Catholic Event Co-Hosted by Kennedy Draws Protest From Pro-Lifers

WASHINGTON — Inviting Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to co-host a fund-raiser for inner-city Catholic schools? For a small band of pro-life Catholics protesting the event, it just didn't make any sense.

“I heard that Mr. Kennedy was going to be held up as a role model. I found that to be very disturbing based on his positions that run counter to Catholic social teaching, including abortion and special homosexual rights,” said Janet Baker, who organized the Sept. 17 protest.

The event, dubbed the Annual Boehner-Kennedy Dinner, raised money for the 13 inner-city Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., known as the Center City Consortium.

Ohio Congressman John Boeh-ner, a pro-life Catholic Republican, also co-hosted the dinner, which was held at the Capital Hilton just a few blocks from the White House.

Tim Russert, host of NBC's “Meet the Press,” also gave a speech at the dinner and actor/comedian Bill Cosby provided a comedy act.

Baker noted that the Kennedy invitation came only months after the Vatican released a doctrinal note regarding Catholic politicians titled, “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life.”

In the document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states: “[T]hose who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose [emphasis in original] any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

Kennedy, a Catholic, has consistently supported abortion. He voted against banning partial-birth abortion andt voted for a rider to the bill endorsing the Roe v. Wade decision.

“Holding up such a man in honor is contrary to everything that the Pope has said to do to uphold the sanctity of human life,” Baker said.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., spoke with some of the protesters before attending the dinner.

Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for Cardinal McCarrick, said it wasn't the Archdiocese of Washington that invited Kennedy.

“Education is one of Boehner's top issues,” Gibbs said. “He was given a video about the Center City Consortium. After seeing the video, he apparently decided that he wanted to do something to help the kids.”

She noted that Boehner, who chairs the House Education Committee, attended Catholic schools from kindergarten all the way through college, when he attended Xavier University in Cincinnati.

“He approached Ted Kennedy, who co-sponsored the No Child Left Behind Act with him. Boehner and Kennedy put this dinner together. It's their dinner,” Gibbs said.

She noted that the Archdiocese of New York holds an annual Al Smith Dinner where politicians of all stripes come to raise money for Catholic hospitals.

In 2000, both major party candidates for president, Texas Gov. George Bush and Vice President Al Gore, attended the Smith Dinner. Gore supports abortion and opposes school vouchers.

Voucher Issue

Kennedy also opposes school vouchers. He is expected to try to filibuster a bill that would allow vouchers to underprivileged students in Washington, D.C., which would be valid in private or parochial schools.

Gibbs also said the money raised for the schools will enable inner-city children, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to be exposed to Catholic social teachings.

“These kids are going to get the pro-life message for the next eight to 12 years, which some of them would not likely hear elsewhere,” Gibbs said. “Our priority as a pro-life Church is to take care of the people before they are born, when they are in school and throughout their lives.”

Steve Forde, spokesman for Boehner, said the purpose of the fund-raiser was simply to help a good cause.

“It was to raise money for 13 Catholic schools,” Forde said. “It raised in excess of $700,000. It was wildly successful.”

The money will be used to buy textbooks and improve plumbing and wiring of older buildings.

“This wasn't a fund-raiser for NOW [National Organization for Women],” Forde said. “It was for inner-city students who now have the opportunity to go to Catholic elementary schools — an opportunity that they didn't have before this dinner.”

Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Consortium, said the event's goal was to set politics aside and raise money for children in need.

“Our motto was, ‘Check your politics at the door.’ You saw business and labor in the same room supporting the same thing,” Smith said.

He said the Consortium would begin planning soon for next year's Annual Boehner-Kennedy Dinner.

“We want this to be an ongoing event like the Al Smith Dinner in New York,” Smith said.

He said he couldn't understand why people would protest the event.

“Here we have Congressman Boehner and Sen. Kennedy having a dinner to help these children in Catholic schools. I'm stunned that anyone could be opposed to that,” he said.

But Father Peter West, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., where Cardinal McCarrick was archbishop until 2001, said it was still wrong to have Kennedy as a co-host.

“It doesn't matter who did the inviting. Kennedy is the co-host,” said Father West, who is associated with Priests for Life but pointed out that he was at the protest as an individual, not with the organization.

Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.