LifeSiteNews just highlighted June comments by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, who said that those who refuse to take Catholic pro-abort politicians to task for their words and actions not only fail the standards of fraternal charity, but embolden such individuals to commit even greater acts of evil against human life and dignity. We hate to rehash ancient history, but readers keep asking us to address Fr. Hehir and the Kennedys, and we thought this was a good starting point, as we think there’s something people may have missed where we can give new perspective. It seems clear that Hehir’s comments from last fall around the late Sen. Kennedy’s funeral left the door open for other Catholic politicians to feel emboldened to commit acts of evil against human life, and Bryan Hehir’s statements also suggest that he would benefit from a basic catechism refresher course–or stronger actions to prevent him from misrepresenting Church teachings to the faithful in the future. Sorry for the length of the post folks—to cover this thoroughly takes time. Grab a cup of iced tea or ice-water and read on.
First, we share details of Bishop Olmsted’s remarks, because they are broadly applicable beyond the example we choose to highlight here. They appeared in a short piece about the nature of scandal in a column for the Catholic Sun of Phoenix last month. In the article Olmsted explained the need to correct public figures who profess to reconcile their Catholic faith and pro-abortion agenda, as well as other individuals who give public scandal. Here are a few highlights:
A failure to call evil by its name inevitably leads to more evil acts in the future. Evil acts, in themselves, are the greatest source of scandal. When the perpetrators are not called to account, then they are emboldened to do even worse deeds.”
The bishop pointed out the greater impact of scandal from public figures, who “fulfill an office of greater authority, enjoy more popularity or prestige, or [are] in a position to exercise political, economic or spiritual power or to make decisions that impact a large number of people.” “The greater their influence the greater their ability to inspire what is right and good but also the greater their ability to give scandal.”
Thus when public officials “claim to be Catholic” but fail to promote the dignity of the human person, true marriage, and religious freedom, they give “grave scandal…Their words and actions allow such fundamental evils as abortion and embryonic stem cell research to continue to kill thousands of the littlest and most innocent members of the human family.”
“Since some scandals are more grievous than others, remaining silent about the scandal given by those with greater influence in the Church or society has far more toxic effects than silence about other scandals…To remain silent about scandalous activity is not an act of charity; for charity is inauthentic if it is not linked with truth.”
Now onto the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and his funeral. Fr. Hehir was one of many people who danced around the scandalous anti-Catholic positions of the late Sen. Kennedy in his public comments, but it’s his obfuscating of the nature of sin and scandal and confusing hundreds of thousands or millions of faithful Catholics that set us off. In the midst of the uproar and scandal prior to the Kennedy funeral Mass, here’s how Fr. Hehir was quoted in the Boston Globe on August 28, 2009.
If you look back over his long career, most of his life was taken up with domestic social policy and social welfare issues, and on those issues the church had a lot of overlap with him,’’ said the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, a top official of the Archdiocese of Boston. “But it was no secret, and should not be overlooked, that there was direct conflict on the prolife issues. There were attempts over the years to talk this out at various levels, and common ground was never reached, and the fact that it was not reached was regrettable.
But Hehir said that there is no question that Kennedy merits a Catholic funeral. “None whatsoever. He’s treated the same as any other Catholic. He was a regular communicant at Mass in parishes in Washington and Boston, and he is entitled to, and welcome to, a Catholic burial.”
Hehir’s comments require correction in so many ways that it’s almost beyond the scope of one blog post to cover them all. (It should be noted that Hehir was advising the Cardinal on how to deal with this, and Hehir’s and the Cardinal’s comments were strikingly similar). Anyway, Hehir never mentioned how Kennedy’s fervent support of abortion contributed to the killing of tens of millions of unborn lives or how his behind-the-scenes maneuvering on gay marriage resulted in the defeat of a constitutional amendment that had massive backing by the Catholic Church to preserve traditional marriage and could have stopped “gay marriage” from spreading across the country. But that same criticism has been levelled already against Cardinal O’Malley and others so we will not devote more words to that grievous concern. But two of Fr. Hehir’s other comments merit additional discourse.
“He was a regular communicant at Mass in Washington and Boston and he is entitled to and welcome to a Catholic burial”
With this statement, Fr. Hehir told hundreds of thousands of people that it is permissible for someone to cooperate in grave sin and still be in full communion with the Church. To say this, Fr. Hehir would have to either be ignorant of Canon 915 and other writings from the Vatican, or he would have intentionally ignored them. Either scenario requires a response.
Canon 915 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to communion.”
Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, issued in April 2003 said:
The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.”
Most Catholics are also aware of the 2004 letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the issue of Catholic pro-abortion politicians and his statement “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion” that said such politicians were not in communion with the Church.
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist. When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” , nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.”
As Pope, Benedict XVI confirmed this principle in May of 2007. Answering a reporter during an in-flight press conference en route to Mexico, Benedict addressed a question on the Mexican bishops excommunicating politicians who support legalizing abortion.
Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ,” he said. In the comment, the Pope was apparently referring to the Church’s Canon law 915 which states: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
Cardinal O’Malley himself has said that voting for pro-abortion candidates “borders on scandal.” He was quoted in the Boston Globe in 2004 as having said, pro-abortion Catholic politicians “should not be receiving Communion and should on their own volition refrain from doing so.”
