As President Harry Truman famously said, referring to the latest White House scandal, “The buck stops here!” referring to the President’s desk in the Oval Office.  It is not unreasonable to suggest that the ‘buck’ for the scandal of the secular extravaganza which obscured the sacred liturgical nature of the Kennedy funeral should stop at the desk of the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston.  Again, since I do not want to directly criticize another bishop, I leave it to the laity to analyze the true nature of that celebration.  I give the final word to a layman for whom I have a great deal of respect: Phillip Lawler.  Phillip Lawler’s book, The Faithful Departed, is a devastating historical record of the state of Catholocism in Boston as well as an excellent photograph of its present condition.  It is a must read for anyone who really wants to understand how a scandalous event such as  the funeral celebration last Saturday in Boston could take place.  Here is Phillip Lawler’s analysis of that event which he published today on Catholic Culture’s Blog.


The Kennedy Funeral: Boston’s Latest Scandal

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by Phil Lawler,

September 3, 2009

A week after the death of Ted Kennedy, the relevant question is not whether the Massachusetts Senator deserved a Catholic funeral, but whether he deserved a ceremony of public acclamation so grand and sweeping that it might, to the untutored observer, have seemed more like an informal canonization.

We cannot know the state of Ted Kennedy’s soul when he finally succumbed to brain cancer. We are told that he was visited regularly by a priest in his last days; we assume that he made a sincere confession and received absolution. We can– and should, and do– pray that he receives the same sort of merciful judgment that we wish for ourselves.

That indeed is the purpose of a Catholic funeral: not to honor the deceased, but to pray for the salvation of his soul. Yet that central purpose was never acknowledged during the long, elaborate ceremony last Saturday in Boston’s basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help: the beautiful structure known to local residents as Mission Church. From the first greeting to the final commendation, the ceremony was a celebration of Kennedy’s life and his public career. There was never a hint that Ted Kennedy might need prayers, that his eternal salvation could be in question– that he, like the rest of us sinners, can only rely on the compassion of an all-merciful God. On the contrary, at several points during the service, priests and eulogists stated flatly that Ted Kennedy was already in heaven, enjoying the rewards of a virtuous life.

The great, unanswered question hanging over the congregation in Mission Church, and in the minds of the millions who watched the funeral Mass on television, was how the Catholic Church could arrange such a highly public tribute to a man who, over the years, was arguably the most powerful political opponent of the Catholic position on the central moral issue of our time: the battle to protect human life.

Boston’s archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, muddled that point in its coverage of Kennedy’s death. The Pilot story began:

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died late Aug. 25 at the age of 77, stood firmly on the side of the Catholic Church on a wide range of issues from immigration reform to the minimum wage during his 47 years as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts.But the youngest son of one of the nation’s most famous Catholic families ran into criticism from leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church for his stand on abortion.

That story is misleading in two important respects. First, there is no single Catholic position on questions like immigration reform and the minimum wage; these are issues on which loyal Catholics can and do differ. Second, regarding the clear moral issue of abortion, the Pilot story does not forthrightly say that Kennedy’s stand was tragically wrong, but only that he “ran into criticism.” Thus the archdiocesan newspaper almost trivialized the problem. But the millions of observers who watched the funeral did not make the same mistake. All America saw that the Catholic Church was prepared to honor a politician who flouted clear, direct, and repeated public statements from the hierarchy.

A strong argument can be made for the proposition that Senator Kennedy should not have been allowed a Catholic funeral– not because of his personal failings, but because his public stands put him in conflict with the Church. Unlike private sins, which can be absolved in sacramental Confession, serious public sins require some form of public amendment, to address the scandal that they create. Ted Kennedy never recanted his support for abortion, and so he remained in open conflict with his Church. To allow a public funeral for him meant allowing for the perception that the Church is not really serious about the abortion issue, and thus creating a new public scandal.

But Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley did not accept that line of reasoning, and his opinion was the only one that mattered. There would be a public funeral. (In order to avoid still further scandal, the funeral organizers did prevent television cameras from showing which of the prominent people in attendance received Communion.) According to a rumor that circulated widely during the past week, the cardinal refused to make the city’s cathedral available for the ceremony. But there is no concrete evidence to support that rumor, and in any case a funeral in the cathedral could scarcely have been more grandiose than the ceremony in Mission Church. A separate rumor– that Cardinal O’Malley was subtly distancing himself from the Kennedy family by his choice of liturgical vestments– is too recondite to merit serious discussion. If any such subtle message was intended, that message was not received by the American public, which saw the funeral as the most glorious send-off the Catholic Church can arrange.

