The Leadership Void; we need St. Benedict – UPDATED

Deacon Greg sent this my way, noting, “this is extraordinary, and the piece mentions you, too!”

Such a star, I am!

What is “extraordinary” is the lengthy post Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley put up in his blog, addressing the criticism he has received for presiding (in a very minimalist way, it must be said) at the Funeral Mass of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

For the record, I wasn’t one of those suggesting Kennedy should not have a Catholic funeral; my gripe was with the sanctification of the man by some, especially in the press, not with the rest of it. I assumed Kennedy had made a sincere confession, received absolution and -as I wrote here- I expected that he and I might rub elbows in purgatory, someday (assuming that I am blessed enough to go there, and that the place is not divided between the monied swells and the poor slobs, as I suspect it is not). Kennedy’s funeral, by my lights, was his Bishop’s business.

O’Malley’s piece is long and difficult to excerpt well; his measured words will greatly please some and never satisfy others, and I urge you to take the time to read all of it.

What was more striking to me than O’Malley’s statement was that it comes right on the heels of Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino’s resignation. There is a very real sense that Martino was pushed out of his office, having made himself unwelcome among many of the more liberal Catholics (and a few conservative ones, too) with his abrasive style. Now, here comes Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a simple Capuchin and the mildest of men, facing the wrath of the more conservative Catholics.

It seems like the whole world is at war; everyone is angry about something. The conservatives are beating up O’Malley, the progressives are beating up Martino. Both of these men have a hand in their beatings, because of their styles of leadership. Martino was too abrasive, too undiplomatic – he stepped on too many toes; he was completely unnuanced and had a true bull-in-a-china-shop approach. He was half Scary John the Baptist and half Peter-with-the-ear-slicing sword.

O’Malley on the other hand -whose work to repair the trust and standing of the church after the heartbreaking revelations of a systemic cover-up of abuse should never be shrugged off- can sometimes seem a bit too mild, a little too nuanced and diplomatic and angelic.

Both of these men are exemplary priests who work with devotion to Christ and fealty to the See of Peter, but for some the Bellicose Bishop is too much Justice without Mercy, and the Consoling Cardinal too much Mercy without Justice.

Well, thank God for Jesus who is both Justice and Mercy, and who will sort it all out in the end, but in the meantime, we should perhaps consider that these brouhahas between bishops and their flocks are also being played out in our secular politics, in our schools and communities – everywhere we look, leaders are under attack by people who expect something more from them than they are getting.

Just as there is an art to good politics, there is also an art to good leadership, and it has nothing to do with money, education, connections, breeding or any of that. Good leadership has to do with being very clear about your position and your expectations, like Bishop Martino, but without assaulting the dignity and pride of another. Good leadership takes a broad view, like Cardinal O’Malley, but without creating anxiety about where a leader’s priorities lie.

And all of this is true whether we are talking church or state, fishing club or commune. The dearth of real leadership, worldwide, (and the willful distortion of it in some cases) is contributing to an over-all feeling of things falling apart and centers not holding.

In his Holy Rule, St. Benedict tells what is needed in an Abbot -the leader of a monastery- and what Benedict wrote in the 7th Century can be well-used by everyone in a position of authority; the parent, the CEO, the Bishop, the teacher, the parish priest, the President. This wisdom applies to all:

Let him who is to be appointed be chosen because of the merit of his life and because of his learning, even though in the community he may be lowest in rank. . . . Let him who has been appointed Abbot always bear in mind what a burden he has taken on himself, and to whom he will have to give an account of his stewardship; and let him know that it behooves him rather to serve his brethren than to lord it over them. He must, therefore, be well versed in the Divine Law, that he may know whence to bring forth new things and old; he must be chaste, sober, merciful; and always exalt mercy above judgment that he himself may find mercy. Let him love the brethren whilst he hates their vices. And in the very correction of the brethren let him act prudently and not go to excess, lest, seeking too vigorously to cleanse off the rust, he may break the vessel. Let him ever keep his own frailty before his eyes and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken. By this we do not mean that he should suffer vices to grow up, but that he could cut them off prudently and with charity, according as he shall see that it is best for each, as we have said; and let him seek rather to be loved than to be feared.

