Which Comes First, the Church or the Party?

Wednesday, September 2, AD 2009

Well, I’ve read and talked more than I ever cared to about Ted Kennedy recently, may he rest in peace. And Darwin has already ably responded to this defense of the late Senator Kennedy from Michael Sean Winters. But something about Mr. Winters response has been ringing in my ears, and I think it’s because it summarizes in a few sentences what I perceive to be the tragedy of Catholic Democrats in the U.S.: they could have taken a stand for unborn life but were unwilling. As a result, faithful Catholics have either been driven into the Republican Party, become independents, or become disconcertingly comfortable with the status quo on abortion. Currently I think both the first and last options are incompatible with Catholic thought – at least without substantial departure from party orthodoxies. Where familiarity (with both parties) should have breed contempt, it has instead yielded unconscionable familiarity and acceptance. And Mr. Winters’ post provides a clear illustration of this reality:

To dismiss his [Senator Kennedy’s] career because of his stance on abortion is to be ignorant of the complicated way the issue of abortion manifested itself in the early 1970s: I think Kennedy got it wrong but I do not find it difficult to understand why and how he got it wrong.

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5 Responses to Which Comes First, the Church or the Party?

  • Well said. I think your argument is strengthened by the fact that for over thirty years, Sen. Kennedy had ample opportunity to reevaluate his position in the light of advances in prenatal medicine. He had the opportunity to take firm stances against the pro-abortion absolutists’ increasingly irrational demands. He appears to have done very little in this way, though I will give him credit for his efforts on behalf of handicapped children.

    The tendency to appoint oneself theologian-in-chief is, sadly, far too common. Not only did Kennedy succumb to this failing, he seems at a critical decision point to have surrounded himself with members of the clergy suffering from the same disorder.

  • I appreciate the analysis but I wonder if we are creating an unjustified distinction in favor of Sen. Kennedy’s interpretation of social justice.

    It was, for me, far more than his stance on abortion that offended me. Sen. Kennedy evoked a viscoral reaction whenever I saw or heard him. The root cause was that the “social justice” that he spoke so eloquently for was coupled with an hypocracy and a complete disregard for the effects of social liberalism, as opposed to social justice, on American society in general and American Catholicism in particular.

    As to the hypocracy, it was far more than his lack of remorse about leaving someone to die, though I admit that his lifelong denial of substantive responsibility colors my perception of the rest. Plainly stated, he remained an unrepentant, vice-ridden person his whole public life and saw no responsibility to act as an example to others. Born into a life of privelege, power, and wealth, he made no continuous efforts to bolster charitable giving of time or talents. He could have championed causes of every stripe that involved individual charity and concern. Instead, he championed only government intervention. In my opinion, no Catholic can take credit for what the state compels him to do, however just or right, so this utter failure to call others to charity or to engage in its himself stacks strongly against him. The hypocracy comes from his unceasing lectures to others for their individualism and failure to support Statism.

    Finally, in a related vein, he advocated far more than abortion – even though abortion would be enough to show him as having excommunicated himself in my book. He drew heavily from Catholic roots and used that tie-in to preserve political power and to use it in advancing others who directly opposed Catholic values. To advance those who furthered gay marriage, abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, euthenasia, sex-ed sponsored by Planned Parenthood, and other causes directly opposed to our beliefs surely invalidates his claim to being a Catholic in other than name only.

    At the end of my analysis, I must conclude that his Catholicism was merely a cloak to hide grave evil. Whether he saw it that way or not is between him and God. However, that he was little more than a well-hidden cancer is not, to my mind, in doubt.

  • G-veg,

    I agree with your assesment of Kennedy’s viewpoint on social liberalism, and I agree that it is in error. I think we need to be cautious with other than black and white issues such as abortion and euthanasia. What I’m saying is, no matter how much I believe modern liberalism is completely opposed to the Church, the Church has not spoken such and so I merely “speculate”.

  • The problem with not being more explicit about what we, as Christians, oppose is that the other voices advocating for a better way of living, like the Mennonites, Hassid, and LDS, NEED all the support they can get.

