Shopping cart Shopping cartLog in / Register | Pressroom
Your shopping cart is empty
Home About Us Study Programs WOF TV WOF Radio Written Word Catholicism Series News Ambassador Store Contact Donate end cap
Written Word > Articles & Commentaries > September 2009 > Sen. Kennedy, Abortion, and the Party of the Little Guy
Current rating: 4.7 (6 ratings)


Sen. Kennedy, Abortion, and the Party of the Little Guy

By Rev. Robert Barron

The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy has unleashed for me a flood of memories and triggered a number of rueful meditations. I come from a family of intense Kennedyphiles. Both of my parents—Irish and Catholic to the bone—deeply admired the Kennedy family. My mother was especially fond of Rose, the pious and energetic matriarch of the clan. Magazines and newspapers reporting the assassination and funeral of President Kennedy were cherished keepsakes in our home when I was growing up; and the murder of Sen. Robert Kennedy (when I was eight) is one of the most vivid and poignant memories of my childhood. For my father, the Kennedys represented the continuation of the great Democratic tradition stretching back through Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson, Harry Truman, FDR, all the way to Al Smith. One of my earliest political memories was joining in with my father in lustily booing Richard Nixon as he appeared on the TV screen accepting the nomination of the Republican party at their 1972 convention in Miami. My father just didn’t care for Republicans, seeing them as the representatives of the interests of the rich. Democrats, he often told me, stick up for the little guy, the oppressed, those who fall through the cracks of the society. And they were, he argued, the politicians most in line with the instincts of the Catholic social teaching tradition. My uncle Tommy, another died-in-the-wool Democrat, often worried that, as my father moved into the upper middle class, he might commit the unforgiveable sin of voting Republican!

Now that’s the political background out of which I came. My own thinking evolved in response to the “malaise” of the Jimmy Carter years and the success of Ronald Reagan’s embrace of the free market and his principled opposition to Communist ideology. But I will confess that much of my father’s fierce Democratic sensibility remained in me, especially as I deepened my appreciation of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine in regard to the poor and the disenfranchised. I suppose you could say that I was, like a lot of people in my generation, a bit eclectic in my politics, drawing inspiration from both sides of the spectrum. As my thinking continued to develop, the greatest problem I began to have with the Democratic party finally had nothing to do with economic theory or even with geo-political strategy; it had to do with abortion. I understood very well the arguments of feminists and women’s rights advocates concerning freedom of choice, but I just couldn’t buy them, since the choice in question was the option to snuff out an innocent life. When the Democratic party embraced abortion-rights as a plank in its platform and eventually as a non-negotiable principle, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma: how could I reconcile my father’s party of the little guy with the party that was allowing for abortion on demand?

And this brings me back to Ted Kennedy and the Kennedy legacy. I think it is safe to say that, over the past thirty years, there has been no stronger and more consistent advocate of abortion rights than this late “lion of the Senate.” But it was not always so. In 1971, just two years before Roe v. Wade, Sen Kennedy responded to a man named Tom Dennelly of Great Neck, N.Y. who had written to the senator expressing his views on the matter of abortion. Here is how Kennedy responded: “While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. 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.” And he went on: “when history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as the one which cared for human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

For my money, that’s one of the best and most theoretically consistent defenses of the pro-life position ever articulated. And it came quite appropriately from the leader of the party of the little guy. In 1971 anyway, opposition to abortion was a naturally Democratic position, whereas today a pro-life Democrat is practically an oxymoron, and almost every major Democratic politician, locally or nationally, feels obligated to parrot pro-choice ideology if he wants his party’s nomination.

Edward Kennedy was in many ways a great and significant legislator. In regard to civil rights, nuclear disarmament, protecting the interests of the disabled, health care reform, etc., his achievements are substantive indeed. But his reversal of position on the most compelling moral issue of the day is, I think, an indication of a fatal inconsistency at the heart of Democratic politics. And it goes a long way to explaining why people like me, who are by tradition predisposed to vote for the party of the little guy, balk, hesitate, and protest.

