September 8th, 2009 [http://memorpetri.com/]
Bishop Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin wrote a letter in his diocesan paper, The Catholic Herald, last week bemoaning what he calls the “sinful” reaction of some Catholics to Ted Kennedy’s very public, very dramatic, celebrity funeral. I have to say with due respect that the bishop has missed the mark on several key points. I will explain. Catholics should not speak ill of the dead; no one should. And no one should presume to know what was in Kennedy’s heart when he died; this is only God’s purview. However, the grave side remarks made by Cardinal McCarrick, the eulogy by Fr. Patrick Tarrant, and Cardinal O’Malley’s conspicuous presence scandalized, yes scandalized a great many Catholics who did not have hatred in their hearts. Bishop Morlino should countenance this. Moreover, instead of emphasizing those who were “led into scandal” by the Kennedy funeral spectacle, he should recognize the scandal of the spectacle itself. There was a way to handle the funeral of Kennedy, who was the main architect of the Democratic party’s abortion policy for the last 39 years: a private funeral without all of the fanfare, without the major prelates, without the paeans of praise, without the mixed messages from the Church. Bishop Morlino talks of the “disconnect” between Kennedy’s care for the poor and his pro-abortion position. I would strongly suggest it was more than a “disconnect.” The bishop then resurrects the concept “of the seamless garment” made so famous by Cardinal Bernardin: “The challenge for us as Catholics in the United States — and it is a challenge both personally and as a community — is to bridge that disconnect and pull that whole seamless garment of the defense of life together, rather than rending that garment in twain and choosing one, while almost, or actually, excluding the other. The social teaching of the Church and her pro-life stance surely are interwoven as a seamless garment.” The seamless garment thesis concerning Catholic teaching on life issues has been discredited because at bottom the idea is about moral equivalency. It does not recognize moral differences between capital punishment, going to war, the right to healthcare, the right to life, racisim, euthanasia, and right to housing. The right to life from birth to natural death is the cornerstone, the foundation, of any authentic social justice ethos within the Church. Abortion and euthanasia are two issues which are not morally equivalent to capital punishment or the right to basic health care. They share a special status morally because of their gravity and because they are the basis for any coherent social justice endeavor. This is made clear in John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae: “[T]he Direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 57). “[A] civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law….In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it’” (EV, n. 72-73, from Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion , n. 22). ”[W]hen it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality” (EV, n. 73). With all due respect to Bishop Morlino the true seamless garment is Christ’s teaching, transmitted through the Gospel and tradition, about the inherent worth of human creation. What lasting good does a politician offer to society if he cares for the material needs of the poor while also purveying abortion to them at the same time? Bishop Morlino also references the “false catechesis” provided to Kennedy by priests and theologians such as Charles Curran, Rev. Robert Drinan and Rev. Richard McCormick. Again, I would take issue with the word “catechesis” here. In his book, The Birth of Bioethics (Oxford, 2003), ex-Jesuit, Albert Jonsen, does not describe the meetings between Joseph Fuchs, Curran, McCormick and others as catechetical in nature, but as strategic. Kennedy was looking for a way to rationalize and redefine his view on abortion, so the powerful pro-abortion lobby, which included NARAL and NOW, could be counted on for monetary support of the Democratic party. His “theological advisors” were trying to muddy the waters for Catholics and they did. We are now reaping what they have sewn in the Church today. To suggest that Kennedy was somehow looking for catechetical guidance is naive given the public positions on life issues and artificial contraception such advisors openly advocate. Second, I do not believe Ted Kennedy was “confused” or challenged by moral “ambiguity” because of the “theological advice” he was given. Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been unequivocal on the right to life and the protections which a just society is required to afford the unborn, the sick and the elderly. No average church going Catholic I know has any doubt about what the Church really teaches beyond the ambivalence of some of their pastors. Moreover, his sister Eunice Shriver, who fully embraced Catholic pro-life teaching, was a clear and abiding example in his life. Surely, Bishop Morlino does not really believe that Ted Kennedy was “confused” about what the Church taught. Much of what happened at the funeral could have been mitigated with some well-placed recognition of the Church’s teaching on life. This would not have been difficult given the presence of episcopal graces both cardinals possess. Either could have reminded all at that funeral about the most basic requirement of a just society: the protection of its smallest members. In his latest encyclical, “Charity in Truth” Benedict XVI, does this beautifully by underscoring the edifice on which a just society is built: “One of the most striking aspects of development in the present day is the important question of respect for life, which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples. It is an aspect which has acquired increasing prominence in recent times, obliging us to broaden our concept of poverty and underdevelopment to include questions connected with the acceptance of life, especially in cases where it is impeded in a variety of ways” (Charity in Truth, n. 28).