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Honoring Kennedy: Eulogies or Campaign Speeches?

The politicization of the ritual surrounding Senator Kennedy's burial was crass.

by
Cortes E. DeRussy

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August 31, 2009 - 12:00 am

In his eulogy for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick quoted at length from a “private” communication that Kennedy had sent to Pope Benedict XVI. Given its enormous importance, this letter had, of course, to be hand-carried to the pope by President Obama during his audience some weeks ago.

At a time for sorrow and mourning over the loss of a father, husband, and family leader, the publication of this forthrightly self-serving and hubristic letter was stunning and, even for one who was not a great fan of the senator, embarrassing. For those who did not hear the excerpts quoted, I commend part of them to you in full:

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, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I’ve 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’ll 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 would hope that, were my death imminent and if I had the opportunity to write a personal letter to the pope, I would be moved to some greater degree of humility. The knowledge that I would soon enter into the great unknown and, I believe, meet God in that ultimate encounter would, I pray, bring me to my knees seeking forgiveness and redemption. Along with a ritual expression of “deep humility” and acknowledgement of his shortcomings caused by his “human failings” and that he was “preparing for the next passage of life,” the late senator proceeded to provide the pope with a litany of his lifetime of good deeds and intentions.

He stated his belief in “a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field” while, in his life, he did nothing to limit abortions and he opposed all efforts to limit the expenditure of public funds for such procedures. No mention was made of his abrupt change from a pro-life position early in his career to a forthrightly pro-choice position as he tested the political winds. One could well ask how these positions could ever comport with the forthright positions of the Catholic Church, but, of course, how does one debate with or correct the departed?

Certainly this letter was intended to be published and used for family advancement and forthright political purposes. It can be no accident that the senator used a letter to the pope to express his support for the president’s health care legislation, which is the hottest political issue of the day.

The pope, to his credit, did not take the bait and responded with “concern” and an expression of “spiritual closeness.” He offered his blessing to the senator.

Rumors abound to the effect that a member of the Kennedy family may very well be appointed to the empty Senate seat. This on the heels of a breathtaking move, initiated by Senator Kennedy before his death, to amend Massachusetts state law so as to permit the (now Democratic) governor to appoint a replacement rather than to have the seat filled by an election as current law provides. The current law was, of course, created when it appeared that Senator Kerry might be successful in his presidential bid and the then-governor of Massachusetts was a Republican. The mind boggles at the audacity of these people.

I believe that most Americans were fully prepared to join in the grieving that accompanies the loss of a national figure, as Senator Kennedy surely was. By politicizing the ritual surrounding his burial, the family demonstrated a social crassness and disregard for those who were prepared to let past disagreements lie fallow. To use the current parlance, “it’s all about them.” His memory has now been unnecessarily tarnished.

The Kennedy family simply has no shame and Cardinal McCarrick has, at a minimum, a tin ear for the consequences of being a pawn in this blatantly political event. It should have been labeled a “Paid Political Prayer.”

For my money, the sooner the Kennedy family and their ilk depart the public scene the better.

For eternity, however, may Senator Kennedy rest in peace.

Cortes DeRussy, an equipment leasing executive, writes from his home in Bronxville, NY.
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