Boston, the Kennedys and the dignity of life

Kennedy siblings are pictured at the wedding reception of Jacqueline Bouvier to John F. Kennedy in this picture taken in Hammersmith Farm, Newport, Rhode Island on September 12, 1953. Clockwise from left: Robert F. Kennedy, Patricia Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Edward M. Kennedy, Jean Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Reuters/Toni Frissell/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/Handout

ROME (Zenit) -- My August visit to the United States this year was bracketed by the deaths of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Edward Kennedy. For a Bostonian like myself, these two events, representing the end of the extraordinary Kennedy generation that propelled Boston into the political A-list, closed the curtain on an era.

The funerals of the two Kennedys inevitably thrust Catholic culture into the front and center of media interest. Richard Dawkins, crusader for the removal of religion from the public square, must have pulled his hair out watching Cardinal Seán O’Malley in full regalia incensing the casket of Senator Kennedy on every major TV station.

For Boston Catholics, these images had even greater meaning.

From Catholic ghetto to Washington center stage

Boston was established upon granite columns of anti-Catholicism. From the time of its Puritan founders, the city maintained a heavy majority population of Protestants for three centuries until the Irish arrived -- unwelcomed and unwanted -- in the mid 19th century.

Seventeenth-century Puritan statutes banished all priests from the territory, and proscribed the penalty of death should they return (in 1690 this was mitigated to life imprisonment). Catholics were barred from all public worship until 1780. Each November 5th, on Guy Fawkes Day, Bostonians celebrated “Pope Day” by burning the pope in effigy, holding processions featuring the Roman Pontiff and the devil walking hand in hand and launching pogrom-type vandalizing of Catholic homes and businesses.

In 1834, rioters burned down an Ursuline convent in North Boston and by 1840 a virulently anti-Catholic political party, the “Know Nothings,” was formed in reaction to Catholic immigration to the United States. The Know Nothing party swept Massachusetts elections in 1854, winning both governorship and legislature.

Puritan laws had forbidden Catholics from holding any kind of political office and Boston practice portrayed Catholics as mindless automata in the service of the foreign pope.

All of that changed in a big way in 1960. The election of John F. Kennedy, a Bostonian no less, as president of the United States offered Boston a catharsis similar to that of the election of Barack Obama. The stigma of anti-Catholic bigotry could at last be cleansed.

The Kennedy compromise

The price for this Catholic family seizing the brass ring was very high and American Catholics have been paying interest ever since. John F. Kennedy declared in a televised 1960 interview, “I do not speak for my Church on public matters -- and the Church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as president -- on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject -- I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”

This infamous Catholic caveat allowed JFK to be elected president, but formed the precedent for every Catholic pro-abortion politician’s argument, “I’m personally opposed but ...”

Edward Kennedy, JFK’s littlest brother, lived to see the disastrous road the Kennedy compromise brought about. In 1971, Senator Kennedy wrote the following words: “While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life.”

He also said, “Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized -- the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old. When history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

In a moral tragedy rivaling the horrendous assassination of his brothers, Ted Kennedy bowed to political pressure and became a strong supporter of abortion. In the past week, no Kennedy mourner has been louder than NARAL, the foremost abortion advocacy group in the United States, who gave him a coveted 100 percent approval rating.

Rescue and reconciliation

On the other hand, Eunice Shriver, the fifth Kennedy child, found a use for the magic name of Kennedy, which would not be rooted in cover-ups and compromise. Eunice set about rescuing the family name and restoring its luster of hope and promise.

As of the 1950s she directed her interest to the mentally disabled and ultimately founded the Special Olympics. She championed the right to life, constantly contesting pro-abortion groups for quoting her presidential brother out of context and making him seem favorable to abortion. As a member of the Democratic party, she maintained the unpopular position of a pro-life Democrat.

During a ceremony in her honor held at the JFK library in Boston on Nov. 16, 2007, Eunice attributed all that had been good in her brother’s presidency, all that had truly helped the weak and voiceless, to her sister Rosemary, saying that “more than any one single individual, Rosemary made the difference.”

Rosemary Kennedy, who died at the age of 86 on Jan. 7, 2005, was given a lobotomy at the age of 23 and was left mentally incapacitated. Eunice began her work with mentally disabled people because of the tragedy of her sister Rosemary and founded the Special Olympics in her honor. President Kennedy signed into law the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) inspired by his sister.

The cascade of images from Boston and Hyannisport this August underscored the distinct personalities and legacies of the two Kennedy siblings.

Among hundreds of mourners who came to bid farewell to Eunice Shriver, many were Special Olympians paying tribute to Eunice with accounts of how her initiatives changed countless individual lives.

Even the touching image that made its way around the world of Carolina Shriver tenderly stroking the cheek of her bereaved grandfather, underscored the legacy of love and caring that Eunice left behind.

The far more televised event of Ted Kennedy’s funeral saw citizens of Massachusetts lining the streets mourning the end of the era when Boston was a political nerve center. Television coverage featured politicians jockeying for points on health care issues or Kennedy’s senatorial successor. Reminiscent of ancient Roman send-offs of the Julio-Claudian emperors, some pushed for deification of the departed while others clamored for “condamnatio memoriae,” condemning their memories.

Back in July, Ted Kennedy sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, delivered by none other than President Obama. It now appears that the pope wrote back to the dying senator and that a priest was at his bedside as he died. In his true final act, Ted Kennedy didn’t promote health care reform, but reconciled with Christ and his Church, providing all onlookers with a reminder that the Church preaches mercy and forgiveness and waits with open arms for the return of all of her children.

Although in life Eunice often needed the powerful support of her famous brothers to carry out her many projects to protect life, now she and her beloved Rosemary are no doubt well placed to intercede for them in heaven.

This may be the most powerful -- and certainly the most important -- bond among these celebrated siblings.

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus and University of St. Thomas’ Catholic studies program.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...