Posted: 9/1/2009 6:14:39 PM by Word On Fire | with 11 comments
Filed under: abortion, prolife, TedKennedy


Comments
Joe
That pre Roe v Wade quote by Ted Kennedy is probably unknown to many people. In a way it is sad that he would compromise this believed principle to fall in line with his party. When I heard of his brain cancer I often prayed for some divine enlightment for Ted Kennedy. I think his voice as a pro-life senator could have made his party change their platform.
9/6/2009 8:14:30 AM
Report abuse

Bryan Siler
With such a clear and concise view on the rights of human life for the unborn, what could have made Sen. Kennedy change his views and support abortion?
9/6/2009 10:15:46 AM
Report abuse

Jan
Thank you Fr. Robert, for this article, you are the peace maker. It is not easy to reconcile Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was known as an unconditional promoter of contraceptive mentality, with the one who used to care for human beings so much. The question that Brian asked - what could have made Sen. Kennedy change his views – is probably the most important query facing our society today.
9/12/2009 9:12:48 PM
Report abuse

Jai
Thank you Father, from one who lived because of the position taken by her Church, believed in by her mother, and adhered to willingly by her father, concerning abortion.

I too had trouble reconciling the Kennedy quote with the Kennedy I had known of, but not cared for, politically.

It's good to read. Perhaps, had he stuck to his early words, the whole debate would look or read differently in the book of today.
9/27/2009 6:54:08 PM
Report abuse

Joel
Fr. Barron isn't the only Catholic entrapped by the dilemma he eloquently describes. How do we "balk, hesitate, and protest"? If our only means of doing so is to vote for the Republican candidate at every turn, I am afraid we have essentially gutted our own political influence. Is there no "fatal inconsistency" at the heart of Republican politics? Clearly so. The two parties happily divide up the nation into two camps, pro-life versus pro-choice, business versus labor, conservative versus liberal, and so on. Neither party needs to work very hard to secure their "base". Is there not a danger in becoming too identified with either party? Shouldn't people who are pro-life expect more for their vote?
9/28/2009 8:24:58 AM
Report abuse

don
Looking south from Canada, it is easy to overlook the complexities of the issues that must face any serious candidate in a two-party system, Republican and Democrat. On the other hand, though we have more political choices here, both nationally and from province to province, abortion is just as widespread, and it was under an avowedly pro-life conservative government that the last law restricting its practice was swept away by a free vote in parliament. Clearly, politics is not the answer. I wonder, though, how many abortions the late Senator Kennedy's social programs may have averted because they made the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy a little less frightening. That's a notion I have not seen addressed in any forum.
10/10/2009 11:57:48 PM
Report abuse

Fr. Paul Jarvis
I've always had a problem with rhetoric that balks at the taking of "innocent life".

No, I am not pro-choice. I merely embrace what I consider to be a consistent respect for all human life. The qualifier "innocent" is troubling because it allows for the taking of "non-innocent" life. That is, all life that has been born and had a chance to sin or make mistakes or commit a crime or fight in a war.

When I read the Gospels, I don't read anything that approaches any differentiation between catergories of people. Neither Greek nor Jew, neither master or slave, neither leprous or healthy, neither innocent or guilty/sinful/criminal/combatant.

I truly believe that we won't make meaningful pro-life advances until human life is truly expanded to mean all human life, and not just the innocent.

From my discussions with folks on this important issue, it does seem to me that it is rhetorically convenient for many to fight and argue for innocent life within the womb, when fighting for all other life proves problematic and will certainly call for much self-sacrifice ... and rhetorical consistency.

How can a religion that had its roots in strict pacifism still put up with militarism and state-sanctioned killing of people on death row?

This inconsistency is not lost on more and more young adults. Just as assuredly as many dump Jesus as the fantastic equivalent of other childhood fairy tale characters (like Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy), so too are many losing respect for a religious body of believers (I'm not talking about leadership's pronouncements) that looks the other way with regard to pre-emptive war, militarism in general, and a lack of societal care of the poor and uninsured.

My own Catholic upbringing mirrored yours, Fr. Barron. Only I was brought up in a Catholic Republican family. I had shed tears when Nixon resigned. Our household had no photos of a Kennedy. I attended Republican gatherings as a "young Republican" and gave impassioned speeches in defense of the unborn.

As you became disillusioned with the Democratic Party over its embrace of abortion, I became disenchanted with a party that embraced trickle down voodoo economic theory and seemed to embrace the pro-life cause to advance the interests of the well-off and corporate interests, both absolutely driven by profit and greed.

The pro-life plank and rhetoric struck me as a game to get votes to accomplish what the party's backers (purchasers) really wanted.

