate. Indeed, he became the longest-serving senator in Massachusetts history, second-longest in the current Senate (after Robert Byrd, for whom nearly everything in West Virginia is named), and the third-longest since Vice President John Adams pounded the gavel at the Senate’s first session on March 4, 1789. This is remarkable, since in the aftermath of July 18, 1969 the oddsmakers were wagering Kennedy’s political career had sunk as low as his Olds Delmont 88 (and, lest we forget, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne) into that dark Chappaquiddick tidal pool. Mr. Kennedy was thirty-seven when his career died. He announced that he would not seek re-election to the Senate in 1972.

He was reborn when he was re-elected in 1972. Polls overcame his decision to retire to private life, and he never looked back. Questions about his character became moot, and, mirabile dictu, there being no legal consequences following the Chappaquiddick Incident, he found a certain peace in knowing that in congressional wheeler-dealing – as opposed to presidential politics – he was free to be himself without fear of rejection by the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – ever. Well, he did take a half-hearted shot at the presidency in 1980, but after that he was Senator-for-life. And the Nation’s Preeminent Catholic Politician.

Prior to Roe v. Wade, Ted Kennedy had not been a staunch advocate of abortion rights. Quite the opposite. As Anne Hendershott wrote earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, two years before Roe Kennedy “was still championing the rights of the unborn.” But as his thinking evolved (he earned a 100 percent pro-choice rating from NARAL), you could pretty much take the Church’s position on a given moral issue and reliably predict that Kennedy’s advocacy would be in opposition to it. Same-sex marriage? Kennedy votes yea. Pro-life candidates for the Supreme Court (Rehnquist, Bork, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito)? Kennedy votes nay. (In fairness, he did support Antonin Scalia in 1986.) Adultery? Well, let’s not forget that Miss Kopechne (She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in stories about Teddy’s death), whom Kennedy said he was escorting to her hotel, had left the party where they’d been without either her purse or her room key. Divorce? He left his first wife in 1983.

All this may be entered – and surely is – in the Book of Life against his salvation, but there were things about the man that even his most vocal opponents found endearing. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) described Kennedy as “like a brother to me,” and John McCain (R-AZ) called Kennedy a “skillful, fair, and generous partner.” He worked with George W. Bush on No Child Left Behind. Upon hearing the news of Kennedy’s death, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: “No one could have known the man without admiring the passion and vigor he poured into a truly momentous life.” All true. And, given the family tragedies he endured, one may admire his determination to push on. Plus (politics aside) he was probably our history's most successful Senator.

All Catholics should hope that in the end he received the Sacrament of Anointing, and God’s mercy, and that his soul is with Jesus.

Still, as Elizabeth Scalia once wrote about Sen. Kennedy, “the quiet altruism of a public man is always overshadowed by the noise of his sins.”

And those were very public sins, many of which he defended as a Catholic, and the question for the faithful is this: Who other than Edward Moore Kennedy did as much to debase the public understanding of our faith? Or gave, in the technical sense of the term, grave public scandal? Well, there were the pedophile priests and their ecclesiastical enablers, but when Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Rudy Giuliani and other dissident Catholic politicians, all of them likely excommunicated latae sententiae (and unrepentant to boot), receive Holy Communion at papal Masses during Benedict XVI’s American visit, less discerning Catholics may be forgiven for supposing that political positions which contradict the Magisterium are nonetheless canonically acceptable. One notes in the encomia that flowed freely after Sen. Kennedy’s death how often writers have referred to his support of “Catholic values.” Even his most ardent admirers would not dare assert that he championed Catholic teaching.

And when I think of Edward M. Kennedy and his legacy, I picture him as the chef de cuisine of cafeteria Catholics everywhere. He was the man most responsible for cooking up, sometimes abetted by clerical sous chefs, the corned beef and cabbage that is served, steaming in over-seasoned political broth, as American Catholicism. His sins were scarlet, but are past. The scandal, however, lives on.

And I recall with both pleasure and pain the image of John Paul II shaking his finger at the beret-wearing, Nicaraguan leftist heretic, Ernesto Cardenal. It’s a pleasant image made painful by my inability to recall any American Catholic priest, bishop, archbishop, or cardinal ever publicly scolding Ted Kennedy.

That said, may he rest in peace.

Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing.