If a politician was proudly and publicly not in communion with the Church—such that the person is to be denied Communion and/or should not present themselves for Communion, and the Pope says that excommunication is allowed according to Canon law, then on what basis did Fr. Hehir say nothing about this, and instead send a message to Catholics and non-Catholics that the pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage Kennedy was in full communion with the Church by virtue of his ignoring these principles and presenting himself for communion on a weekly basis? Kennedy’s record of opposition to the Church on abortion and marriage more than explains why a politician like Sen. Kennedy should not have been a regular communicant.
That a senior aide to the Cardinal with the supposed theological heft of Fr. Hehir would make such a statement suggests some serious misunderstandings on his part about the faith. Does Fr. Hehir believe a person should present themselves to receive the Eucharist with no greater degree of examination of conscience than someone invited to a birthday party who believes that since they are attending the party, they are entitled to their own cupcake? Worse than that, according to Bishop Olmsted, such a failure to call evil by its name has the effect of leading to more evil acts in the future, in this case, obviously not by the deceased, but by others. (Time to take a break. Refresh that cold drink, and keep reading!)
There is “No question whatsoever that Kennedy merits a Catholic funeral.”
We are not judging the state of Kennedy’s soul or going to reopen a debate over whether Kennedy deserved a standard Catholic funeral. Fr. Roger Landry at Catholic Preaching and others have done a fine job on this topic already. However, it does seem very clear that Hehir was dead wrong saying there was “no question whatsoever” on the matter. There were indeed legitimate questions as Fr. Landry mentioned, and to claim otherwise was also false.
There were many pro-lifers, locally and nationally, who thought that he should have been refused the Church’s burial rites. Some argued that the discipline of the Church’s canon law — “manifest sinners for whom ecclesiastical funeral rites cannot be granted without public scandal to the faithful” (canon 1184) — applied to him. They contended that he was a “manifest sinner” who obstinately persevered in at least formal cooperation in the sin of abortion, with no sign of repentance, until death. They also asserted that his funeral would cause public scandal to the faithful, leading others to the sinful conclusion that one can be a faithful Catholic and still support the destruction of innocent human life in the womb. Even conceding their plausible interpretations of the above, there is a clear exception given in the same canon: “unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death.”
Here at Bryan Hehir Exposed, we accept Fr. Landry’s arguments. But we do want to re-ask, were there legitimate questions or objections on this issue that should have been acknowledged by Fr. Hehir and the Archdiocese, rather than summarily dismissed? And did the very public and controversially over-the-top ecclesiastical funeral Mass of Sen. Kennedy that violated Catholic funeral rites create public scandal of the faithful? The answers to both are no doubt ,yes.
As documented by Raymond Arroyo at EWTN, we all understand that forgiveness for public and private acts is possible, and we pray for God’s mercy upon Sen. Kennedy’s soul.
Even if Senator Kennedy privately confessed his unrelenting public support for abortion and embryonic stem cell research, didn’t he owe the public and his Catholic colleagues– his family members who still serve the public–some correction? Shouldn’t he have offered them some last admonition that might have led them to the right path, assuming that he found it, late in his life?”
Indeed, Sen. Kennedy had time and capacity in his final weeks to write to Gov. Deval Patrick and state legislative leaders to ask that they change the law to allow the Governor to appoint his successor. He had time and capacity to write to the widow of a former legislative aide to express condolences on the aide’s wartime death. He had time and capacity to write to the Pope. But he did not write a letter to publicly recant his positions against life and marriage.
Fr. Hehir, if you are reading this, in view of the above, do you still believe it was correct to say there were “no questions whatsoever?” Or would you at least acknowledge now that there were indeed valid questions, for which the prevailing answer was, “Yes, but he still should have been allowed a Catholic funeral”? Do you believe with the same degree of conviction that there are “no questions whatsoever” about many of your other decisions and statements—saying the Church’s teachings on sexuality were “chronically afflicted,” honoring the pro-gay and pro-choice Mayor of Boston by Catholic Charities and claiming you did not know about his record, allowing Catholic Charities to broker adoptions to gay couples represents a moral “good,” failing to oppose Caritas Christi’s efforts to partner with an abortion provider, educating children of gay couples in Catholic schools, and more that we have documented over the past 3-4 months and in the first and only comprehensive Bryan Hehir Chronology?
Bishop Olmsted said that “Fraternal correction is not an act of presumed superiority. It is an act of fraternal love that desires our brother to see and admit his mistake, to repent and find new life in the rich mercy of God. It is also an act of love for all those who might otherwise be led astray if the scandalous behavior were not publicly confronted.”
Such fraternal correction via public confrontation should have been offered to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, and in the spirit of Bishop Olmsted’s recommendation, we offer similar public fraternal correction to Fr. Hehir for his scandalous comments around the Kennedy funeral and for the many other situations we have detailed on this blog. In our next several posts, we will continue to offer such fraternal correction.
The bishop quoted the “quite emphatic” words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “Scandals inevitably arise, but woe to him through whom they come. He would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than giving scandal to one of these little ones. Be on your guard. If your brother does wrong, correct him.”
Fr. Hehir, we are indeed trying to let you know this.
Read Bishop Olmsted’s full column here.
Read Ret. Bishop Rene Gracida’s “The Scandal of the Edward Moore Kennedy Funeral in Boston”, which includes links to several other excellent articles
Read Phil Lawler’s in-depth analysis: “The Kennedy Funeral: Boston’s Latest Scandal” at Catholic Culture