This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy

When Senator Kennedy's brother was running for President, there was question as to whether he would be under the control of the Vatican. How things have changed in 50 years. Now, liberal Catholics, such as Ted Kennedy, were seen as at odds with the Vatican while right wing Catholics and Evangelical Prostetants are seen as doing the Vatican's bidding on life issues. Of course, perceptions can be deceiving, as was demonstrated by conservative objections to the Holy Father's encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The encyclical builds on prior encyclicals, some of which were used as a guide to design our Social Security system. Indeed, Msgr. Ryan helped President Roosevelt develop this legilsation. The legislative record of Senator Kennedy is a testament in no small measure to his belief in further extending Catholic Social Theory into public life. Indeed, his charge that Health Care is a right, not a priviledge (or a simple commodity) is first found in that body of doctrine.

Many of the comments today in the Catholic press bemoan Kennedy's position on abortion. Frankly, I think most misunderstand it, largely due to the "pluralist" position on the issue first popularized by Governor Mario Cuomo. Such a position is actually respectful of the Hierarchy, since it does not directly challenge Catholic teaching on this issue. One can imagine that directly challenging the Hierarchy would be considered disrespectful by the general Catholic public, which was already just a bit polarized by controversies over changes to the Church resulting from Vatican II and the emergence of a more educated and empowered laity. Catholic attitudes about change within the Church and the politics of the day, particulary around both abortion and economics, seem quite consistent - especially one listens to the ravings of some dissatisfied conservatives. This has allowed open resistence among them to the Catholic Social Teaching championed by the Senator. More is the pity.

There are good reasons that many progressive Catholics disagree with the Hierarchy about the question of the legality of abortion - and not its morality. It is due almost entirely to a misunderstanding of the issue by the Hierarchy and conservative Catholics. The problem is not their position but the way they explain it. The Church has a position on legislation liberalizing abortion, however this position is not applicable in the United States where abortion laws were struck down as unconstitutional, largely based on the plain language of the 14th Amendment and on the lack of state government jurisdiction on the issue. There is no "abortion law" to support or oppose until someone in Congress pursues a federal measure granting the unborn legal recognition under its 14th Amendment enforcement powers. Of course, if this happenned, the National Right to Life Committee and the Republican Party could no longer demagogue the issue at election time. Kennedy and the current generation of Catholic and non-Catholic libreral politicians (the President among them) correctly see that the best way to reduce abortion is to enact a more economically just society, especially in the areas of educational opportunity and health care reform. There is still a ways to go, especially with regard to living wages, but at least there is more awareness of the issues. Senator Kennedy's legacy is a much larger awareness of these issues in public life.

Kennedy has another legacy, which comes in how he treated people. Though rich, he had the common touch and it was not feigned in an attempt to look "authentic." Ted Kennedy was the real McCoy. When I was an intern working for the freshman Senator from Iowa when I first came to Washington in 1984, Senator Kennedy was in the office across the hall. He always had a nod and a smile for me when we passed eachother in the hall. It didn't ...matter that I was just an intern from the other party. He was a kind and decent man and will be missed. God rest his soul and bless his family.

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