Unsurprisingly (to me, anyway), the Catholic church got it together to give Ted Kennedy the big good-bye, with Cardinal Sean O’Malley showing up to preside at the funeral and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick doing the same at the graveside. There can be no doubt that there was something hesitant and withholding in this. O’Malley’s participation was announced only on Friday. According to the Boston Globe‘s Michael Paulson, conservatives lobbied hard for him to deny his presence to the famously pro-choice, pro-same-sex-marriage politician.
On America‘s In All Things blog, Jim Martin praises O’Malley for performing an act of spiritual generosity: “his simple presence at the funeral shows his support of forgiveness,
compassion and that quality perhaps most missing in today’s church: mercy.” Up to a point, sure, but it’s hard not to see at work an effort within the hierarchy to minimize scandal. On the one hand, conservatives would have been scandalized had the princes of the church simply enfolded Kennedy in the warmest of pomp and encomiums. On the other, many Catholics–and not only pro-choice, pro-same-sex-marriage New Englanders–would have been scandalized had the princes withheld the hems of their garments.
That’s the reason, I suspect, for McCarrick’s odd decision to read Kennedy’s private letter to Pope Benedict XVI, hand-delivered by President Obama at the Vatican last month, along with a Vatican account of the pope’s response. In his letter, Kennedy asked for Benedict’s prayers by way of a recital of his public work on behalf of various Catholic values. The pope responded with his blessing, but without enthusiasm. The reading served to make the case that the church had acted properly, honoring an imperfectly faithful leading son just as he deserved. It marked, in short, a political compromise–one that Kennedy, a master of the art, would no doubt have appreciated.