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The Kennedys Versus the Church Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 06 February 2013

Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Americans are still enthralled with all things Kennedy. There has been an endless stream of books, articles, and front-page tabloid headlines. And when a Kennedy speaks out on Catholic doctrine, the mainline media treats their pronouncements as ex cathedra.

The latest such pronouncement came from the president’s daughter, Caroline, at the 2012 Democratic Convention: “As a Catholic woman, I take reproductive health seriously, and today it is under attack.” The attack this abortion supporter was referring to was the objections by the Church and other religious institutions to Obama’s attempt to force them to provide contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in insurance plans.

Far from being something new, the family’s rocky relationship with the Church goes back almost a hundred years.

David Nasaw’s excellent new book, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, describes how the familys founding father treated the Church like one of his subsidiary companies.

Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969) was a Boston-Irish rogue. After Bostons Anglo-Saxon Brahmins snubbed him at Boston Latin and Harvard University, he was determined to make a great fortune and to make himself or one of his sons the first Catholic president of the United States.

He worked day and night and was successful as a banker, Hollywood studio head, real estate broker, liquor distributor, and Wall Street operator. Rules of fair play, he believed, did not apply to him and he often skated on the edge of the law.

During the Great Depression when President Franklin Roosevelt was blasted for appointing him as the founding chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, F.D.R. is reputed to have said, “It takes a thief to catch one.”

To enhance his public image and political power, Joe shamelessly exploited the Church. When he married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of a former Boston mayor, Boston Cardinal William O’Connell was persuaded to officiate.

When the Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII), visited America 1936, J.P.K. leaned on Bishop Francis Spellman to bring Pacelli to his Rockefeller Center office for a visit and later for high tea at his Bronxville home. He also arranged for a private rail car to take the Cardinal to Hyde Park to visit F.D.R. Publicly, J.P.K. portrayed himself as the power broker who brought together the future pope and president.

After a less than stellar stint as Ambassador to the Court of St. James (J.P.K. supported Chamberlain’s appeasement policies prior to World War II),  he had no hope of achieving high public office and transferred his ambitions first to his eldest son Joseph, Jr. and after his death in the war, to Jack.


           Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.

To grease the way for his son’s political career, J.P.K. gave millions to Catholic causes and institutions. Numerous  pictures in the press showed Jack Kennedy presenting checks from the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation to clergy in Boston, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago. 

In return, J.P.K. expected the Church to get behind his son’s presidential ambitions, regardless of J.F.K.’s public stances.

On the road to the White House, J.F.K. opposed federal aid to parochial schools on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and told Look magazine “that religion is personal, politics are public and the twain need never meet and conflict.”

Catholic media throughout the nation, including the Jesuit-run journal America, slammed J.F.K. for pandering to Protestant bigots. The publication of the Holy Cross Fathers, Ave Maria, noted: “No man may rightfully act against his conscience. To relegate your conscience to your ‘private life’ is not only unrealistic, but dangerous as well…because it leads to secularism in public life.”

Appalled that the Church did not give Jack carte blanche, J.P. K. wrote to a friend in the Vatican, “I am really more than annoyed or upset – I am downright disgusted! . . .I deplore the pettiness of the Catholic Press and I deplore the weakness of some of the hierarchy for not speaking out, at least in some measure in Jack’s defense. . . .My relationship with the Church will never be the same and certainly, never the same with the hierarchy.”

And it wasn’t. Publicly, the Kennedys patronized the Church, but privately they helped create a shadow church of religious laymen and clergy who helped them rationalize their own version of Catholicism.

The Catholic pro-abortion movement, for instance, was hatched at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. In the summer of 1964, Bobby and Ted Kennedy met at the Cape with some leading dissident priests – Robert Drinan, Richard McCormick, Joseph Fuchs, and Charles Curran – to figure out how Catholic politicians could pander to the growing abortion movement without upsetting their Catholic constituencies. 

According to one witness, the theologians “concurred on certain basics. . .that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion.” The action plan developed that week in Hyannis Port, in sociologist Anne Hendershott’s judgment, contributed to effectively neutralizing the Catholic laity and “helped build the foundation for the [Democratic] party’s reincarnation as the party of abortion.”

New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor, criticized a 1984 letter signed by pro-abortion Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, concerning Catholics for a Free Choice because it contained “some things about abortion relevant to Catholic teaching which are not true.” Senator Edward Kennedy went ballistic, suggesting that anyone who opposed Ferraro was a bigot. He accused Archbishop O’Connor of “blatant sectarian appeals” and argued that not “every moral command” could become law.

Ted Kennedy also scuttled the late Robert Bork’s nomination to the  Supreme Court with scurrilous charges of racism and other slanders because Bork was perceived as pro-life.

