Thursday, March 11, 2010

Being Catholic Now: A Review of Kerry Kennedy's Book

Recently, at Mirror of Justice, Cornell law professor Steve Shiffrin, recommended the book, Being Catholic Now by Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Attorney General and U. S. Senator, Robert F. Kennedy. Writes Professor Shiffrin:
Robert George in his post yesterday observes that, “As Hadley Arkes has remarked, Kennedy evidently regarded his religion as so private a matter that he refused to impose it even on himself.” George comments that this remark applies not only to John Kennedy, but also to Kennedy’s brother Ted and his father Joseph.

I do not believe that cheap humor about the role of religion in people’s lives is amusing or charitable. But it does lead me to recommend two works that discuss the role of religion in the Kennedy family.

The first (which I have recommended before on this site) is a moving essay by Kerry Kennedy (the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy) in Being Catholic Now (itself, a wonderful collection of essays by Catholics and ex-Catholics)....

(For those who are interested, Robert George replies to Professor Shiffrin here; Shiffrin replies to that reply here; and George replies to Shiffrin's reply here). Professor Shiffrin is a great guy who I had the pleasure to engage publicly at Cornell Law School in the spring of 2006. Nevertheless, I must part ways with him on his assessment of Kennedy's book. As luck would have it, I reviewed Kennedy's book last summer for The Catholic World Report. Here are excerpts from my review in which I discuss the essay that Shiffrin extols in his comments above:

This book begins with a small introduction followed by a large preface, both authored by Kennedy. In the latter, she reflects on her growing up Catholic in the Kennedy family, and the numerous events that marked turning points in both her faith and in her country. Her personal recollections of rosaries, Masses, devotions to the saints, and first Holy Communions brought back memories of my own Catholic youth, and thus Kennedy’s reflections carry with them a certain personal warmth that will resonate with many of her Catholic readers.

But that warmth ends abruptly when she comments on abortion, birth control, the licitness of homosexual acts, divorce, etc. On these issues, we are told either that these are complex matters over which there is a robust theological debate within the Church or that the Church “appears out of touch with reality” (xxxi). On the other hand, on moral positions to which she is committed but about which the Church has in fact permitted a wide range of legitimate opinion within certain moral parameters—e.g., economic justice, illegal immigration, nuclear disarmament, war—she is certain that the political left’s answers are, or ought to be, the Church’s answers.

Kennedy brings up for special criticism, as do many of the other contributors, the American Church’s failure to address the priestly abuse scandal. She refers to it as a “pedophile scandal” (xxx), as do others in the book. That, however, is not completely accurate. Virtually all of the minors involved were post-pubescent, and thus virtually all of the priests’ actions, though morally wicked and condemnable, were not cases of pedophilia.

Kennedy rightfully singles out for condemnation Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston, for his reassignment of predator priests to unsuspecting parishes and the cardinal’s lack of transparency in cooperating with the victims and their families as well as law enforcement. But, ironically, she diminishes the power of her righteous anger by sharing with the reader personal affronts she claims to have suffered at the hands of the cardinal. Here is one of them: “When my sister and her fiancĂ© attempted to have their wedding by the sea of Cape Cod, the characteristically authoritarian Law put a halt to the plans, calling outdoor weddings forbidden and instead choosing his man-made building over God’s creation as the appropriate place to celebrate the union” (xxix). Oh, the humanity.

Yet there is no word of harsh judgment for the archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, whose settling of the numerous predator priest lawsuits is legendary in the amount of money the cardinal’s archdiocese was willing to dole out (nearly $700 million) in order to keep its and the cardinal’s secrets hidden from public scrutiny. Kennedy does mention Cardinal Mahony, but only as an object of high praise for how the cardinal has advanced the cause of “social justice” by welcoming illegal immigrants into his archdiocese and petitioning the government to grant them amnesty or something close to it.

She credits the cardinal with “reviving the Church’s reputation for a commitment to outcasts with meaning, and bravely taking on rage at foreigners at a highly volatile and politically sensitive moment in the political life of the country” (xxxi). Thus, for Kennedy, embracing the politics of La Raza, like charity, covers up a multitude of sins, even if those sins seem to require a type of justice that was once suggested by none other than the Prince of Peace: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2).

Read the whole review here.

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