There is an acritude in the comments occasioned by Senator Kennedy's death and funerals among good Catholics that requires a few words.
Edward Kennedy, Ted, was of Irish descent, and, as such, was catholic. We could ask: was he a good catholic? Hard to answer, for two sets of reasons.
First, because to answer such a question would mean to pass a judgment on a whole life story. In the case of Ted Kennedy, being he a senator, this life story is private and public. After the loss of his brothers, his life was marked by the nasty accident of 1968 at Chappaquiddick, when he was probably responsible for the death of a girl. He succeeded in getting legally out of it, but I hope, for his soul, that he confessed his guilt with a priest. Publicly, that thing tainted all his subsequent political career, keeping him away from the presidency.
But more than forty years have gone by since then, other forty years of public life as senator, which equally require a judgment that I am sure is not easy. I don't especially recognize myself in his political side, mainly because of the changes this has undergone in these forty years, that make today's issues quite different from those of the Sixties, which saw the beginning of Ted Kennedy career, fighting on the side of his brothers for civil rights that were really such.
The Sixties: they bring me to the other set of reasons that make difficult to answer the question whether he was a good catholic.
We all remember when Ted's brother John was elected, first catholic in the history of the United States, and how this thing aroused suspicions that he had to assuage. He was asked how he would choose, in case of a discrepancy between the demands of the Church and those of his office as President of the USA. His answer was quite simple: he would act always in the interest of the United States, meaning, because no such a discrepancy were possible.
How much has changed since then, alas, in the States as well as in the Catholic Church! We are no longer sure of what it means to be either a good American, or a good Catholic.
I leave aside what pertains to being a good American. I hinted to the divisions concerning this in a previous post (for a more detailed discussion of the idea of America, we'll have to wait for Lazy Disciple's book, to be published in a near future). So I'll stay with the question of the "good catholic".
Many good Catholics are angry at Ted Kennedy for supporting the pro-choice policy of his party. I can't blame them, because, whether he really supported it or not, he didn't take a public stand against it, as they demand.
Of course, the Church is definitely against abortion, and to support it is to put oneself out of it. However, with failure to take a stand against it, we enter into an area where since the Sixties ideas got all blurred: even among theologians and prelates, leave alone a poor politician.
Just in these days I have been reading a very interesting book on the Vatican II and its aftermath. I'll have eventually to return on this, and try some considerations on what the Sixties have been in general, in the Church and out of her. Now, keeping apart the Council from its aftermath, I must say that the latter has been literally diabolic: meaning, according to the etymology of the word, divisive.
Catholics split in (at least) two, mainly on the question of the relation of Church and State.
In traditional catholic doctrine it had been maintained, to mediate between the meta-political teaching of the Church, addressing all people to announce them their unity in the salvation brought by Christ, and the political reality of the particular States in which human societies organize themselves, the notion of natural law. By way of this, it was possible, not only to educate people to Christ, but also to enclose in the same polity people who don't believe in him. The same tradition of natural law was at the origin of the United States of America, clearly to be read in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. But the Church as well as the State were swept by the wind of the Sixties. The Supreme Court wounded the tradition on which America was founded with the infamous Roe versus Wade, leaving as only basis of civil life consensus, always susceptible to change. But even the Church didn't appear any more as a unitary ground of stability.
Unanimity on the notion of natural law got lost, and, as far as the constitution of the polity is concerned, many Catholics thought that they could not bring their religious ideas to bear on a legislation destined not only to "believers", but also to "not believers".
Often in the name of a purer faith, less compromised with established politics, fideism became the thing of the day, and a large party in the Church demised its traditional reasoning ways.
Good Catholics have to follow the example of our beloved Benedict XVI, with his constant invitation to the use of reason, to which Christ himself, as Logos incarnate, has educated us. To use it, I say, first of all among us inside the same Church. And this cannot be done without mellowing the acritude that even our love of truth can bring about in the midst of dissenting positions. Because it would take us away from the very Christian truth we want to defend.
So let's have mercy, and pray for the soul of a poor politician.