Although he did not mention Senator Kennedy’s abortion advocacy during the funeral itself, while the television cameras were on him, Cardinal O’Malley did raise the issue later, in an entry on his blog at the archdiocesan web site. He acknowledged that some Catholics felt a public funeral was inappropriate, but added: “In the strongest terms I disagree with that position.” The cardinal went on to warn that “zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another.” Then, in a harsh judgment of his own, he added that those zealots– by implication, the ones inveighing against the Kennedy funeral– “do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church.” (Here Cardinal O’Malley’s argument echoed a similar statement that he had advanced a few months earlier, when he charged that pro-life activists in Boston were “doing a great disservice to the Catholic Church” by suggesting that participation in a state government program would require the archdiocesan hospitals to cooperate in abortion referrals. Later the cardinal directed the hospitals to withdraw from that program, tacitly acknowledging the accuracy of the pro-lifers’ argument.)

While he preserved his silence on the great unanswered question during the funeral, Cardinal O’Malley did address it in his blog entry. His approach there was revealing:

Given the profound effect of Catholic social teaching on so many of the programs and policies espoused by Senator Kennedy and the millions who benefitted (sic) from them, there is a tragic sense of lost opportunity in his lack of support for the unborn.

A “lost opportunity?” A “great disappointment?” The cardinal’s language suggests that Kennedy’s failure lay only in what he failed to do to save the lives of the unborn. In fact, Senator Kennedy never lost any opportunity to advance the cause of unrestricted abortion on demand. He compiled a “perfect” 100% voting record, as judged by the abortion industry. He savaged Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, denouncing the legal scholar especially for his pro-life views. He accepted the “Champion of Choice” award from the National Abortion Rights Action League. During his wake at Boston’s Kennedy Library, a woman wearing a “fetal feet” lapel pin was stopped at the door and informed that pro-lifers would not be allowed to view the Senator’s casket.

Nor was abortion the only issue on which Senator Kennedy fought against the moral directives of the Church. He was also a stalwart supporter of embryonic stem-cell research. He encouraged the export of contraceptives to needy countries, and their distribution among American teens. He indicated his sympathy for “right to die” legislation that would pave the way for euthanasia. He was a strong advocate for legal recognition of same-sex unions. After his death, the Boston gay newspaper Bay Windows revealed that Senator Kennedy had made a series of quiet phone calls to persuade state lawmakers that they should scuttle a citizen’s petition to reaffirm traditional marriage– thus thwarting the democratic process, denying citizens their constitutional rights, and enshrining homosexual relationships as the legal equivalent of sacred matrimony.

Maybe Catholic leaders wished to overlook the Senator’s public stands, but his political allies did not. At the time of his death, the leading public advocates of legal abortion and homosexual rights extolled Kennedy as their greatest legislative champion. His intense and enduring support for their causes was not an incidental matter– not a minor aspect of his legislative record. Ted Kennedy was universally acknowledged as a public foe of Catholic teachings. So in honoring him at Mission Church, Catholic leaders sent out a very disturbing message to the world: a message that could even be construed as surrender. C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts issued a statement that was withering in its intensity, but persuasive in its logic:

No rational person can reasonably be expected to take seriously Catholic opposition to abortion when a champion of the Culture of Death, who repeatedly betrayed the faith of his baptism, is lauded and extolled by priests and prelates in a Marian basilica.

When the funeral cortege left Boston, and arrived in Arlington, Virginia, for the burial service, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick made yet another effort to camouflage the political impact of Kennedy’s public career and to downplay the importance of the abortion issue. Without actually mentioning abortion directly, the retired Archbishop of Washington said:

Sometimes, we who were his friends and had affection for him would get mad at him when he roared at what we believed was the wrong side of an issue which was important to us, but we always were touched by his passion for the underdog, for the rights of working people, for better education and for adequate health care for every American.

Well, not “every American,” your Eminence. Not the unborn. By identifying abortion only as “an issue which was important to us,” Cardinal McCarrick managed to convey the impression that this was a pleasant disagreement among friends, rather than a desperate battle to prevent the slaughter of innocent children. And the cardinal continued to build on that impression by quoting, with evident approval, from the letter that the ailing Senator Kennedy had sent to Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year. In that letter Kennedy had said:

I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings.

By quoting that passage without correcting it– without pointing out that Kennedy did not respect the fundamental teachings of the Church regarding the sanctity of human life and the duties of Catholic politicians– Cardinal McCarrick implicitly gave his endorsement to the late Senator’s warped idea of the responsibilities of a Catholic legislator.