Some will see O’Malley in this and in truth, I do too -but O’Malley should perhaps have written his piece before the funeral, and with fewer awestruck-sounding descriptives which cannot help but tempt some of his angry flock into thinking that he was too ga-ga over the earthly Kennedy glamor to fully instruct in future glory.

Writes Holy Father Benedict:

Let [the Abbot] not be turbulent and overanxious, overexacting and headstrong, jealous and prone to suspicion, for otherwise he will never have rest. In his commands themselves, whether they concern God or the world, let him be prudent and considerate. Let him be discreet and moderate in the tasks which he imposes, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob when he said: “If I cause my flock to be overdriven, they will all die in one day.” Taking, then, this and other models of discretion, the mother of virtue, let him so temper all things that the strong may still find something they will do with zeal, and the weak may not be disheartened.

In this verse we see the weaknesses of both Martino, who failed the meek, and O’Malley who perhaps insufficiently inspired the strong.

Martino and O’Malley are both good men, faithful priests the church may be proud of. Both have gifts, and both have done positive -even exceptional- things while in office. Cardinal Sean was instrumental in getting the stories and victims of sexual abuse into the presence of Pope Benedict XVI. Martino, less elegant, took a very head-on and unshuttered view of issues in this diocese, which from one perspective might be seen as downright heroic. These are components, though, and not the fullness of exemplary leadership. Whole people must be considered, and whole issues. Optimism is key. And so is a bit of humility.

…let consideration be had of infirmities. Accordingly, when one requires less, let him give thanks to God and be not distressed; when, however, one requires more, let him be humbled at his infirmity, and not grow arrogant because of the charity shown him. Thus all members shall be in peace.

We live in very rough and tumultuous times, and we are all climbing over each other’s backs, demanding conformity of thought in the secular world and conformity of behavior in the religious. Almost none of us are capable of doing the things we demand of others. Therefore, it is all the more important that our leadership be capable of transcending the mudpuddles into which we’ve thrown ourselves. In terms of the state, our elected leadership is too busy flinging mud (or wallowing in it) to actually lead. In terms of church, we do have leadership, and some of it is very good, and much of it is not-half-bad.

But some of our leadership – still too much of it – is artless and uncomfortable, afraid of being unambiguous for fear of seeming gruff, or incapable of talking tough when a little toughness might clear things up.

I think much of the difficulty in our parenting, our ministering, our community leading, our politicking, has to do with the notions of relativism and truthiness; society has been fed-and-overfed on the notion that there are “many” truths, that every perspective is not simply a perspective but a “truth,” inarguable, valid, personal and worth dying for. It has made everyone so reluctant to fearlessly say, “no, this is true. This is reality.”

There is a story about Pope Benedict that I like very much, and recounted here:

[Writer] Günter Grass, in his memoirs, recalls an encounter with the young Joseph Ratzinger while both were held in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1945. The young Grass, a Nazi who had been proud to serve in the Waffen-SS, was taken aback by this soft-spoken, gentle young Catholic. Unlike God, the future pope played dice, quoting St. Augustine in the original while he did so; he even dreamt in Latin. His only desire was to return to the seminary from which he had been drafted. “I said, there are many truths,” wrote Grass. “He said, there is only one.” (Daniel Johnson, New York Sun, September 18, 2006)

Unambiguous, but kind;
down-to-earth, yet fixed on a transcendent and larger view.

It isn’t just for popes. We need to cultivate leadership in ourselves and our children, or we will never stop bickering and nothing will end well. If we have only the choice of Martino’s way or O’Malleys, I would probably choose O’Malley’s, and say “err on the side of mercy,” and let God do the Justice part.

UPDATE: Puts her finger on another reason for leadership voids – we’re content on being sold on images, alone. One of her commenters made a brilliant observation about leadership that I won’t recount here – go read; it is a huge insight into leadership.

