Thoughts of Ted Kennedy stir quite competing emotions in me.
Sadness and compassion are two I feel when considering Kennedy’s family history.
All three of Kennedy’s older brothers were killed young while serving their country. This meant that after his father died in 1969, Kennedy was forced at the age of 40 into the role of patriarch of a large clan that included two widowed sisters-in-law and 13 fatherless nieces and nephews.
Kennedy was present, for instance, at Ethel’s delivery of daughter Rory six months after husband and father Bobby was assassinated.
But in an awful twist, John Jr. died in a plane crash on his way to Rory’s wedding in 1999, yet another example of the seemingly never-ending Kennedy family tragedies.
And I feel badly about all that.
Then there’s the Chappaquiddick Kennedy, which stirs shock and disbelief, and the rabble-rousing Kennedy, whose poor example did nephew William Kennedy Smith no favors, which stirs disgust.
And there is the Liberal Lion Kennedy, who wrought catastrophic harm to preborn human life.
This Kennedy infuriates me.
There was a time Kennedy was pro-life. He wrote in a 1971 letter, “Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.”
“[T]he right to grow old,” a touching thought in view of Kennedy’s family history. Kennedy had personally experienced utter disdain for innocent human life.
In 1976 Kennedy even voted for a Senate resolution stating that “every human being, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States … shall be deemed, from the moment of fertilization, to be a person entitled to the right to life.”
But something happened. Kennedy pioneered the pro-abortion flip flop. The consequences were devastating, not just by votes Kennedy went on to cast but also by the influence he wielded. Explained Father Raymond DeSouza at NCCatholic.com:
Had he chosen to remain economically liberal but culturally conservative, he would have prevented the Democratic Party from embracing the orthodoxy of the unlimited abortion license. Had he remained pro-life the Democratic Party would have had to make place for other pro-life politicians. Had he remained pro-life many others – Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson – would not have abandoned their pro-life positions as the price to be paid for national ambition. …
In the 1970s, it was not clear that the Republican Party would become largely pro-life. … Had he chosen differently he could have stopped the culture wars before they started. Few other politicians ever have the influence to make such a consequential decision.
But there was another monumental result. Wrote Mark Stritcherz at Catholic Independent:
His most consequential pro-choice advocacy was the 1987 Supreme Court hearing of nominee Robert Bork. Standing on the Senate floor, Kennedy assailed Bork as a jurist whose rulings would force women to resort to “back-alley abortions.” Kennedy’s verbal assault helped defeat Bork, who would have been a 5th vote to overturn Roe.
And Kennedy’s votes? There were many, including two opposing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. Kennedy was so reliable he earned a 100 percent rating from both NARAL and Planned Parenthood. And of course he endorsed the Freedom of Choice Act.
But back to emotions. There were finally those I felt after reading Ted Kennedy’s letter to Pope Benedict XVI as his days on earth waned. If you haven’t read the letter, it is eye-opening.
Nowhere in it did Kennedy profess a belief that Jesus Christ died to give him the free gift of eternal life. Instead Kennedy’s letter read as from a man uncertain about his future, seemingly listing his accomplishments in hopes they would get him into heaven.
Kennedy apparently thought prayers by the leader of his faith would help. Don’t get me wrong, prayers of the saints are invaluable – in all areas except helping God make up His mind on one’s entry into heaven. Actually, it is we who make that decision for ourselves.
I don’t know how Kennedy’s avid support of abortion could not have nagged him in the end.
I don’t know how Kennedy could maintain in his letter, “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic,” and “I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war,” as if to say he respected human life, and not consider the one overriding blight on his record, his partial responsibility as a pro- abortion “liberal lion” for the killing of millions and millions of preborn children.
Kennedy’s letter? I read it and felt pity.