Warning against overzealousness, Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley has responded to the controversy surrounding Sen. Edward Kennedy’s funeral Mass. He said that changing hearts, not ostracism, is vital to the spread of the Catholic faith and the success of the pro-life cause.
In a Wednesday post on his blog, Cardinal O’Malley said he wanted to address those Catholic faithful who have voiced “both support and disappointment” for his presiding at Sen. Kennedy’s funeral Mass.
He said that the controversy centered upon the late senator’s lack of public support for Catholic teaching and his failure to defend the unborn.
Noting the “profound effect” of Catholic social teaching on other policies of Sen. Kennedy, the cardinal said 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 centerpiece of the Social Gospel where it belongs, he could have multiplied the immensely valuable work he accomplished,” he wrote.
He said that some have objected, sometimes “vociferously” to the Church providing a Catholic funeral for Sen. Kennedy. In response, Cardinal O’Malley said, “In the strongest terms I disagree with that position.”
According to the cardinal, Kennedy’s personal correspondence with Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged his failure to always be a faithful Catholic and asked for prayers as he neared the end of his life.
Pope Benedict’s expression of gratitude for the senator’s pledge to pray for the Church, the Pope’s commendation of the senator and his family to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and his granting of his Apostolic Blessing were, in the cardinal’s view, examples of Pope Benedict’s role as the Vicar of Christ and “the Good Shepherd who leaves none of the flock behind.”
“As Archbishop of Boston, I considered it appropriate to represent the Church at this liturgy 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,” the cardinal wrote on his blog. “We are people of faith and we believe in a loving and forgiving God from whom we seek mercy.”
“We must show those who do not share our belief about life that we care about them,” he continued. “We will stop the practice of abortion by changing the law, and we will be successful in changing the law if we change people’s hearts. We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief and loss.”
He said that zeal can lead people to make “harsh judgments” and impute “the worst motives” to one another.
“These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure,” Cardinal O’Malley wrote, noting that Jesus has told us to love one another as He loves us.
“Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end,” he explained.
Changing people’s hearts is “directly related” to Catholics’ ability to increase “love and unity” in the Church, continued O’Malley, saying that the proclamation of the Truth is hindered when Catholics are divided and “fighting with each other.”
Reflecting on the crowds of mourners who lined the roads of Sen. Kennedy’s funeral motorcade, the cardinal said that these people were paying tribute to his many accomplishments, and not endorsing his voting record on abortion.
“The crowds also were there to pay tribute to the Kennedy family as a whole,” he explained. “On the national political landscape, if Barack Obama broke the glass ceiling of the presidency for African Americans, Jack Kennedy broke it for American Catholics.”
The cardinal said that advocating on behalf of the dignity of life is “central” to his role as priest and bishop, pointing to his help in overturning the abortion laws in Honduras. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist who had a “change of heart,” assisted him in that effort.
He also cited the words of pro-life leader Helen Alvaré, who has said the pro-life movement is “best characterized by what it is for, not against.”
At the funeral, the cardinal reported, he briefly spoke with President Barack Obama to welcome him to the Basilica and to pledge the U.S. bishops’ willingness to support a plan for universal health care if it does not include a provision for abortion or the possibility of expanded abortion support.
“The President was gracious in the short time we spoke, he listened intently to what I was saying,” the cardinal said.
At the funeral Democrats and Republicans sat side by side in prayer for Sen. Kennedy and his family.
“It is my sincere hope that all people who long to promote the cause of life will pray and work together to change hearts, to bring about an increased respect for life, and to change laws so as to make America a safe place for all, including the unborn,” Cardinal O’Malley’s blog post concluded.