Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has posted an entry on his blog, explaining why it was judged appropriate to hold the Aug. 29 public funeral Mass for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy despite Kennedy’s longstanding and highly public dissent from Church teaching on abortion.
Some Catholics have been critical of the decision, arguing that by so doing Church authorities may have given the appearance of condoning the scandal caused by Kennedy’s dissent on abortion.
Cardinal O’Malley’s blog entry took note of Kennedy’s failures in this area:
Needless to say, the Senator’s wake and Catholic funeral were controversial because of the fact that he did not publically support Catholic teaching and advocacy on behalf of the unborn. Given the profound effect of Catholic social teaching on so many of the programs and policies espoused by Senator Kennedy and the millions who benefited from them, there is a tragic sense of lost opportunity in his lack of support for the unborn. To me and many Catholics it was a great disappointment because, had he placed the issue of life at the centerpiece of the Social Gospel where it belongs, he could have multiplied the immensely valuable work he accomplished.
But despite this, Cardinal O’Malley says, it was appropriate to celebrate the public funeral Mass at Boston’s Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and for him to attend in his capacity as archbishop of Boston:
There are those who objected, in some cases vociferously, to the Church’s providing a Catholic funeral for the Senator. In the strongest terms I disagree with that position. At the Senator’s interment on Saturday evening, with his family’s permission, we learned of details of his recent personal correspondence with Pope Benedict XVI. It was very moving to hear the Senator acknowledging his failing to always be a faithful Catholic, and his request for prayers as he faced the end of his life. The Holy Father’s expression of gratitude for the Senator’s pledge of prayer for the Church, his commendation of the Senator and his family to the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and his imparting the Apostolic Blessing, spoke of His Holiness’ role as the Vicar of Christ, the Good Shepherd who leaves none of the flock behind.
As Archbishop of Boston, I considered it appropriate to represent the Church at this liturgy out of respect for the Senator, his family, those who attended the Mass and all those who were praying for the Senator and his family at this difficult time. We are people of faith and we believe in a loving and forgiving God from whom we seek mercy.
Cardinal O’Malley noted that his presence at the Mass also provided him an opportunity to express Catholic opposition about any abortion funding in the health-care reform initiative directly to President Barack Obama, who delivered the eulogy at the funeral:
President Obama and three former presidents attended Senator Kennedy’s funeral. I had the opportunity to speak briefly with President Obama, to welcome him to the Basilica and to share with him that the bishops of the Catholic Church are anxious to support a plan for universal health care, but we will not support a plan that will include a provision for abortion or could open the way to abortions in the future. The President was gracious in the short time we spoke, he listened intently to what I was saying.