Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ted Kennedy's Letter to the Pope

There are many sides to each of us. We are created in the image of God, and as they say God doesn't create junk. Yet, we are all flawed in some way -- some more than others. Sometimes we try to compensate for our dark side, by highlighting other things, hoping to balance out the ledger. I write this in preface to comments on a recently released letter written by Edward Kennedy and passed to the Pope by President Barack Obama.

As for the Kennedy letter, what I've been able to read, it is very interesting and illuminating. Excerpts of the letter were read by the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick at his internment at Arlington. First is an excerpt in which he expresses his profound commitment to the faith of the Catholic Church:

"Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am deeply grateful to him.

"I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God's blessings as you lead our Church and inspire our world during these challenging times.

"I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and, although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.

"I have been blessed to be a part of a wonderful family, and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path."

From there he goes on to speak to the issues that he held most dear -- issues that reflect Catholic social teaching on such things as the poor, health care, and the death penalty.

"I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I've worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator.

"I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

"I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me."
Yes, Ted Kennedy was a deeply flawed individual (as were his brothers), but as we've been reflecting on his life this past week, we've seen much evidence of his deep faith. He was committed to a life of prayer, sought to ground his life's work in his faith. And yet, there were points of disagreement -- especially on abortion and gay rights.

What I find interesting is that many Catholics who stress opposition to abortion don't seem at all concerned with the rest of the church's social teachings, including the church's opposition to the death penalty.

I recognize that none of us are completely consistent. We make our choices and try to live our faith as best we can, trusting in God's grace. This is what Ted Kennedy appears to have done.


Gary said...

Ted Kennedy was a man of deep faith and of prayer? Who do you think you're kidding? Ted Kennedy was a fornicating drunkard who championed the murder of unborn babies and sexual perversion. He is now in Hell, where he shall remain until the judgment, and will then be thrown into the lake of fire.

By the way Cornwall, that's exactly what awaits you.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Bill Cosby's Noah skit. How long can you tread fire (water)? David Mc

John said...


I feel I must confront your maligancy at every turn, even though I sound repetitive. My point continues to be that you have no idea what it means to have the heart of Christ. Your judgments are angry and cruel, without a hint of forgiveness, nor a suggestion of forgiveness, nor a sliver of grace. In all of your self-righteousness you are worse than the pharisee in Luke 18:9-14.


Anonymous said...

The one thing I kind of find sad is the letter sounds VERY works oriented. Meaning.. I know I screwed up, so hopefully my works will cover over my sins. No reference to Jesus anywhere in the letter, only a generic faith.
Obviously I approach this from a evangelical background and I know the Catholic tradition places a tremendous emphasis on works. I just find it sad not to take solace in Christ's work one time sacrifice for all of our sins. We longer have to "earn" our way in. It is the beauty of the Gospel


John said...


I see the letter as having a two-fold purpose, (1) to request prayers and (2) an apology for the life of a sinner.

As for the latter issue, I see Kennedy as saying: true, I have a lot to answer for, but I did repent ("I have tried to right my path.") but I just want you, as my spiritual leader, to know that underlying my life's work was a consistent effort to care "for the least of these." It may not make up for the failures, but hopefully at least the church would understand that the work of his life was driven by the faith of his heart.

I do not see Kennedy as pleading so much for special consideration based upon a 'works-based' faith, but as defending the sincerity of his faith which was clearly manifested in a life of works.

The call to do for the least of these was from Jesus, and that was the call he heeded. I do not see him pleading to offset the works against the sin, only to claim an intentionality behind the Christian pattern of his vocational life, if not his personal life.

The request for prayers is an acknowledgement that in the end, regardless of the sins we commit or the good we do, only God can save our souls.


Anonymous said...

I do agree that only God is in control, I just find the letter odd. For instance, count how many sentences begin with "I". There is a good chance I am simply overreading the letter. Wanting to desperately to put something ahead of himself. To say, I pray for the Lord's forgiveness vs "I kept the faith". Again, I am probably over reading.. but its fascinating to read a plea from a different perspective than my own.


