Honoring Kennedy: Eulogies or Campaign Speeches?

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.