© 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (35)Add Comment
written by Bradley, August 28, 2009
Even if every single word is 100% accurate, this is the most vulgar column ever published at this site. The man is not even buried yet! De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est!
written by Fr Tim, August 28, 2009
Sad but true. One should never be afraid to speak the truth even though it may hurt. I feel this was said in a careful manner but hits hard because of its truthfulness.
True Knowledge
written by Reader, August 28, 2009
I suspect that God has no need to impose punishments on us when we are awaiting purification after death. He need only allow us to understand the harm we have done on earth, to experience the pain we have caused others, and (this probably most excruciating) the good we might have done. After that, I do believe we may hope for peace and joy "at the last".
time for a symposium
written by Elizabeth Nolan, August 28, 2009
Isn't it time for a symposium about gutsy saints who didn't couch their faith and its implications for public policy in nuanced statements?
written by Reader, August 28, 2009
After reading this, I may never come back to this site again. Listing Kennedy's sins just days after he died is distasteful. Right now, we should be praying for him and his family, and hoping that God may forgive his sins, not speculating on which of them are entered in the Book of Life. The author might just have forgotten Jesus' words: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
mea culpa
written by Louise, August 28, 2009
I prayed for the soul of Saddam Hussein, but I cannot bring myself to pray for the soul of Edward Kennedy. Maybe someday but not yet. Mea maxima culpa.
written by Dennis, August 28, 2009
Apparently The Catholic Thing isn't a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary, but rather a vehicle for the uglier sides of American 'conservative' politics. Using a man's death as opportunity to gloat about his failings--real classy.
Ever since the 1960s
written by Tom H, August 28, 2009
(at least) I believe the expression in much of the English-speaking world is "De Kennedys nil nisi bonum dicendum est...umquam!"

written by vmth, August 28, 2009
This article is NOT vulgar! When you are a public figure the good and bad unfortunately is there for all to see. Aren't we lucky it is the Good Lord who judges each one of us and not my brother or sister. Say a prayer for the repose of his soul.
written by Willie, August 28, 2009
This article is a good piece simply because it is true and every word is I believe 100% accurate. It is sad that some have to resort to ad hominem attacks toward the author and this website. The truth is not pleasant to swallow for those who must confront it. I think we, indeed, should pray for Mr. Kennedy in union with the Church. We should also pray for those who seem to find excuses for blatant scandal on the part of clergy and politicians when it concerns our Holy Church.
Ah, yes, distateful
written by Richard A, August 28, 2009
May God spare us the horrifying indignity of being "distasteful." Within two months now, we have witnessed the passing of two "larger than life" public men in America, with adulation and awe alone marking the most prominent notices of their going forth from us. At least with Michael Jackson you knew the media were making a conscious effort to say "about the dead nothing not good." With Ted Kennedy you see, from the establishement view, there is nothing not good to say.
Wait how long?
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., August 28, 2009
Would those who protest the discussion of someone's failings so soon as after his death please tell us just how long we must wait before pointing out that the deceased contributed to not only the increase in abortion but to the spread of relativism and contempt for the Catholic Church? By waiting we me miss the opporunity to tell the young that his advocacy of evil things is not ballanced by his putative support for selective Corporal Works of Mercy.
written by Catholic fan of Ted, August 28, 2009
Brace yourselves, readers. Today's tasteless column will undoubtedly be followed by fits of apoplexy next week about whatever President Obama chooses to say at a Catholic funeral.
written by Achilles, August 28, 2009
Those who have built their houses of the intellect on the shifting sands of relativitism must be upset upon hearing any truth. Self esteem building, identity politics and radical individualism (narcissism) has led most to a gag reflex in the presence of direct confrontation with reality.
You must feel badly for all the characters in Dante’s Inferno, maybe you guys can get equality and justice for them too.
Fulton Sheen said “our intellects do not make truth… they discover it"
poor decision
written by Wil, August 28, 2009
TCT has made a poor decision in publishing this, the timing couldn't have been worse. I agree that everything you said in the column is 100% accurate in its description of Ted, yet at the same time it is 100% inappropriate and shameful to be publicly parsing his sins before the man is even interred. One wonders if you will extend the same kind of public shaming to Alan Keyes when he passes...
Ted a Catholic?
written by debby, August 28, 2009
God Bless you, Brad.
Pray for this man's soul-yes. But we all need to have the courage to speak the truth, which you did. Does Ted's public record offend? it should-grave sin is offensive.
is this"throwing stones?" Ted stood by his record.
the Gospel records public sinners repenting publicly!
just how cheap should we count the Cross of Christ?
it cost God everything.
Enemy of the Church
written by H Koczur, August 28, 2009
Thanks for your article. God have mercy on him, but during his life and career, he was an enemy of the Church, at the same time claiming to be Catholic. He (once pro-life) is responsible for more babies dying because he made certain there would be no judge appointed to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v Wade. I cannot believe his funeral will be at a Catholic Church, with Obama once again taking the spotlight in the Catholic arena.
On being inappropriate
written by Brad Miner, August 28, 2009
To those who've written here that my column is right on its facts but wrong in its, what?, tastelessness, I will simply point out that I wrote it for this site, not to be given as an oration at Sen. Kennedy's funeral. Had I been asked to eulogize him, I would have done something different: I would have declined.
written by Bradley, August 28, 2009
Basic decency is not limited to eulogizers, Mr. Miner. Wasn't that the point of your book about chivalry? This is in the public domain. So please allow the man a dignified burial and his family a chance to grieve. You could have waited until Monday! This is not complicated - it's basic decency. My grade school teacher, a wonderful old school nun, would have rightly swatted my knuckles with a ruler for something like this and then sent me to the parish priest for a confession.
Re:On being inappropriate
written by Reader, August 28, 2009
Mr. Miner, there is a point at which inappropriateness becomes inexcusable. You're right, this is not a site for eulogizing Kennedy, but it is a site for intelligent Catholic commentary. Is the level to which Catholic commentary is degraded? Should we really be gloating over anyone's death? The re-hashing of Kennedy's public (and private) sins (and the oh-so cute reference to Harry Potter) make your article sound less like commentary and more like invective. I, for one, am ashamed for TCT.
To Bradley
written by Brad Miner, August 28, 2009
The point of my book was to put the sword back in a man's hand,