Anonymous said...

Maybe he was framed and doesn't even know it?


Gary said...


Telling the truth about one of your heroes hit a nerve, huh?

If I said something about Teddy that isn't true, here's your chance to prove me wrong. Well?

John said...


Actually, I was never a Ted Kennedy fan. However, what I learned about him since the announcement of his brain cancer has opened up my eyes to the life of a very special man, admittedly with flaws, but nevertheless a very special man.

No, you need only look at yourself to see the reason for my comment to you - I just can't stand by and allow someone to vent such hateful commentary under the label of Christian righteousness.


Anonymous said...


How many times a week do you travel to a poor school to read to children? How many of your brothers were murdered? Have you consoled a son with bone cancer and an amputation? Don't you wish you could have taken his place and shown us the rightous way to live?

I sometimes wonder what it's like to walk in your shoes. David Mc

Anonymous said...


You can see specks in the eyes of others without actually knowing them. You ALWAYS cast the first stone with glee.

We can't ignore your sins. It's clear though that we see hope for you, but that's another mystery.

John and Bob have been the most precious spiritual mentors and examples I ever had- other than the clear and ever present voice of our savior.

I can't say I ever knew anyone like you, except for ridicules caricatures in movies and books. I've met many who are spiritually blind though. I see you as part of that group. I see you as false.

It's nice to be part of a faith community that has its eyes open.
Are you trying to understand with your taunts? Will you miss us as we burn?

Why do you return, and how many besides us do you seek to try to torture?

You must lead a very desolate existence. Do you ever smile?
If we forgive you, are we fools?

Yes Gary- most humans have the capacity to forgive and repent, especially if they have a good example.

David Mc

Gary said...

David Mc,

Who paid for the limo and driver to take Teddy to the poor school? Answer: American taxpayers.

Kennedy was very generous with other people's money.

Gary said...


John and Bob are your spiritual mentors? No wonder you are in such bad shape.

John said...

Thankyou David.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

First, thank you David.

Now, Gary, you're just too much. All I can say is, I'm glad that I can rest in the grace of God and not worry that you are my judge and jury.

If you read Lewis' Last Battle, you discover that people you don't expect can be found in the presence of God. I believe that God's grace is even big enough to embrace you.

Anonymous said...

Everything’s relative Gary. A year ago I would have returned your hate x2. Where will you be in a year? Will you have grown? Have an inspiring day.David Mc

Anonymous said...

This is a letter that was written by a guilt ridden man who was seeking forgiveness as he faced his death "and the prospect of burning in purgatory for a time or hell for all eternity."

Interestingly, his chose to believe that his "JOB" as a senator was to do good works for the downtrodden. When it really is to make sure that our tax money is spent providing services for the taxpayer whether that person is rich or poor.

If he wanted to do good works for the downtrodden, he should have sold what "HE HAD" and give to the poor and come follow me, which is what the New Testament has to say about Godly Perfection.

Our politicians really have to get their priorities straight in that they are elected to do the job of working together to manage government...Not to use their positions to make names for themselves..."The Lion of the Senate" please get real people.

Too bad he never forgave himself..His death would have been less frightening because he would have made amends a long time ago.

John said...

Correctly understood, Sen. Kennedy was elected by the people of Massachusetts seven times to do exactly as he did. He told his constituents what he stood for, and what he intended to do, and they elected him, and reelected him, etc. and he delivered on his pledges.

As far as his status as guilt-ridden, perhaps you are right. And perhaps there is a lesson there for all of us - maybe we should feel a little more guilt in our lives, maybe we should fear a little more what awaits us in our self-centeredness. Perhaps you are right and Ted is the Lazarus of our times - and those who judge him in their self-righteousness are the publicans.

And maybe we should all begin making amends sooner than later.