Right along with the pro-life plank was the pro-gun plank, that is literally killing people far, far after their births. And next to that plan on the shelf is the pro-pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps plank, the pro-marriage plank, the pro-death penalty plank ... all designed to garner votes (but never really acted upon) so as to acomplish the only plank the party's backers really want to accomplish. To go to the mat for. The pro-corporation, pro-profit planks.

What, after all, has many years of Republican hegemoy done for marriage or in protecting unborn children? Such absolute power in the Congress and White and Supreme Court HAS achieved great gains for corporations and their owners (both AMerican and foreign), however. See what I mean about their lack of sincerity in terms of life?

Am I a Democrat? Like you, I have my concerns, and wish for more truly and consitently pro-life politiicians to emerge.

I rather see myself as a Christian Communitarian, with what I believe are consistent views about life ... reflective of Cardinal Bernadin's consistent life ethic.

I have a plea .... to everyone rightly fighting for life:

Please refrain from framing the argument about protecting "innocent lives." Instead of plain ol' "LIFE".

Avoiding a fully authentic and meaningful pro-life argument (or absentmindedly putting in "innocent") may garner a few more votes from the traditional pro-gun, pro-death penalty types. But it is a pact with the devil. It is a pact with greedy power-hungry interests (and mindless corporate machines programmed only to make more and more profit for stockholders and executve compensation) who manipulate good-hearted folks with pretend pro-life interest.

Mind you, these faux pro-life advocates are a sophisticated lot. They use the clever argument that if you can't be right on the dignity of fetal humans, then you can never get it right on the dignity and worth of humans down the line. Souds good and is convincing ... if you conveniently forget about Hitler and Ceaucescu who banned abortions while savaging more developed humans. They got it right, at the beginning, and got it horribly wrong after that.

I argue: one is either pro-life from conception to natural death, or one is not. There is no middle ground, no compromise. And arguing to protect "innocent life" merely gives a rhetorical opening for those who wish to find that middle ground, that compromise in terms of the definition of life.

By the way, I heard you speak at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, and I was truly enlightened in my thinking when you mentioned, in an off-handed remark, that St. Augustine, the author of the self-defense argument for a single individual and later developed for nations, that his argument rested on a concession to sin ... the sin of risking taking another's life, though unintended, in order to presrve one's own or another's. I never knew that before. Thank you.

And I thank you for all your brilliant articles and sermons. They truly help out us pastors. But if there is a way you could edit out "innocent" from "innocent life", I think we might begin to make some headway with a genuine Pro-Life movement.
10/15/2009 1:58:31 PM
Report abuse

Denise J. Smith
I have recently become aware of Fr. Barron's ministry and have been blessed by the series presently airing on EWTN: Threshold to Hope: Three Paths to Holiness.

As I went to his website and stumbled upon these comments regarding the passing of Edward Kennedy and all things political-I was taken aback by a comment I read there.

The older I get the more I realized how blessed I am to have been raised by parents who taught me to think--not react. Ours was not a democrat or republican household. My parents taught me to judge the person (candidate) by his character, not his party affiliation. As Catholics in the 60's--they were impressed by the Kennedy family, but not really 'loyal' to any party and I remember there was an uneasiness about some of the dealings of the Kennedy family even evident back then. To our lower middle class lifestyle, it was indeed a fairy tale of sorts.

That being said, I was stunned by the comments by Fr. Paul Jarvis. How ever do you justify taking the word 'innocent life' out of this conversation?

I am the Director of a pregnancy assistance center in Missouri. Recently, we had a horrifying news report of a man who killed his live-in girl-fiend who had decided to leave him. So as not to be caught, he dismembered her and 'sealed' her remains in small cans purchased at a nearby Walmart, depositing the 'containers' into various trash dumpsters. This man is under arrest, has confessed and will, quite possibly receive the death penalty.

Three days ago, I had a 4-day-old baby in my office who is here by the Grace of God because we walked through a very trying time with her mother and offered her hope for her and for her baby in a world no longer apt to understand the blessing of new life.

How is it, Father, that you are unable to tell the difference in these lives--that of that beautiful newborn and that of a ruthless killer that left a 10-yr-old boy without a mother? Further, how do you explain to that 10-yr-old (and to me) that this man's life is worth saving; all the while giving the life of that mother no thought at all. Using your own logic in this matter: if we do not call for justice here—we call for it no where and are doomed to be consumed by the evil that is all around us.

