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Imagine: If Ted Kennedy had recanted

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 08, 2009

 My Commentary article on the Kennedy funeral has drawn a huge outpouring of comments from readers, with the vast majority applauding the piece.

Almost invariably, those who criticized the piece argued that it is wrong to deny a Catholic funeral to any member of the faithful. But in the very first sentence of my essay, I stated quite clearly that the question was not whether Senator Kennedy should have been given a funeral, but whether he should have been given such extravagant honors in a Catholic basilica-- with never a hint about his troubled relations with his Church.

Among the readers who agreed with me, on the other hand, an interesting theme emerged: A number of responses emphasized how much good it might have done-- for the common good and for the welfare of souls-- if Church leaders had made a concerted effort before Ted Kennedy's death to persuade him that he must recant his public support for legal abortion.

Catholic priests and bishops, as pastors of souls, have a solemn obligation to admonish sinners. As Anthony H. Liuzzo of Ottawa observed:

It would behoove the hierachy of the Church especially the bishops and cardinals to review and note well the following Sacred Scripture passages from Ezekiel (3:18-21):

If I say to the wicked man, "You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death." If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life. If a virtuous man turns away from virtue and does wrong when I place a stumbling block before him, he shall die. He shall die for his sin, and his virtuous deeds shall not be remembered; but I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him. When, on the other hand, you have warned a virtuous man not to sin, and he has in fact not sinned, he shall surely live because of the warning, and you shall save your own life.

As a wise priest says, "I am not going to hell for anyone."

To reprimand Senator Kennedy would not have been a harsh action, but a display of genuine pastoral care: care for the welfare of his eternal soul. And imagine the enormous good that might have been done, if Ted Kennedy had been persuaded to reverse his support for abortion! Sister Deirdre M. Byrne of Washington, DC, remarked:

How wonderful it would have been if Ted Kennedy would have said publicly, that he was wrong on his lack of stance in protecting the many lives would have changed, maybe many in his own family and how many lives would be saved .... I lament this the most. I pray for him and all who fail to see the preciousness of life from the womb to the tomb. No issue is more crucial in our Catholic Faith than that of the sacredness of life.

How could that goal have been achieved? With "tough love." Msgr. Timothy Thorburn of Lincoln, Nebraska, offered a practical scenario:

The most pastoral thing for Cardinal O'Mally to have done would have been to meet with Senator Kennedy upon the revelation of his terminal illness, and to have invited him to repent of the evils he had done, and do what he could to make reparation for them (like voting and speaking pro life for the rest of his life). If Kennedy was not interested in that offer, His Eminence should have promised that a priest would be sent to his doorstep at any moment he would ask if he decided to change his mind or even discuss the issues further. If he did not summon the priest and make public his repentance, then a Catholic funeral would not have been available to him. As it is, the Catholic faithful, who, because of the public scandal of his promotion of various evils have a right to know if he truly repented, are left in the dark. And it seems that Kennedy himself was left there too. It does not appear that Church officials in Boston were very interested in the salvation of Kennedy's soul.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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