The Kennedy’s shadow church has damaged Catholic standing in the public square and has given cover to the likes of Mario and Andrew Cuomo, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Dick Durbin, and Nancy Pelosi. 

All in all, a sad legacy for a family that American Catholics once put on a pedestal.

 
George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
 
 
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written by Jacob R, February 05, 2013
JFK also pimped a sixteen year old girl in the White house to a fifty year old married man with four children.

A real lovely man.

It makes total sense that he and his family helped initiate the American Holocaust!
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written by Manfred, February 06, 2013
You should really think of this family as The Sopranos meet Downton Abbey. First Teddy White creates Camelot and Jacqueline becomes the Fairy Princess/Queen, then Jack and Bobby Corleone are shot down like two Mafia thugs in public view, Teddy dies with his "boots" on and has two Cardinals serve his funeral-one in Boston and the second at Arlington National Cemetery. Meanwhile all generations of the family are involved in infidelities (do you remember Gloria Swanson being brought to Hyannisport by Old Joe?), divorce, alcohol and drug abuse, legal difficulties, etc.
We have been watching a 70 year long Morality Play with the Catholic hierarchy playing its usual venal role. (I can't believe that anyone is still wondering what triggered the Reformation.)
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, February 06, 2013
The Constitutional prohibition on religious tests for public office only makes sense on the supposition that private beliefs do not affect the discharge of public duties. It presupposes that the religious beliefs of such office- holders will not intervene in, or have any impact on, their official conduct.

It is here in Article III, and not in the First Amendment, that we find the principle of the separation of Church and State. It signifies an absence of political intervention in religious matters and an absence of religious sway over political authority. In Europe, this is known as laïcité.

It astonishes me that American Catholics appear oblivious of this.
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written by Mack Hall, February 06, 2013
One does not imagine that Cardinal Pacelli was deceived; his life was spent defending the faith, the faithful, and civilization against thugs.

Further, Joe Kennedy's shameful pro-Nazi, defeatist behavior during his time as our nation's ambassador to the U.K. is too often touched on only in footnotes. Mr. Marlin and Mr. Nasaw are brave in speaking truth to idolatry.
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written by Grump, February 06, 2013
Cancer-ridden, Ted Kennedy wrote a long letter to Pope Benedict asking for absolution. Hand-delivered by President Obama, whom Teddy described as "a man of great faith" it was an embarrassing exercise in self-congratulation and humility in a plea for mercy.

Kennedy defends his public record. And while he avoids altogether the pro-choice stand that was the source of his greatest tension with the hierarchy, he does vow that (as Obama has) that any health care reform package would include conscience protections for health care workers who refuse to participate in procedures that would violate their beliefs, such as abortion: (which Obama ignored)

"I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective 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, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States 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 care field and will 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 have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me."

Benedict conspicuously avoided commenting on Kennedy's public record in a brief written response but along with Cardinal McCarrick heaped blessings on the Kennedy clan choosing to overlook the family's collective sins.

One wonders whether it was enough to earn Teddy only a brief stay in purgatory.
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written by Briana, February 06, 2013
If you just consider Caroline Kennedy's statement, it's an oxymoron in and of itself. You can't say you believe in the Gospel of the Lord of Life and serve the idols of death, especially when it comes to publicly promoting your own selfish license to serve the idols of death.
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written by diaperman, February 06, 2013
Most of the things you write here are pretty well trod ground, but what is the source for this 1964 Hyannis Port abortion meeting that you speak of? This is news to me/
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written by Maggie-Louise, February 06, 2013
It's the same old story, over and over again: 'We'll give in just this once." "We'll overlook this one little scandal." Over and over again, Catholics are asked to compromise, and, in our name, the cardinals and bishops do. But they really enjoy those dinners at the White House and the State House and the governor's mansion and the limousine service that carries them to and fro, to say nothing of the largess of evil dropped in the poor box.

We are constantly being told that it is our, the laity's, duty to evangelize and to be an example of Christian love to the world . We are made to feel guilty if we don't drag our neighbors to Mass on Sunday morning. But they have seen the compromises made by the cardinals and bishops and even pastors, and they don't want any part of it.

Isn't it interesting that Teddy's letter (thank you, Mr. Grump) to the Holy Father is a perfect example of Fr. Schall's essay, that caring for the poor excuses all and is the substitute for love of and obedience to God.
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written by WSquared, February 06, 2013
"All in all, a sad legacy for a family that American Catholics once put on a pedestal."

Agreed. No one should ever put anyone on a pedestal. We don't even do that with our saints; we merely ask for their prayers of intercession. But as for American Catholics admiring one of their own, how about Bishop Fulton Sheen? How about St. Katherine Drexel?

