Pro-lifers compromise solemnity of death

  • September 11, 2009
{mosimage}The reaction by some pro-life groups to the Catholic funeral given to U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy should shame all Catholics into serious reflection on what it means to be Catholic in the present age.

For LifeSiteNews , a pro-life web page, the funeral was an expression of “human weakness and delusion.” In this event, “the tyranny of moral relativism triumphed. The false, very selective, ‘spirit of Vatican II’ social justice version of Catholicism dominated.”

An important pro-life group in Massachusetts condemned the “spectacle” of the televised Mass as “evidence of the corruption which pervades the Catholic Church in the United States.” And the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, according to a report by the Catholic News Service, denounced the “irreversible damage to the church from allowing Kennedy a funeral that did not focus attention on his failings, namely his support for legal abortion.”

All these groups claim to speak for the many people who believe, as I do, that human life begins at conception and deserves our care and defence from that moment onward. But insofar as Kennedy’s final Mass is concerned, they don’t speak for me. I deplore the lack of charity in their comments and their assumption that a Catholic funeral is a kind of reward to those who never deviate from Catholic teaching on faith and morals. Were this proposition carried to its logical extreme, Catholic funerals could well become extinct.

In this ugly controversy, the sanest and most Christian voice has surely been that of Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and chief celebrant at the Kennedy funeral. In a blog posting on Boston’s archdiocesan web site, Cardinal O’Malley acknowledges both the “support and disappointment” of faithful Catholics “at my having presided at the Senator’s funeral Mass.”

“Needless to say,” Cardinal O’Malley continues, “the Senator’s wake and Catholic funeral were controversial because of the fact that he did not publicly support Catholic teaching and advocacy on behalf of the unborn. Given the profound effect of Catholic social teaching on so many of the programs and policies espoused by Senator Kennedy and the millions who benefited from them, there is a tragic sense of lost opportunity in his lack of support for the unborn. To me and many Catholics it was a great disappointment because, had he placed the issue of life at the centrepiece of the Social Gospel where it belongs, he could have multiplied the immensely valuable work he accomplished.”

Despite the partial character of Kennedy’s accomplishments on the political and social fronts, however, the cardinal realized that his proper place was at the Mass, “out of respect for the Senator, his family, those who attended the Mass and all those who were praying for the Senator and his family at this difficult time. We are people of faith and we believe in a loving and forgiving God from whom we seek mercy.”

In Cardinal O’Malley’s words, we hear the appropriate response to the death of a fellow Christian, whatever we may think of the way he lived and died, and, in this case, voted. Offering our prayers for the dead is one way we express our identity as a people of faith. Offering the Eucharist for one who has died is the supreme acknowledgement of our solidarity with all Christians, who are, all of us, sinners being saved by the same grace and the same Lord.

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