    For example, school has started this week and the alley beside my house is a major thoroughfare for kids going to our public high school. Frankly, many of the girls are dressed like tramps and the boys’ behavior is atrocious: rude, unseemly, and unkind. We should be calling such behavior what it is – unChristian.

    I have been reading a lot about the early Church and am struck by the ability of so few to affect so many simply by living well and stating the truth loudly. It is more than their evangelization – though the power of seeking out the lost and inviting them to find community is a resounding lesson worth applying to a world so lost in the false claims of modernity – it is also the social norms that so impressed the heathen communities where they were established: standing apart from the rituals and sinfulness of the world around them.

    How can we call ourselves Catholic while sending our daughters out for Halloween dressed sexily? How can we call ourselves Christian while allowing our sons to taunt and abuse the weakest among them?

    More to the point of the post above, how can we allow public figures to call themselves Catholic and derive power from their warped association with the faith without calling them on it when they act in a distinctly un-Catholic way?

    Yes, Kennedy and Pelosi, among others, have probably excommunicated themselves and there is no need for the Church to take such formal actions. However, their crimes were and are well known and it creates confusion and scandal for our Bishops to ignore it in them and speak eloquently to the rest of us.

    By making oneself a public figure, you invite comment on your life and forgo the right to protest that your Christian identity is between you and God alone.

    “To those to whom more is given…”

  • Finally! This is the first article that I believe was well, and thoughtfully written! I admit I am new to The American Catholic, so I haven’t seen many articles – I have mostly seen rants and blind partisanship in many of the posts – but this one actually gets to some important issues and even though I disagree with some of the opinions, this one at least gives a foundation for discussion that I think can be useful.

16 Responses to Was Kennedy "More Right Than Wrong"?

  • Actually Kennedy was more Left than either Right or Catholic, and that was his whole problem.

  • Outstanding post, Darwin!

    Kennedy is being lauded by the Catholic left for being a far-left Democrat, but they’re trying to dress it up as something more (witness Sr. Fiedler’s “he made me proud to be Catholic”). That’s the sum total of the lionizing the so-called “Lion of the Senate” is receiving by “progressive” Catholics.

  • Abortion, and the outrageous judicial power grab that forced it from the democratic process, is the most important issue in the public sphere.

    Here, Sen. Kennedy was a grave failure – both in his lamentable treatment of Judge Bork and in the many lamentable votes he cast related to the issues of life, abortion first among them.

    Just as his detractors should respect his passing and leave the scoring of “political points” for another time, so too should partisans like Winters and various bloggers refrain from elevating Kennedy as a great “Catholic example.”

    On the biggest issue of our time, he was gravely in the wrong.

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  • To dismiss his career because of his stance on abortion is to be ignorant of the complicated way the issue of abortion manifested itself in the early 1970s: I think Kennedy got it wrong but I do not find it difficult to understand why and how he got it wrong. If the pro-life leaders would stop ranting for a second and study that history they might become more effective at advancing their cause.

    I find this paragraph fascinating. Mr. Winters apparently believes that all he has to do is assert that something is ‘complicated,’ and that ‘only ignorance’ could account for the criticism Mr. Kennedy received, and voila, it’s washed away. Moreover, if pro-lifers – you know, Catholics who agree with the Church – would stop ‘ranting,’ they would be able to more effectively advance their cause (despite the Herculean efforts of politicians like Mr. Kennedy to prevent such advancement, it is supposed).

    The fact of the matter, of course, is that Mr. Kennedy fought tooth and nail against the protection of unborn life. It was a deliberate political decision that was both tragic and reflected a near-complete rejection of the Catholic conception of the human person and the common good. His accomplishments in other areas should be given their due, but his faults were very real. Let’s not ignore either, particularly with patronizing nonsense about how ‘complicated’ abortion was in the 1970’s (through the late oughts?), or how voting along party lines was somehow a deep reflection of Catholic conviction. I should add that my intention here is to criticize Mr. Winters, rather than Mr. Kennedy. It is telling that Mr. Winters, while stating that he thinks Mr. Kennedy was wrong about abortion, shows far more sympathy to Mr. Kennedy than to either his “fellow” pro-lifers or the persons for which they seek legal protection.