What amounts to a secular, civic canonization of the Kennedys by American popular culture and media is plain disturbing. What I find interesting is that American Catholics do have actual American saints who have been raised to the altars, which should again impress upon us why we have statues of the saints in our churches (and what happens, therefore, when we imitate Protestant worship in our churches and shy away from supposed "graven images": in the absence of reminders of actual saints who direct our attention not to themselves but to the God who made them holy, we try to satisfy ourselves with idols wherever else we can find them. That's the irony of these accusations of "idolatry"). In all of this, though, there is evidently a teachable moment (or indeed several): God makes saints, not us, and certainly not "We, the People."
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written by Brad Miner, February 06, 2013
@diaperman: This from a 2009 WSJ article by Anne Hendershott: "The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book "The Birth of Bioethics" (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion."
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written by Howard Kainz, February 06, 2013
@Michael Paterson-Seymour: The "religious test" clause is in Article VI of the Constitution, not Article III.
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written by Richard A, February 06, 2013
Mr. Patterson-Seymour: It astonishes me that you do not know what a "religious test" for "office or public trust" means.

It's Article VI, by the way.
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written by Bangwell Putt, February 06, 2013
@Michael Paterson-Seymour: The prohibition of religious tests was intended to protect people of all faiths or no faith from discrimination. Surely it was not intended to insure that no persons whose frame of reference included the moral foundations of Western Civilization with its roots in Hebrew, Christian, Roman, and Greek moral philosophy,could hold public office.

There is a vast gulf between belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the existence of the Trinity and moral prohibitions such as, "Thou shalt no kill," Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt no bear false witness against thy neighbor".

A person would believed that all must accept the divinity of Jesus Christ under penalty of law would of course be unfit to hold public office in the United States. A person who holds to the moral laws of civilized nations is eminently fit to hold office. Catholics do understand that.


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written by Wm, February 06, 2013
@Michael Paterson-Seymour

The Constitutional prohibition on religious tests for public office is found in Clause 3 of Article VI, not Article III. Clearly it was meant to prohibit discrimination against religious believers of any stripe from holding public office, NOT to prevent office holders from acting on their moral consciences in public life. The wording, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" has always been interpreted in this way.

The idea that 'separation of church and state' means that certain moral issue cannot be advocated in the public forum is a misunderstanding of the term. Politics, all politics, is a moral endeavor whether it be policy regarding saving the Earth or policy saving a pre-born child. Moral issues are not exclusively matters of religion. For example, one does not have to be religious to conclude that killing pre-borns is wrong. One could easily take that position on the basis of moral philosophy alone. Logic might dictate that the right to life precedes the right to abortion, since all other rights depend on the condition of being alive. One could further conclude from moral reason and empirical data that legalized abortion has created more social pathologies than it sought to solve. Therefore it is perfectly justifiable to advocate for restrictions on abortion in the interest of the Common Good. To say that such a stance is an imposition of religion is simply an effort to avoid the debate or a failure to understand the advocacy rights of citizens in a pluralistic democracy.

American Catholics are not "oblivious" to your interpretation of chuch/state separation. They reject it on the basis of reason and the American Founding tradition. It is unlikely the Founders would have intended public office holders to separate their moral consciences from public life since many of them insisted that the Republic could only be maintained by a moral citizenry. This meant essentially in their time, Natural Law philosophy and the Judeo-Christian ethic.
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written by ROB, February 06, 2013
It is an overstatement to say Catholics put the Kennedys on a pedestal. I was a teenager in a family that vividly recalled Smith's defeat in 28. While JFK won the women's vote, I do not know of a single man over forty, catholic and Irish all, who voted for JFK. "A mountebank like his old man", in the words of my father.
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written by Graham Combs, February 06, 2013
If you go to the National Catholic Register you will find a recent interview with the Archbishop of Boston. The review is fairly predictable, but read the comments. Almost all of them cite disgust with the archdiocese for the extraordinarly elaborate funeral mass for the Sen. Ted Kennedy. How much more do the laity have to endure in this way?
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 06, 2013
The ideology of "separation of Church and State," meaning that the state is the supreme authority, is not a constitutional idea. It is a progressive political ideology, stringly held by the "Kennedy" cult. Hence, Kathleen K-T writes odes in the NYT singing of Barack Obama as Pope, and Caroline K-S trumpets that K-Katholicism clings to their abortion and contraception while her co-conventionists vote down God.