The Rule of St. Benedict
Is Socialism Incompatible with Monasticism?
Oblates, Tertiaries, Professed Lay People

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • saveliberty

    Thank you so much for this. I read this to Mom as we are drinking our morning coffee (sadly, not Mystic Monk) and will print it out as we like it so well.

  • cathyf

    All of Ephesions Chapter 4 applies here really well, too. Especially “Be angry but do not sin … do not leave room for the devil… And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

    I am dismayed by the breathless speculation that Bishop Martino “offended the wrong people” by “speaking truth to power” and “was pushed” by some nefarious cabal of wimpy handwringers. It’s treats those who were wounded by Martino’s rants to the typical arrogant non-apology apology of “I’m sorry you feel that way.” If you read Bishop Martino’s actual statement, rather than the ruminations of his “supporters”, it is far more along the lines of, “I have found that I cannot be angry without sinning, and so rather than vex the Holy Spirit further, I am removing myself from this occasion of sin.”

    For those who think that somehow they are defending Martino by refusing to take his words at face value — I would suggest that his own explanation for his resignation is far more virtuous that any victimhood that his “supporters” are trying to “enoble” him with.

  • Klaire

    I don’t know, but I tend to think the “Scary John the Baptist” is the better style.

    While I agree that both men are fine priests, I prefer the “Martino” style. In these times, I think you have to just lay it on the line; souls are in great danger.

    Look at the results of Martino. Before he made that courageous act at an Obama rally, most of Scranton was going for Obama. After doing what a good bishop should do, reminding them that HE is their shepard, in the end, Scranton went for McCain.

    Image if a few other bishops would have had his courage and “toughness.” Our worst problem might now might be McCain, but at least we would wouldn’t be wondering about death panels, FOCA (conscience clauses in medicine), and government funded abortions and sterilizations.

    I disagree that the Martino types fail the meek. How could truth EVER fail?

    If what most of us fear that is coming does comes, rest assured the “Martino” types will have been the ones who best prepared the flocks.

  • Georges Buscemi

    I second Klaire. I find it inaccurate to say that Martino and O’Malley are equally flawed as bishops, each in their own way. Martino, while perhaps a touch abrasive, is rather just the kind of bishop we need, while O’Malley, who admittedly has his plate full in Boston, is the kind of Bishop we need *much* less of. Hardly anyone who knew anything about canon law contested the idea that Kennedy get a catholic burial. That was a red herring O’Malley threw. But everyone who cares about the future of the Church wanted that funeral to be a *private*, family affair, and not the scandalous public spectacle it was.

  • Klaire

    After reading O’Malley’s blog, I’m even more disappointed. Few if any would deny Kennedy a funeral. It was the PUBLIC funeral that was so over the top and scandulous.

    It was only on every network and cable station, of which almost no one will take away anything but the fact that abortion (among the plethora of other Catholic teachings Kennedy legislated against) is no longer any big deal.

    Sadly, the damage is done. Divide and Conquer American Catholicism lives on in full glory, for all the world to witness.

    What a difference a “Martino” would have made.

  • http://none jprimm

    Anchoress, you are a light in the day…yes, I say that every time I post to you, and you are probably bored or think I am easy…hopefully neither.

    Were I O’Malley, I might have said something along the lines of,” Ted confessed and was absolved, so his soul is white, and we bid him goodbye for now. ” Had he said that, all people would have accepted the big Mass…without such a caveat however, the average Catholic and non-Catholic can only see what many have said, “they dishonored their values for political and worldy gain” (sic).
    I believe what you said about O’M being nuanced and merciful…he is obviously a good man. But he DOES harm Catholics trying to hew to the Magisterium when the APPEARANCE is that you can deny the Magisterium and get away with it.

    God indeed knows better…but without solid leadership from the Church, do we?

    One man’s opinion.

