Kennedy widow: “It would be impossible to unravel my faith from the other aspects of my life”

She delivered the controversial commencement speech at Boston College today.


Victoria Reggie Kennedy called on Boston College law graduates Friday to seek change and justice by uniting people, invoking a practice she said her late husband Edward M. Kennedy embraced as a senator for 46 years.

Kennedy did not touch upon how another Catholic school, Anna Maria College, had rescinded an invitation for her to speak at its spring commencement amid pressure from a bishop, who said some of Kennedy’s personal views do not align with church teachings.

But she spoke of her Catholic faith as her guiding force.

“My husband described it well. ‘This faith,’ he wrote in his autobiography, ‘has been as meaningful to me as breathing.’ And I would add: as essential,” she said. “For me, it would be impossible to unravel my faith from the other aspects of my life, personal or professional. It’s all woven together.

Outside the campus gates, several anti-abortion protestors held signs saying ‘‘BC Honors Abortion Defender.’’ But at the ceremony inside Conte Forum, there were no visible signs of opposition to her appearance or speech.

The 300 degree recipients and their loved ones applauded warmly as she approached the podium, then gave her a standing ovation after she spoke.

Kennedy noted that she went to Catholic school for more than 12 years and hails from “a family so Catholic that our childhood jokes had Latin punch lines.”

“My whole family’s faith was rooted in feeding the hungry, in caring for the sick and the poor,” she said. “It was the creed of social justice. A responsibility we didn’t broadcast, but one we lived and were deeply committed to.”

The controversy at Anna Maria had put Kennedy in the spotlight.

In March, two months before commencement at Anna Maria College, Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus pressured the small Paxton school to disinvite Kennedy. The bishop cited what he said were Kennedy’s views on abortion, health care coverage for contraception, and gay rights as reasons why she was an inappropriate choice for commencement speaker.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said Kennedy had accepted the invitation to speak at BC before the controversy erupted at Anna Maria. BC reaffirmed its selection of Kennedy as speaker.

“A graduate of Tulane University Law School, Mrs. Kennedy practiced law for nearly 20 years and shares our graduates’ interests in public policy and the legal profession,” the school said in a statement. “She is also community to social justice, a fundamental aspect of a Boston College Law School education.”

Terrence Donilon, spokesman for Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, declined to comment on BC’s decision to have Kennedy speak at the graduation.

Both Donilon and Dunn said such decisions should be guided by a statement the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued in 2004 called “Catholics in Political Life.” That statement says in part that: “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Kennedy did not receive an honorary degree Friday. Dunn said that the law school decided about one decade ago to end its practice of bestowing honorary degrees to commencement speakers to better focus on the graduates’ achievements.

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  1. My political, religious and social views are fairly liberal, but one thing I cannot accept is abortion and “abortion rights”. For me it is quite simple: Once you have conception you have human life and to terminate that life is a horrible evil. I am at a complete loss to understand how Mrs. Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, et al. can support abortion rights. And, trust me, when I say that Republicans (Romney) are scarcely any better on this issue.

  2. ron chandonia says:

    ‘This faith,’ he wrote in his autobiography, ‘has been as meaningful to me as breathing.’ And I would add: as essential,” she said. “For me, it would be impossible to unravel my faith from the other aspects of my life, personal or professional. It’s all woven together.

    Are we supposed to swoon? This is a string of political jargon; in practice, it means, “I support whatever causes seem trendy to the libertine sophisticates whose adulation, influence and votes are the life-blood of our dynasty.”

  3. This conservative agrees.

  4. Two thoughts. How could Cardinal O’Malley possibly comment on this event after having presided when the Kennedy church (which has its own rules) buried Ted?
    I’m not sure how the references to the 2004 USCCB statement on “Catholics in Political Life” apply to this situation. Mrs. Kennedy is a private citizen, not a political figure.
    That said, in view of her publicly expressed private beliefs, she has no place at a Catholic podium, be it Jesuit or otherwise.

  5. pagansister says:

    Well done, Boston College—I admire Mrs. Kennedy, and it seems her talk was given a standing ovation, so obviously those graduating weren’t concerned about her views that differ from Catholic doctrine. 20 years of experience as a lawyer totally made her a good choice to speak to the law school graduates.

  6. “The graduate’s aunt, Mary Jane Silva, said Kennedy’s “secular message was outstanding, but her Catholic message was just something we have to ponder for a minute.”