Cardinal McCarrick revealed only portions of Kennedy’s letter to the Holy Father. We don’t know what other sentiments the late Senator might have expressed, what requests he might have made to the Pontiff. But we do know, from bitter experience, that Cardinal McCarrick is perfectly capable of withholding certain key portions of a letter in order to advance his own side of an argument. In 2004, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote to the American bishops, advising that prominent Catholics who “reject the doctrine of the Church” should not receive the Eucharist. That statement was clearly addressed to the situation of politicians who supported legal abortion: politicians like Ted Kennedy, in fact. But Cardinal McCarrick, to whom the Ratzinger letter was addressed, did not convey that message to his brother bishops in the US; instead he presented them with a bowdlerized version of the letter, carefully vetted to suggest that the Vatican had not recommended withholding Communion from abortion advocates.

On the occasion of Kennedy’s funeral, however, Cardinal McCarrick did not censor a letter from the Vatican. Quite the contrary. The cardinal read a letter from the Vatican Secretary of State, creating the impression that it was a friendly personal letter from the Pope. Yet again, the net result of the cardinal’s action was to suggest that the Church– in this instance the Pope– retained a warm sympathy for Senator Kennedy despite his support for the Culture of Death.

Actually Pope Benedict has avoided any public comment whatsoever on Senator Kennedy’s death. Presumably the Pontiff has his reasons for choosing to be silent, and indeed it is not difficult to imagine what those reasons might be. If only the American hierarchy had opted for a similar silence– praying for the soul of Ted Kennedy, certainly, but not extolling his public life– the Church might have avoided another grave public scandal.


Scandal Spelled Out Posted Sep. 4, 2009 2:10 PM || by Phil Lawler || category Commentary

Responding to my Commentary article on the Kennedy funeral, reader Elizabeth Rhode Martin writes:

This is a wonderful article,very thorough, and I agree completely with your observations

However, my heart is wringing it’s hands, if such were possible, because we have two grown children who are among those who would point to this as reason enough not to believe anymore. The actions of the two Bishops are more than disturbing, they help to lose souls.

Exactly. That’s why I referred to the event as a scandal. Scandal, the Catechism teaches us (2284), is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.” You might say that scandal is the opposite of evangelization. Whereas evangelization brings people closer to Christ, scandal drives them further away.

One fascinating and disturbing aspect of the debate roused by the Kennedy funeral is this: While many Catholics believe that the funeral itself was a scandal, many others– equally sincere, I have no doubt– believe that the real scandal is created by those of us raising objections to the funeral. There’s plenty of righteous indignation on both sides of the aisle.

And to be fair, I understand the point that my adversaries are making. It doesn’t bother me at all when people hear my arguments and grow angry with me; I can take it. But it troubles me when they hear my arguments and grown angry with the Catholic Church, because that anger is likely to lead them astray.

To evangelize– to proclaim the truth of Christ’s Gospel, in season and out of season– sometimes entails making unpopular statements. If the Church– in Boston, Washington, and elsewhere– had been more energetic in its evangelization over the course of the past generation, we wouldn’t have so many young people growing cynical, concluding that there’s no reason to take the teaching voice of the Church seriously. We certainly wouldn’t have so many politicians so confused about their moral responsibilities that they believed they could advocate the slaughter of the unborn without violating their own consciences.



by Germain Grisez

Volume One, Chapter Nine

1. We are responsible for more than just what we aim at and choose. In making a choice, one usually foresees many effects of carrying out the proposal. Some, although not included in the proposal, can have an important bearing on human goods. A person has some responsibility for such side effects. For instance, one who chooses to drink and drive foresees possible harm to the lives and property of others. Though drunken drivers do not aim at this harm or include it in the proposal they adopt, they nevertheless bear some responsibility for this foreseen side effect. An accident which is due to their condition is their fault.

That one can bear responsibility for foreseen consequences which are no part of one’s proposal is clearly indicated by examples. A person who enjoys very loud music might decide in the late night hours to play his or her favorite records, realizing that the sound will disturb others. The proposal simply is to listen to music; the disturbance to others might even be regretted. Still, one who thus disturbs others is responsible, and others are justified in complaining that such a person is selfish.

Many injustices are like this one. People often are not interested in harming others, but they foresee harm to others occurring along with benefit to themselves and proceed to act selfishly. In a case of this sort, the moral responsibility is not in self-determination against some good—for example, the health of others damaged by their lack of sleep. Rather, the responsibility is in lack of commitment to community with others, since such commitment would incline one to treat their interests on a par with one’s own.