  • http://none jprimm

    Please excuse a second thought…I have had the good grace to advise many C level execs on how to talk to the press, public Congress. I put myself into the average reader/viewer when a crisis happens and try to see what an act/speech/problem appears to be.

    Having said that, I am left with the Marino/O’Malley contrast. Even reading many sources, my “normal, common” view comes out that the Church has nailed a strong conservative pastor and punted in a situation where the Magisterium could have been addressed EVEN as mercy and forgiveness was shown. Please realize I am speaking of what these actions appear to be…the normal, common viewer & reader does not have the time nor inclination to dig past the surface.

    That is why I am so unhappy with the USCCB and Church leadership…they do not use the tools and strengths they possess.

    One man’s opinion.

  • Kelly (Scottsdale AZ)

    I start every morning at the office by reading your blog. You are a wonderful and talented writer who helps me keep things in perspective. Keep writing as it is good for me and I think so many others.

  • craig

    I don’t know whether +Martino jumped or was pushed. But from the online video, the press conference resembled a baseball manager’s firing more than it resembled an ailing retiree’s send-off. Everyone there came across as bureaucratic cold fish. Neither +Martino, +Rigali, nor the others present would even look at one another; while their prepared statements may have offered perfunctory words of thanks, the lack of any personal warmth between the men was obvious. “See how they love one another”, indeed.

    I applaud the fact that +Martino has been willing to defend the faith publicly where so many of his brother bishops merely “go along to get along”, but seriously — couldn’t these folks take a Dale Carnegie class or something?

  • Maggie45

    Terry Nelson at the abbey-roads blog has an excellent post on Cardinal O’Malley’s article.

    Sorry, I always mess up when I try to do an html link.

    [edited to admit link -admin]

  • Carl Eppig

    I sent the Cardinal’s blog out to my Franciscan fraternity with the subject: A True Franciscan.

    Pax et Bonum, Carl

  • Rob Skrobola

    While, as usual, the Anchoress has written well and thought well on this issue, I must disagree with the tone of the article. The truly loving and merciful thing with regard to Ted Kennedy and all Catholics like him is to be firm and clear from the beginning. I’m not talking nasty, but I am talking firm. His bishops have failed him for 36 years. They should have been confronting him and denying him Communion since the day he came out in wholehearted support and aggressive promotion of the murder of children.

    IMO, Bishop Martino would have served Mr. Kennedy far better than all the misguided “mercy” and “tolerance” he has been the recipient of over the years.

    Until we realize that true mercy and compassion rests in the firm speaking and ***acting*** on the truth, nothing will change.


  • Gayle Miller

    “. . . he even dreamt in Latin” – what a delightful glimpse of our beloved and most excellent Benedict, Pope of us all.

    I have been accused of being excruciatingly blunt. That well may be so since I see no great value in pussy-footing (And I have a cat who agrees with me, I must assume, because he runs through the house sounding like a bull elephant on a rampage!) and generally say precisely what is between my ears. This makes people very uncomfortable at times, but at least they know where they stand in my eyes.

    I was diplomatic in my 20s, started moving away from that mindset in my 30s, became too candid in my 40s and 50s and now at age 67, I say exactly what’s on my mind. What are people going to do? Accuse me of senility? It’s a lovely kind of freedom. And as to my bluntness, I try to temper my candid remarks with some kindness. I would be more comfortable with a Martino than one of those temporizing fellows like Bishop Mahoney of Los Angeles (I’ve never liked him overmuch). At least his opinions are held with passion and commitment. It’s the wafflers who will kill us all!