You have been blinded by the culture which you and I are called to change by virtue of our Baptism. Many of the keywords you use in your commentary belie your political leanings: “voo-doo economics”; “preemptive war”; and the ever-popular “poor and uninsured”. As someone who for 20 years has been on the front lines serving those poor uninsured—not a single one has ever gone without healthcare—not one! Are we to be swayed by the 'young adults' you mention? I find this the 'tail wagging the dog', to coin a phrase. Are these the same young adults that are living together before the benefit of marriage—if they marry at all? Who, when they decide to marry in the Church, attend marriage preparation classes that my husband and I facilitate completely stunned that the Church is still so 'antiquated' that they do not allow artificial contraception. The same ones who now have not even become adults until they are in their thirties—preferring the carefree 'college' experience to real responsibility? Instead of our priests and teachers laying out Gospel values...we coddle them all the more to our shame.

Life is not easy. Our Lord told us as much. But you will presumably have none of it! Dealing with these real issues and fleshing them out and putting 'skin in the game' is too difficult! Better to blast the politicians and cry foul. Today's reading from 2 Maccabees (11/18/09) spoke eloquently of a widow and her seven sons put do death by a King that would leave no room for any allegiance to anyone but him. Is it your view that that Mother and her sons were fools—after all, this mother encouraged her sons to die rather than to sin. For my part, I was humbled by these words in Scripture. I have three children, all grown. Would I have the courage to do what this mother did? Alas, as much as I love my Catholic faith and believe in the teachings of the Church, I must admit to not having that extraordinary vision...but I continue to strive to achieve it.

Your views as a priest is distressing at best....and, in my view, all too common. May God have mercy on us.
11/18/2009 6:40:03 PM
Report abuse

Anne
Don, I too look from from Canada. I am amazed at the number of people in our own country who have no idea that we have less regulation on abortion in Canda than the United States. One thought about your comment on social programs helping to avert abortions. WE, in Canda , have socialized healthcare, many social programs and a far better safety net than the United States and yet we still have 100,000 abortions for every 350,000 live births. I would love to believe that abortion could be solved with support programs but that hasn't been my experience. When woman bit the apple of abortion on demand we became our own little gods deciding life and death on our own terms. That for many woman having a child means a choice between poverty or abortion is a huge challenge. When we justify this choice on those grounds though saying"the problem is lack of support". On some level arent we also saying a womans loss of "lifestyle potential" justifies the intentional taking of her child's life?
12/14/2009 9:29:58 AM
Report abuse

tom
> almost every major Democratic
> politician, locally or
> nationally, feels obligated
> to parrot pro-choice ideology
> if he wants his party’s
> nomination.

He feels that way because it is that way.

In my estimation, a Catholic cannot vote for any Democratic
candidate (not even for municipal dog catcher) because to do so strengthens the Party of Death even if the individual candidate claims to be pro-life. We have seen four pro-life
Democrats flip-flop when they ran for president: Jesse Jackson, Richard Gephardt, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore. These all got their positions of influence under the pro-life banner, but quickly jettisoned it when they decided to try for The One Ring of ultimate influence. The party will not
support any pro-life candidate who is running for high office, and this (in the main) includes the US Senate and governorships.

Oh, and please everyone, never say "evolve" when you mean "develop". The concepts are diametrically opposed. Evolution is mindless and purposeless, development is not.
12/24/2009 10:52:30 PM
Report abuse

Deb Brunsberg
Fr. Barron, your background mirrors my own. I remember as a child three framed photographs in my grandparents living room, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy. My grandparents were farmers as were most of my relatives and I grew up in a Democratic household.

Sadly, what I see in some of my family members, especially those who have no real relationship with Jesus, is that they still think the DFL is the party of the famers and the poor. They conveniently side step the abortion issue because of the other, oh so important, issues. I cannot comprehend that they want to stand before God on judgement day and defend their assisting people like Obama futher the murder of the innocent unborn because they really wanted more affordable medical insurance.


One of the things I find so ironic about all the "social justice" Catholics, is that they put feeding and clothing the poor beyond allowing them to be born to begin with. I see so many churches with twenty social justice programs and not a single right to life program. Their programs do not involve actually bring the word of Christ to the poor, but bringing them the necessities of life. Now, all good things, but first we are as Christians, to bring all people the Good News. The souls of all humanity is far more important than their bodies.

I think that most Catholics live mostly in this world, not in God's. That sad fact has to be laid directly at the feet of the priests and Bishops and religious of the last fifty years.