  • It perplexes me that so much attention and credibility to given to a writer at AMERICA [THE Catholic weekly, except THE Catholic weekly is the Nat Cath Rep, except that Commonweal is THE Catholic weekly …].

    That journal [and the others] are quietly but vociferously declining. They are as like as peas in a pod. They have nothing interesting to say. Be kind; let them expire.

  • “I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith,” Kennedy said. “But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?”


    Vile, pure and simple.

    What can be more wrong than facilitating and, thereby, enabling the deaths of what will amount to be so many millions of children?

    “Cruel & Unusual Punishment” has nothing on deliberate dissection of your very person while still alive in your mother’s womb!

    If only Catholics would stop trivializing abortion (and, more importantly, stop abortion altogether) as if it were some casual thing to be selected on some diner menu, then perhaps they would start acting and, even more, start being “Catholic”!

  • “I think we can be assured that such a deviation from liberal orthodoxoy would be considered far less “incidental” by Catholic progressives than his deviation from Church teaching on abortion.”

    Sadly, I believe this observation is 100% accurate.

  • A friend of mine remarked in an email that even those Catholics who didn’t have much respect for Kennedy attempted to deal initially with his death with sympathy. That it was the over the top attempt by some on the left to virtually canonize the reprobate that basically called for voices to be raised in service of truth.

    If I read something like that a couple days ago, I would have rejected the idea that we should take the bait and speak up. Not today. The attempts by the leftist ideologues to write a hagiography on Kennedy has only served to make us recall and shine a light on his true character and deeds. Let’s pray for him because if he’s going to experience the Beatific Vision it’s not going to be because of his defining deeds but in spite of them.

  • Rick,

    I have to agree. One would like to let time pass to assess the man. But at the same time, if that time is used to distort the record, then the demands of truth AND charity require speaking up.

  • Rick, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    Because Ted Kennedy’s life and legislative legacy have been so overrated and puffed up by the mainstream media and liberals, some on the other side can’t resist the temptation to go equally overboard in trashing him. I have in mind those bloggers (not here, of course) who were absolutely vicious about his cancer diagnosis and saying he deserved to suffer as much as possible, or those right now who are openly saying he is or should be burning in hell and expressing glee at the prospect.

    Gifted speaker, yes. Skilled politician, sure.
    Champion of the poor and downtrodden (provided they made it out of the womb intact), maybe.
    Lion of the Senate on a par with, say, Daniel Webster or Henry Clay — I don’t think so.
    Exemplary Catholic politician — excuse me while I go get a barf bag.

  • Has anyone read Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer column? Check it out here

  • The fact of the matter, of course, is that Mr. Kennedy fought tooth and nail against the protection of unborn life. It was a deliberate political decision that was both tragic and reflected a near-complete rejection of the Catholic conception of the human person and the common good.

    John Henry’s point is very important in understanding Kennedy’s legacy to Catholics in America. In rejecting the human-dignity principle, Kennedy kicked the base from under the many authentic human-rights causes he espoused–and thereby rendered almost all of them suspect in the minds of Catholics loyal to the magisterium. Some of these Catholics today reject not only Kennedy’s party but every plank in its platform–sometimes just because it is in that platform. Those who remain Democrats tend to cite their support for an assortment of “progressive” causes as evidence of their faith, even as their opposition to basic tenets of Catholic teaching–and to the authorities who periodically remind them of those tenets–grows ever more strident.

    There is no way to throw holy water on the ugly divide in American Catholicism that Senator Kennedy’s cynical choices may not have caused but certain helped to entrench. Everyone who posts here today but used to post on Vox Nova surely understands and regrets it.

  • I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it

    What garbage. If you cannot know the truth, what good is it?

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