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Ignoratio Elenchi

In our New Oxford Note “Why the Double Standard?” (June), which examined the Obama-Notre Dame scandal, we posed a simple question: Why is it that prolifers who protested the university’s decision to honor the most pro-abortion President in U.S. history are demonized as religious fanatics? We agree that Notre Dame’s decision was not only controversial but scandalous. More alarming, however, was the vehement reaction to those concerned Catholics who raised their voices in protest. Critics in the media were clear and consistently on message. They were saying: You prolifers have no right to protest!

The death of Massachusetts Senator Edward D. Kennedy and his ensuing Catholic funeral generated just as much controversy. Prolife voices and conservative Catholic media personalities criticized the decision of Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, to accord the longtime Democratic Senator a Catholic Mass of Christian Burial. Again, the reaction to the protests is arguably more alarming than the funeral controversy itself. But this time it’s not just pundits and media personalities who are demonizing prolife critics. This time it’s the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston himself.

The Kennedy funeral controversy is a continuation of a long-running debate over denying the sacraments to pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Canon lawyer Edward Peters has explained in a number of his “In Light of the Law” columns (www.canonlaw.info) that canon law is clear on the matter: Catholic politicians who work in open contradiction to Church teaching on certain grave issues are ineligible to participate in the sacraments (like the Eucharist, under canon 915) and sacramentals (like funerals, under canon 1184). The pro-abortion track record of the so-called Lion of the Senate is well-known. Ted Kennedy has consistently and publicly flouted Catholic teaching on life issues: Not only did he consistently support a woman’s “right” to abortion, he voted no to prohibiting minors from crossing state lines for abortion; he voted no to notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions; he voted no to criminal penalties for harming an unborn child during the commission of other crimes; he voted no to banning partial-birth abortions; he voted no to maintaining the ban on military-base abortions; and he voted no to banning human cloning. Senator Kennedy also sponsored a bill making emergency contraception available for rape victims and co-sponsored a bill ensuring access to and funding for contraception. He voted yes to expanding research to more embryonic stem-cell lines; and he voted yes to spending $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy by providing them with free contraceptives. Kennedy received a perfect 100 percent pro-choice rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and a zero percent prolife rating from National Right to Life. Kennedy was unequivocally pro-abortion. It is also no secret that he was a supporter of same-sex marriage: He voted no to prohibiting same-sex marriage in 1996 and no to a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage in 2002.

Obviously there is solid evidence for the conviction that Ted Kennedy was a public sinner (by working in open contradiction to Church teaching) and solid reasons why Catholics might question whether Kennedy deserved a Catholic funeral. More to the point, as Catholic World News editor Philip Lawler noted, “The relevant question is not whether the Massachusetts Senator deserved a Catholic funeral, but whether he deserved a ceremony of public acclamation so grand and sweeping that it might, to the untutored observer, have seemed more like an informal canonization.” The fact is, Kennedy’s funeral at Boston’s famous Mission Church was no less than a celebration of the Senator’s life and political career.

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