Fr. Paul Jarvis. You might wish to not take offense at little things like the word "innocent" and stop presuming that those who fight against abortion are not fighting also against capital punishment and all the other evils this culture of death has brought to us. The Democratic party is the party of the culture of death.
Please do not insult the intellience of those in the movement to protect "innocent" life, which refers to all innocents, in or out of the womb. We are perfectly capable of voting for those who actually put in practice the pro-life words they speak. In fact, we are probably more observant of those things than those who would willingly put a man like Obama in the White House because they really thought things would change. A man who in his campaigning referred to pregnancy as a punishment and vowed to work for planned Parenthood. A Catholic who voted for Obama, was a Catholic in name only, just like our Vice President and the Catholic politicians we see patting themselves on the back while bringing death and immorality to our country, knowing that their Bishops won't really excommunicate them, because they too are Catholics in name only.


I probably sound harsh, but I am mostly saddened at what I see in my country and the world. I know that Jesus Christ is in charge and I know how everything will end. My concern is for the souls of those who are offending against life and doing in the name of Christ or pretending they represent those who follow Christ. How much worse their sin must be. My prayer is for the protection, care and love of all life, from conception to natural death and for the souls of all mankind. Jesus wept as he entered Jerusalem, knowing what would happen there. What agony he must have been in as he knelt in the garden and saw how many would reject him even after he gave his life for us. To see how many would assistt in killing his Father's creations, before they even had a chance to draw breath or sometimes even after they had.
10/9/2011 10:28:33 AM
Report abuse

Share with your friends

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to NewsvineAdd to RedditAdd to Yahoo MyWebAdd to FarkAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to StumbleUponAdd to Google BookmarksAdd to MySpace

Title

Click on the title of any of Fr. Barron's Articles on the left to view the full article.  Please feel free to provide your own comments and feedback. Clicking any of the Tags below will show you a listing of articles and commentaries that relate to the word you click. Click on the RSS link to sign up to be notified of each new item that is published here. Past articles can be found in the archive.

WOF Blog RSS Feed SubscriptionSubscribe to our RSS Feed to receive new articles

Tags

2012 A Man For All Seasons A Serious Man abortion Adjustment Bureau Adolph Eichmann advent agnostic Agora Alister angels and deomons apocalypse apologetics Archdiocese of Chicago Ascension atheism Audacity of Hope baptism Barack Obama big bang theory Bin Laden Bob Dylan book Book of Job Brad Caritas in Veritate Carol Marin Catholic Universities celibacy Charles Lwanga Chicago childfree marriages children Christopher Hitchens Civilta Cattolica Coen Brothers commentariat confession conscience contraception devil District 9 dysfunctional Eckhart Tolle Einstein Elijah Emmaus encyclical encyclicals ends and means Evangelization exorcism Father Andrew Greeley Father Barron films financial Fr. Paul Murray Genesis Georgetown golf Hannah Hannah Arendt Hell heresies holocaust interviews Ireland Judge Judy judgement Julia Roberts Kenneth Clark Kierkegaard Laurie Brink Liberal Catholicism Libya lord of the world Lumen Fidei Man of Steel marriage McGrath Mother Teresa movie review muslim nazi nones Notre Dame Nuns Of Gods and Men Palm Sunday PBS Pentecost Peter Snow Pew Forum philosophy Pitt Political Corruption Pope Benedict Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Pope Francis Pope John Paul II priest pro life prosperity gospel protestantism Purgatory Ralph Grimston Richard McBrien robert hugh benson sacraments Samuel science scientism Sears Tower September 11th sex abuse sexuality Shari’a Law Simon Cowell spiritual St. Irenaeus St. John St. Patrick St. Thomas Aquinas St. Thomas More Superman Ted Kennedy The Hunger Games The Ides of March the shack The Stoning of Soraya M. theologian Time Magazine Timothy Dolan tolerance True Grit Twilight vampires Vatican Willis Tower Woody Allen World War Z World Youth Day YouTube

Syndication

RSS
WORD ON FIRE CATHOLIC MINISTRIES | 5215 Old Orchard Road Suite 410 | Skokie, IL 60077
Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to NewsvineAdd to RedditAdd to Yahoo MyWebAdd to FarkAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to StumbleUponAdd to Google BookmarksAdd to MySpace
Copyright © 2010 WordOnFire.org