    “I’m not sure how she reconciles her belief in the right to choose with Catholic teachings,” Silva said.”
    IOW, she is very secular in her thinking.

  7. Well, this should give me hope that a nobody like me might one day be invited to give a commencement address. Wait, I didn’t marry a Kennedy. So I guess I’m not going to be invited afterall.

    What exactly has this woman done in her life that would justify inviting her to speak at a commencement address?

  8. Bern,
    I could not agree more. Being apart of a (group), conservative, liberal, independent, white, black, asian, catholic, protestant, muslim, whatever, lends itself to group think. Not honest, personal, internal contemplation of who we (you) really are in God. Gods Work of Art. Romney belongs to a “church” where that church leaves evryone else out in the end who is apart of this group. God bless em. Why would he really care about abortion then? Votes maybe? He had to attatch himself to a group to possibly become president. I’m saying his decision to be a republican and pro-life was out of political convenience not some moral conundrum of his. This kind of positioning goes both ways. It’ s intellectually dishonest and steals dignity from everyone. Dignity of human life goes does not just end at murder. Dishonesty was a big one for Emmanuel Kant. Our American politics is in big trouble.
    I also agree with you about the contradictions of the Kennedy’s and others like them, to fight vigilantly for the disadvantaged and then turn their backs on those who can’t possibly stand up for themselves, the un-born. I don’t get it accept maybe for the scientific argument, and then I respectfully disagree with them.

  9. Good point. At BC even.

  10. naturgesetz says:

    Tom —

    I think you’re unfair to the Mormons in your suggestion that they don’t care about people outside their church. They believe that people can be baptized by proxy for those who have died. They use their genealogical research to find ancestors whom they can save by being baptized for them; and apparently they are going beyond their own ancestors. Recently they were criticized for proxy baptism of Holocaust victims. It seems that want to save everybody.

    And I think you’re unfair in ascribing Romney’s being a Republican simply to opportunism. After all, his father was a Republican (Governor of Michigan), so he grew up in a Republican household, and party loyalty is far different from opportunism.

  11. Midwestlady says:

    Manny, you had it right. She married a Kennedy. That’s what she did.

  12. Victoria Reggie Kennedy – Classic Cafeteria Catholic – “We are Catholics but we don’t really believe those silly things that the Pope says or taught in the Churches”

    Why is she in a position to be a guest speaker in the first place? Her sole qualification is marrying Sen. Kennedy. That’s a pretty low hurdle.

  13. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    According to her Wikipedia entry, Kennedy is president and co-founder of Common Sense about Kids and Guns, an advocacy group begun in 1999 which seeks to reduce gun deaths and injuries to children in the U.S. She is a member of the board of trustees of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and has served on the board of Stop Handgun Violence in Boston.

    Prior to marrying Kennedy, She attended Newcomb College at Tulane University in New Orleans, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts in English, magna cum laude, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was president of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She then received her Juris Doctor degree, summa cum laude in 1979 from Tulane University Law School.There she was a member of Tulane Law Review.

    After law school, Reggie clerked for Judge Robert Arthur Sprecher at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. As an attorney, she specialized in bank law.

    In Washington DC, she practiced banking and savings and loan law and restructuring and bankruptcy law for Keck, Mahin & Cate. She was made partner there, and was known to be “charismatic and hard-driving” and a tough negotiator in settlement talks and “as a real star” for her ability to work on complicated financial transactions.

    My understanding is that she was selected to be a speaker primarily because of her work to prevent handgun violence among young people.


  14. I am opening myself up here, but I continue to be deeply troubled by the implications of the Church’s dancing a one-note samba on abortion. As critical as this issue is, it is not the heart of our faith or the subject of Jesus’ great commission. As much as we lament it, abortion is legal in the United States. To remain untainted by any suspicion of cooperation or approval, would we have Catholics leave public life entirely? Would we wish for Catholic university commencement speakers to address this issue only? Why not convert all our Catholic institutions to anti-abortion policy centers? Should we vet Catholics in public life on every aspect of their compliance with Catholic teaching, and refuse contact with or approval of those who eat meat on Lenten Fridays, miss Mass, file less-than-strictly-honest tax returns, fail to give to Catholic charities or support parish and diocesan stewardship in sufficient amounts—not to mention those who actively cooperate in torture, in capital punishment, in domestic abuse, in unmarried cohabitation or adulterous affairs, in knowingly hiring illegal aliens? The Virgin Mary would be impossibly overbooked in commencement season if that were the case.

