Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist's shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that "only such a faith can outlast the
death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations". You see the little rift? "Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason." That's the game, (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter XXIII)
Because they concentrated so heavily on the misbehavior that he never denied, most of Kennedy’s conservative critics failed to realize the real political masterstroke that he never discussed. Over the course of his political career, Kennedy steered steadily leftward without endangering his popular support in Massachusetts; he brought his constituency along with him. Still more remarkably, he became more and more open in his conflicts with the Catholic Church—eventually becoming the most influential opponent of Catholicism on key public issues—while remaining the most visible Catholic legislator in Washington.
Throughout his public life, and especially at his death, Ted Kennedy was identified as a devout Catholic. He was, after all, the standard-bearer for the most famous Catholic family in America. His brother had been the country’s first Catholic president; his father was so close to Boston’s Cardinal Cushing that he referred to him as “Richard” (which is curious, really, since everyone else in Boston called him “Dick”); he himself had received his First Communion from Pope Pius XII.
How did Kennedy manage to maintain the public perception that he was a loyal Catholic, even while he worked to shatter the solidarity that once characterized the Catholic voting bloc? How did he keep alive the traditional presumption that ethnic Catholics belonged in the Democratic Party, even as the Democratic Party began to marginalize anyone who upheld Catholic moral teachings? That question is never addressed in True Compass. In his memoir, as in his public career, Ted Kennedy deflects attention from his most remarkable—albeit ultimately destructive—achievement.
Lawler, in his review, details the political shift that brought Catholic Democrats to the place of defending the culture of death. I'm not sure this was all Ted Kennedy's doing. It's hard to believe one man could scandalize an entire region and a good percentage of the nation. The evil "Spirit of Vatican II" was quite active in this political transition of American Catholics, and this transition obviously transcended politics. Nevertheless, I must concede to Lawler two points. One - He's clearly an expert on the matter. Two - I was once one of Ted Kennedy's scandalized.
But that is for another time. I've blogged about Kennedys before, and may soon after.
Kennedy mentions his Catholicism hundreds of times in this book, but almost invariably he is referring to the cultural heritage of Catholicism rather than to its doctrinal content or its spiritual exercises—the form rather than the substance of his faith. Still he insists that his faith shaped his political outlook. In one of the book’s most revealing passages, he relates how his thoughts matured as he entered adult life:This is the story of faith kept at arms' distance, used, as Lewis wrote, as a means, and not embraced to the fullest. Faith is turned upside down. God is made in our image instead of the reverse.
"My own center of belief, as I matured and grew curious about these things, moved toward the great Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 especially, in which he calls us to care for the least of these among us, and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned. It’s enormously significant to me that the only description in the Bible about salvation is tied to one’s willingness to act on behalf of one’s fellow human beings."
It boggles the mind that an adult Catholic—who presumably heard the Scriptures read at every Sunday Mass, even if he never read the Bible himself—could claim that there is only one passage in the Bible addressing the question of salvation. But the above quotation contains another sign, less obvious but even more telling, of the author’s detached attitude toward his faith. When he says that “he calls us to care for the least of these among us,” Kennedy never identifies who “he” is. The name of Jesus does not appear anywhere in this memoir.
“All of my life, the teachings of my faith have provided solace and hope,” Kennedy wrote as he faced the prospect of death. He surely did draw solace from his faith, but
not guidance. He knew that the Church offered words of comfort; he never recognized that the Church also spoke with authority. So in his final illness, while he felt the need to write to Pope Benedict XVI, asking for the pontiff’s blessing, he still saw no need to renounce his long history of public opposition to Church teaching on the dignity of life.
A Christianity without Jesus, a Catholicism without sacraments, a doctrine without authority: this is the conception of the Church that emerges from True Compass. Ted Kennedy saw Catholicism as an important part of his identity, of his family history, of his cultural patrimony. But his life story provides very little evidence that his faith shaped his political ideals. On the contrary, it seems clear that his political ideals shaped the content of his faith. The story of Ted Kennedy’s public life is, to an alarming extent, the story of a generation of Catholics—in Boston in particular, in America in general. It is, regrettably, not a story of how these Catholics shaped the
popular culture, but of how that culture changed their faith.
Probably the saddest chapter of his tragic life was revealed at his funeral, something Lawler mentions above. This was his letter, delivered by President Obama, to our Holy Father. Oddly, it was read by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick to offer the mourners comfort. Instead, for those of us who were searching for something hopeful in his words to indicate a conversion, what Cardinal McCarrick read was confirmation of his fantasy faith, a platform for his pride, and persistent obstinance. Kennedy's intention seemed to be to lay out for Pope Benedict his cause for salvation, nay, canonization.
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 have worked to welcome the immigrant, to 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 have 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 field and I 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, our Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have 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.
(I can't say he did much for those "conscience protections", as his colleagues in the Senate passed a bill without any, and his legacy candidate made it clear that she didn't believe in them.)
With all due respect, why Cardinal McCarrick thought this would be a fitting tribute at his funeral is beyond me. The idea that we can trumpet our own case for salvation (fudging or straight-up lying about the facts) and use the faith for whatever we see fit is a terrible heresy. It's plagued Ted Kennedy's generation, and every one since.
What would have brought me more comfort is to find out that he received his sacraments before passing. That's more important than any accomplishments or failings that seemed to follow him to his death. Luckily, like other high-profile obstinate cafeteria Catholics, he was at the receiving end of prayers and graces, and had priests available at his last hour. That is what gives us hope that Kennedy will see God - not his expansion of government to solve the problems of the poor.
It is most unfortunate that members of the Church seemed to be agreeable to Kennedy's public version of faith, thus allowing his scandal wide influence for 40 years. I'm grateful that those days seem to be coming to an end. But I can't help but note how tragic it was that his scandal wasn't addressed early, publicly when warranted, and consistently. Many will say that I don't know that it wasn't addressed properly. But how can 40 years of public scandal from a man wearing the Catholic label and no public rebuke from his bishop be considered proper?
The errors of Kennedy in matters of faith are widespread. In fact, most all of us suffer from this tendency to some extent. Always remember to check your own version of faith with the one that has God's promise of Truth. Submit early and often, and root out your tendency to run with your own will.