As to "basic decency," I think we might say that Jesus did not offend true decency when he spoke of some public figures as "blind guides" and "whited sepulchers."
written by Bradley, August 28, 2009
I don't think Jesus offered those remarks while the public figures' families were preparing them for burial.
John the Baptist
written by H koczur, August 28, 2009
Why was John the Baptist beheaded?
For criticizing a public figure for sleeping with his brother's wife.
John knew nothing of political correctness, or political sensitivity. He spoke the TRUTH..
few have the courage to call a spade a spade.
St. John, give us the courage you had!!
written by Willie, August 29, 2009
Since it is difficult to attack this article on the basis of its substance, it seems on the part of some to attack the author for being insensitive, imprudent, being tasteless and God knows what other nasty epithet is forthcoming. This website is about Catholic things; Mr. Kennedy's Catholic thing was a farce and scandal. Face the truth and suck it up. When Pope JPII died it took one hour before the media dissected his life from one end to another. Tell me what a proper wait is. Bravo TCT.
written by Dennis, August 29, 2009
I thnk that Fr Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame is at least as responsible as Ted Kennedy for debasing the Faith in the US and for providing intellectural cover of the highest order for all those politicians who early left the Faith but didn't get around to leaving the Church.
written by Achilles, August 29, 2009
A Reader wrote and I am sure Bradely concurs: "Should we really be gloating over anyone's death?"

In what politically correct world did this ever become gloating?
For Willie
written by Wil, August 29, 2009
Willie, no need to educate us on the nature of this website... we all know it's about 'Catholic Things'... and nobody to my knowledge was attacking the substance of Brad's criticisms. So Face the truth and suck it up' is something that you might want to look into doing yourself... the relevant truth being that it is always poor form to attack and/or nitpick a dead man in a public forum while his family grieves their loss. This should not be controversial.
No place is safe
written by An elder reader, August 29, 2009
The former spirited but always civil discussion that once characterized this site and is being altered by readers who are not of good will toward Catholicism (or who want to see their particular views imposed upon the Church). Their comments intrude on what was formerly a family circle of believers. Their opinions are welcome; their tone is not.
written by Jacob, August 29, 2009
Bradley, does the fact that Kennedy's family was at the time you wrote preparing him for burial change the truth in any way?

If you don't like Mr. Miner you're free to say that..but you seem to be making the consummate American mistake of wrapping up whether or not you like how Mr. Miner gets to his point with whether or not what he says is truthful.
A very important and neglected distinction in Western society!
written by Jacob, August 29, 2009
I wonder if 'Catholic fan of Ted' has "fits of apoplexy" every time another "doctor" murders an innocent child with complete impunity, thanks in large part to all the Kennedy brothers.

I think leftists/liberals have fits of apoplexy any time you say something true about one of their hero icons they turn into gods and worship.

I wonder what they'll say and how long they'll wait to say it when W dies (a man who didn't help provide for the mass slaughter of American children).
How long
written by Joe Wichmann, August 29, 2009
How long are we supposed to wait after a man's death to tell the truth, especially in light of all the public adulation in the mainstream media? How long have the innocent unborn to wait for justice?
written by Laura, August 29, 2009
Oh for goodness sakes people. Get off you high horses.
Brad -- BRAVO.
written by Graham Combs, August 30, 2009
Perhaps you must be from the working class and working poor to appreciate my favorite Kennedy moment: After Pres. Bush committed $24M for Wash DC vouchers, the senator shouted on the Senate floor (on CSPAN):"I'll stop this if it's the last thing I do." You can't really know what's in the human heart. Do you need to? Such politicians are creating an America that is without pity and a without a future. RIP Senator. But may our Gracious Lord help us.
Sorry 2 John the Baptist
written by debby, August 30, 2009
i cant help but wonder if King Herod were, say a US Senator ,
who would be at his party, watching Salome exercise her God-given talent & natural law "rights as a citizen"-would she be lap-dancing? stand-up comedy act or a roast? whatever- who would be at Herod's table? who would be in jail with St. John the Baptist?
somehow w/the display of what should be VIrture instead bowing low before money & power, my mind cant find many prisoners, but sadly many revelers, too many dressed as clerics
written by Ron, August 30, 2009
I came to this site hoping to find inspiring Catholic thought. Today marks a low point in that quest. The author's vitrol concerning a man judged fit to be buried in full Catholic ritual by Cardinal O'Mallley (and do you doubt, his superiors) and the recipient in his final days of a sympathetic response from the Pope is incomprehensible. To which Church does this site pledge it's fidelity. A self described man of flaws was buried today. He who is without sin...

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