    If being a cafeteria Catholic means picking and choosing which parts of Catholic teaching one emphasizes, I am afraid we are very much in danger of becoming a cafeteria Church with only one item on the menu.

  15. Chris Mac says:

    Wow. An advocate against handgun violence. For that, I’m willing to her positions on abortion and gay marriage. Her sniping at the Catholic bishops. The Democratic Rally of a funeral she held for her husband. Her nastiness toward the bishop of Worcester.

  16. naturgesetz says:

    I think you need to be able to set priorities, and if abortion doesn’t top the list, something is very wrong.

  17. ron chandonia says:

    If we selected people to honor at our graduations who were committed to a consistent ethic of life–and exemplified it in their work in the community–we would have far fewer Catholics to choose from. But we would also offer an imporant witness to the secular world instead of a constant series of springtime scandals.

  18. Chris Mac says:

    Ooops. “Willing to forgive her positions on abortion…” Sorry for the sloppy typing.

  19. pagansister says:

    Thanks for the the homework, Deacon Greg, on Mrs. Kennedy. Think that should answer the skeptics who feel she wasn’t qualified to speak to law graduates. IMO, what she has done and does stands on it’s own—much done before she (as some put it) “married a Kennedy”.

  20. Midwestlady says:

    The Kennedys are completely passe. Part of the crazy history of the 60s. I always laugh when I see someone dredge them up out of nowhere like this. It tells me how totally out of the loop they are.

  21. Does abortion top the list in the creed? In the Scriptures? (believe me, it existed) Is it the subject of the Holy Father’s every message? No. Defending life is very important. But it is not the only thing we are sent into the world to do. To say so is heresy.

  22. The scandal is in the ear of the beholder. If you listened for any Good News other than the anti-abortion message, you might hear it and be evangelized instead of scandalized. The only scandal this kind of sniping provides is the scandal of our own attacking our own.

  23. ron chandonia says:

    It was Team Kennedy that opened fire on Catholic teaching–most evidently in Mario Cuomo’s infamous Notre Dame address denying that Christianity’s ancient respect for unborn human life should influence public policy in a secular age. His message was pure Bad News, the very antithesis of the gospel message. No one who makes such a claim is any position to “evangelize” anybody else.

  24. Go back an read the history of the Catholic church. You missed the parts about killing babies. Also, look up the definition of ‘heresy’.

    “You shall not kill either the fetus by abortion or the new born” (Letter of Barnabas, circa 125)

    St. Basil the Great (circa 330 – 379 CE): “She who has deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder…here it is not only the child to be born that is vindicated, but also the woman herself who made an attempt against her own life, because usually the women die in such attempts. Furthermore, added to this is the destruction of the child, another murder… Moreover, those, too, who give drugs causing abortion are deliberate murderers themselves, as well as those receiving the poison which kills the fetus.” Letter 188:2

    St. Jerome (circa 342-420 CE): “They drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived. Some, when they learn that they are with child through sin, practice abortion by the use of drugs. Frequently they die themselves and are brought before the rulers of the lower world guilty of three crimes: suicide, adultery against Christ, and murder of an unborn child.” Letter 22:13

    The Didache (also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) dates from the first half of the second century CE. It states: “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion.” (2:2) It also says that “The Way of Death is filled with people who are…murderers of children and abortionists of God’s creatures.” (5:1-2)

    The Synod of Elvira, held in Spain in 306 CE: “If a woman becomes pregnant by committing adultery, while her husband is absent, and after the act she destroys the child, it is proper to keep her from communion until death, because she has doubled her crime.” Canon 63.

    Pope Sixtus V (1471-1484) issued a Papal bull “Effraenatam” in 1588 which threatened those who carried out abortions at any stage of gestation with excommunication and the death penalty.

  25. pagansister says:

    AND? George

  26. Mark Stickle says:

    Perhaps Ms. Vicki could have asked the assembled graduates and their families to pause for a moment of silence to remember Mary Jo Kopechne …. and the countless other women the Lion of the Senate preyed upon during his illustrious career. His faith wasn’t the only thing that was as central to his life as breathing!!!!

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