  • http://theanchoress Patricia Clark-Varga

    I grew up in the Scranton, PA. area. My family still lives there and I keep in touch. Based upon what I have been hearing, “liberal” Catholic attacks are not likely a factor in his retirement. (Most of the Catholics in the Scranton diocese are pro-life. There are no abortion clinics in the whole area–Planned Parenthood has to refer them to Philly and Binghamton, NY.) My sister (who does not strongly practice the faith and pays little attention to Bishop Martino’s strong pro-life stand) knows a lot of people who have been affected by school closings and parish closings. The Bishop did not consult the pastors or the faithful. He would not allow parents to find better solutions in order to keep the schools open. Even when Bishop Martino finally “invited” input, he simply disregarded their conclusions and continued to implement his agenda. Much suffering has resulted, and Catholic education in particular may never recover. I applaud the Bishop for his strong pro-life stands. That’s mainly what I hear about in the Catholic press (I live in Ohio). But the Bishop could have helped his flock to find better solutions, instead of being so harsh and one-sided. I’m telling you what I’ve been hearing from my sister, who lives there and knows many families affected by the Bishop’s decisions.

  • cathyf

    Sorry, Gayle, when it comes to “bluntness” I have to agree with St. Benedict and St. Paul — if you can’t be right without being an asshole, then it doesn’t matter whether you are right or not.

    I like craig’s analogy of the firing of a baseball manager. What a manager knows about baseball, or how well he plays baseball himself, is not very important compared to his effectiveness in his job, which is to inspire other people to play the game well.

    [In which case, I am quite sure, Cathy, that you did not mean to imply that Gayle is an "asshole" but were speaking in rather more general terms? :-) -admin]

  • Bender

    I might have said something along the lines of, ”Ted confessed and was absolved . . .

    No can do. That would violate the seal of the confessional.

  • Western Chauvinist

    Fascinating that this should come up now… I was just counseled by my priest to learn “holy detachment” in the midst of all this conflict. I take this to mean accepting and living the peace of Christ while still pursuing and speaking the truth. “There is only one truth.” – PBXVI cited in this post – gotta love that!

    I’m inclined to agree with other comments here showing a preference for the Martino style. But, I have come to realize that conversions to Christ are less likely if the agent is condemning the potential convert. However, the O’Malley mercy is no mercy at all if the truth is not spoken. This is the hazard our leadership faces especially in the desire to be more loved than feared. “Holy detachment” is obviously more easily said than practiced.

  • Jim Dress

    Thanks for your insightful comments. I agree with Rob that Bishop Martino would have served Mr. Kennedy far better. Also, the rage of the pro-life orthodox faithful was very well expressed in the blog by Judie Brown of American Life League.

  • Ruth Ann

    I have been reading Cardinal O’Malley’s blog since its inception, and, although he is not my bishop, I find his posts over the months have revealed him to be a fine leader and a holy man. On the other hand, I had never before heard of Bishop Martino until the recent reports of his retirement. So, I can only address what Cardinal O’Malley actally wrote on his blog concerning the Senator Kennedy funeral Mass. And I won’t speculate on “what ifs” and “if onlys.”

    What I read on the blog pleased me, and I totally concur with what he said. Choosing bits and pieces to highlight, which I did on my blog, doesn’t do justice to the whole. But here’s a part on which all of us might do well to meditate: “Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.”

    One of my greatest heartaches as a life-long Catholic is witnessing the strong polarization that has developed among us. I find it especially difficult because choose to be in the middle of the spectrum. No, I’m not wishy-washy. I subscribe to a quote attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, “Virtue lies in the middle.”

    [Ruth Ann, I tend to agree with you. If we cannot have perfect leadership - and it's clear we can't -then I would err on the side of mercy, and prefer the way of O'Malley over Martino. They are both holy men, but there is a reason why John the Baptist was the forerunner, and Jesus was the savior. Leadership cannot be healthy when it harps too much. Jesus had the best way; loving but challenging. admin]

  • Bill Kurtz

    Thank you cathyf. You hit the nail on the head.

  • Pingback: The Anchoress: 'We need St. Benedict' - Christian Forums()

  • cathyf

    In which case, I am quite sure, Cathy, that you did not mean to imply that Gayle is an “asshole” but were speaking in rather more general terms?

    Nah, I was really referring to my own perimenopausal self. I give myself the “you can be right without being a bitch” lecture it seems like several times a day. All part of my struggle to keep the Internal Bitch on the choke chain!