The 1st Amendment to the constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

K-Katholicism is opposed to words 11-16 in the 1st Amendment.
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written by Tom Ryan, February 06, 2013
Great introduction. Unfortunately, none of this makes any sense without John Courtney Murray and the Americanist notion of Religious Liberty.
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written by Hirduin, February 06, 2013
The comment about American Catholics putting the Kennedy family on a pedestal is rubbish. However, if you insert the word "clergy" between "Catholics" and "putting" and you'll have it exactly right. I also will never forget the funeral for Teddie Kennedy. Total hypocrisy by the Boston archdiocese.
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written by Tom Blomquist, February 07, 2013
I am surprised that there was no comment about the annulment of Ted Kennedy's marriage. It appears that the Catholic Church was "beholding" to the Kennedy's for reasons still not obvious to us day-to-day Catholics. The Catholic Church is not without sin in this relationship.
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written by cermak_rd, February 07, 2013
The presidential run of JFK made it possible for Protestants to vote for a Catholic. Teddy's support for the Immigration Reform act was crucial for getting a lot more Catholics into the nation. The Kennedy clan has been good for the majority of American Catholics and former Catholics.

The ultra-montaines don't like them, I know, but they make up only a minority of Catholics and former Catholics.
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written by Jacob S, February 07, 2013
@Michael P-S "The Constitutional prohibition on religious tests for public office only makes sense on the supposition that private beliefs do not affect the discharge of public duties. It presupposes that the religious beliefs of such office- holders will not intervene in, or have any impact on, their official conduct." -

Absolutely false. The ban on religious tests is there so that if someone ends up not holding an office because of the actions his faith will motivate him to take, it is because the people electing him do not like those actions and not because some people managed to push through a ban on religion X.

ANY moral decision you make is based on your religion - your religion, properly so called, is your most fundamental understanding of wider reality. You cannot say that people should ignore their most fundamental understanding of reality when making political decisions. Your most fundamental understanding of reality is by definition what you use when you make decisions.

If my worldview, my religion, would motivate me to act in ways that you believe to bad, then it is your job to try to change my mind about my beliefs or campaign against me to try to keep me out of office - not to spew some malarky telling me that the principles of freedom require that I act in ways contrary to who I am.
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written by EssEm, February 07, 2013
Of Irish Catholic dissent, I find the Kennedy clan, as the truth about them unfolds, increasingly repugnant. Ted Kennedy, the worst of them, co-authored the disastrous and nationally suicidal Immigration Act of 1965, which engineered the demographic destruction of this country (and which the functionally treasonous Catholic bishops continue to do). Despite my ancestry, people like him make me think the Nativists were right.
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written by Alecto, February 07, 2013
No one family has done more to destroy this country than the Kennedys, and no group of people have been more unfaithful to the Catholic church than so-called "Irish Catholics". I'll never forget my mom describing that clan as a bunch of drunk criminals. Nothing has changed.
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written by sam, February 07, 2013
Americans have always loved their gangsters.
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written by Sam, February 07, 2013
No! The Kennedy clan was certainly not good for contributing to the 50,000,000 plus aborted children! This camelot family did a sterling job in confusing the average Joe Catholic, and while they lived in opulence, their socialistic proclivities and anti-natural law mentality (pro-homosexual, pro-abortion ), mightily influences the day! Justice for all was a front to enhance the Kennedy power, mystique & re-elections, while one could juxtapose the drowning of Mary-Jo Kappechne: think of her last gasps! Which is what I do, (gasp), when I hear so many dumbed down Catholics try to defend any Kennedy. I am not "judging" where their souls are, I am simply commenting on where our rational minds went?
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written by david, February 07, 2013
The Kennedys were, it seemed, not practicing Catholics. When will the Church heirarchies understand that you don't
endear and grow practicing Catholics by being useful idiots
for heathens? And..quit making excuses for the malcontents.
We don't need them. Some of us practicing Catholics really don't want them or any "leaders" that kowtow to them.
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written by Michael Brennick, February 07, 2013
We must not forget the venality and cowardice of Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston. He was the greatest enabler of all things Kennedy at the expensive of the Church. His slavish devotion to Old Joe Kennedy was odious-literally bags of money passed from Old Joe to his pal "Richard". Cardinal Cushing was the central organizer of the conference at Hyannisport to deconstruct Catholic moral teaching in order to promote the political careers of America's Borgias.
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written by Greg Martonick, February 07, 2013
Where are the likes of St. John Chrysostom, when bishops were
exiled or killed for standing up for church doctrine or ideals. Or is there always compromise?
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written by Frank, February 09, 2013
It is essays like this on that remind me that the Church was born from the denial of Peter, the doubt of Thomas, the deceit and deception of Judas and the death of Christ. Most of this changed on Easter Sunday but the human condition of sin and the manifest evil will always be with us and in us. The Kennedys are an embarrassment to me being of Irish roots and proof positive that there have been too too many times where the Church has bedded down and given its soul to the Devil.

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