2. Although one bears responsibility for foreseen side effects, one does not have the same sort of responsibility for them as for what one chooses (see S.t., 2–2, q. 43, a. 3; q. 64, a. 7). Moral responsibility is to be found first and foremost in one’s choosing. For example, a man, such as Jesus, who freely accepts certain death as a side effect of continuing to carry out his upright commitments does not choose to kill himself; thus he is not guilty of the destruction of his life. But a man who chooses to kill himself is guilty of the destruction of his life, even if he is killing himself for the sake of some human good which he rightly desires to serve.

Still, in many cases the effects one foresees and accepts have a great sigificance for human goods. Although in some cases one may accept effects which significantly inhibit or damage some human good, this possibility is not unlimited. If one really is as committed to community as one ought to be, one will not accept effects selfishly. Nor will one bring about effects which it is one’s duty to avoid.

Firefighters, for example, will try to fight fires, not always in the easiest way, but in ways which minimize loss of life, since it is their duty to save lives. The law also reflects this sort of responsibility by prohibiting various cases of homicide which involve no premeditation. For instance, the responsible drunken driver might be convicted of manslaughter. Hence, although one is not responsible for side effects one accepts in the same way one is responsible for what one does by choice, responsibility for the former can be just as grave as responsibility for the latter.

3. What one does in the strict sense is what one chooses to do—that is, what is sought for its own sake and/or included as a means in the proposal one adopts (see S.t., 1–2, q. 1, a. 3; q. 6, a. 1; q. 19, a. 5). What one brings about, including all foreseen side effects, is far more extensive than what one chooses to do and “does” in this strict sense. One determines oneself primarily in choosing. In choosing one establishes one’s existential identity by settling one’s personal priorities among the goods on which the choice bears. One does not determine oneself in the same way with respect to foreseen side effects, which are neither sought for their own sake nor included in the proposal one adopts.12

The goods in which one is interested and on which one’s choice directly bears are much more limited than the whole state of affairs one actually brings about by executing the proposal one adopts. For instance, if two boys play catch, they are interested in the good of playing the game. Perhaps the boys have been told to do chores instead of playing catch, and they know they might be caught and punished for their delinquency. This foreseen consequence, though understood as part of the state of affairs their action will bring about, is not precisely what they choose. Their self-determination is to play, not to being punished. Punishment, if it comes, will be an unwanted side effect of having done as they pleased.

It might be assumed that the foreseen consequence in this example lies outside the precise boundaries of the boys’ choice only because the consequence occurs by parental fiat. But this assumption is false. The boys might also realize that they are wearing out their gloves. Even if they consider this natural and inevitable consequence of using their gloves, it is no part of the proposal they adopt in choosing to play. They are interested in play; they accept wear on their gloves as an unwanted consequence of using them.

4. At the same time, one bears responsibility for foreseen side effects. Since they are foreseen, these effects are voluntary. One could avoid them by not choosing what one chooses. One might not want them, but one does accept them. Thus, while primarily responsible for choices, which directly determine oneself and shape one’s character, one is secondarily responsible for the foreseen consequences of carrying out one’s choices. Since side effects are freely accepted, it makes sense to ask whether one ought to accept them. Several of the modes of responsibility help to answer this question.

5. Freely accepted side effects must be distinguished from chosen means to one’s ends. Means are adopted as at least useful goods; they are included in one’s proposals. Thus one determines oneself in regard to the goods upon which they bear.13 As has already been explained, in adopting a proposal to destroy, damage, or impede any instance of any of the goods intrinsic to persons, one determines oneself against that good, in violation of the seventh or eighth mode of responsibility. By contrast, to accept side effects contrary to a human good is not to determine oneself against it.

Many documents of the magisterium distinguish between direct and indirect action—for example, direct sterilization and indirect sterilization. This distinction is the same as that clarified here between what one chooses and what one accepts as a foreseen side effect. For example, direct sterilization is an action in which one chooses to sterilize, while indirect sterilization is an action in which one chooses something else and accepts sterility as a foreseen side effect.

In cases where this distinction is invoked, the direct action usually is rejected as always wrong, whereas the indirect action might sometimes be upright. The so-called principle of double effect is an attempt to formulate the conditions under which an indirect action would be upright if the corresponding direct action would be wrong. (For this problem and a discussion of the classical handling of it, see 12‑F.)

6. Among the foreseen consequences of one’s choices, those conducive to one’s own or another’s subsequent immoral acts are especially important for moral theology. Having some responsibility for the foreseen side effects one accepts, often obliges one to refrain from otherwise innocent choices, precisely because one foresees that they will create occasions of sin for oneself or someone else (see S.t., 2–2. q. 43, aa. 6–7).  (In creating an occasion of sin for another when one could and should avoid doing so, one is said to give scandal.) [emphasis added by R.H.G.]

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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