    [I knew you hadn't meant it the other way, but I wanted to make sure the rest understood it! :-) -admin]

  • Stephan M. Sydor

    Is Cathyf really Kathy Griffin?
    Their vocabulary is the same. Anyhow, remember Cardinal Cushing? He struck down Father Feeney liike lightning, but made a special trip to terrorize Mary Jo Kopechne’s parents into silence re Teddy. As for the mild Capuchin, he is learned indeed, but his blog reads like a legal brief: praising Kennedy’s good deeds while ignoring St. Paul’s scriptural admonition about charity. The solution is simple: Public sin by a public servant demands public repentance.
    How ironic, luckily; for the senator’s sojourn in Purgatory will be brief. Millions of unborn butchered babies, sent straight to Heaven by Ted’s help, are now pleading for his release.

  • MarkF

    Oh, I don’t know…so complicated. I do agree that Pope Benedict is a great example…but didn’t he fill up his entire time spent with Nancy Pelosi with chastising her? Yes, we don’t want to win an argument but lose a soul, but that really applies more to people outside of the Church. Inside the Church I am for a lot more discipline and lot more time spent on orthodox spiritual formation. Cardinal O’Malley gives us an example of a man who switched from pro-abortion to pro-life with just the spirit (it seems) working on his conscience. But are we supposed to do nothing and demand that God do it all? Lets face some reality here. The Church is filled with people who are in deep dissent with her on key matters. We need a lot more of these investigations from Rome, and a lot more follow up. The McBriens and Chittisters of the world have nearly destroyed the Church, and I for one have no problem seeing them either removed or reformed.

    [That will happen on its own, though, Mark; We'll eventually see a schism with the creation of an "American Catholic Church" which will essentially be like the Church of England, today,to which the McBrien/Chittister Catholics will quickly flock, and the Roman church here will be targeted for all sorts of lawsuits based on "hate" and "intolerance," which will cost it its buildings, schools, hospitals - all its wordly treasure. It's coming. Benedict said a few years ago that the church would become smaller and more fervent." It's inevitable. -admin]

  • J

    I am glad you find comfort in thinking that kennedy made a good confession and repentance. Keep in mind that kennedy and kerry and a great many other catholics in MA see nothing wrong in abortion, partial birth abortion and a variety of other evils….and ask yourself why, in MA this is so prevalent. And ask yourself why those above-mentioned “catholics” repeatedly received not only communion from the MA priests, but were feted by them. We are not fools, we see the catholic church, at least in MA, as enabling these politicians to continue in their support of abortion and teaching the rest of the catholics in MA that this is acceptable.

  • Beatrix

    I’m a big fan of the Anchoress; not a Catholic though, (or even an American), so maybe I don’t have any business weighing in, and I am sorry if I’m out of line. That being said -
    when a Cardinal participates in a funeral he must surely know that he’s conveying one of two messages:

    Either the deceased had status and power and therefore deserves to be buried by a Prince of the Church or

    The deceased was an outstanding Catholic and his holiness deserves public recognition and celebration by the Church.

    Was Ted Kennedy an outstanding Catholic? Was he a decent man?

    Does the Church mean what it says about abortion?

    As I understand it Kennedy did more than “not publicly support Catholic teaching and advocacy on behalf of the unborn”; he wasn’t just silent on the issue. Unless I’m wrong, he championed abortion.

    We all do wrong and noone ultimately can pass judgement on another person; still, I’m sure that if Charles Manson converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, no Cardinal would help bury him.

    And I’m assuming that no Cardinal helped bury Mary Jo Kopechne.

  • Miriam

    As a new Catholic (Easter vigil 2008) there is still a lot I do not know about the rules.

    But, I do know that abortion is wrong, it is evil and there is no excuse for it.

    A Catholic funeral for Ted Kennedy? Sure, no objection here.

    But, why was it televised? Whether or not he repented of his actions before his death, the funeral should have been a private affair. I don’t recall seeing a public funeral for his sister, Eunice, who was so pro-life and who lived her life as a devout Catholic and as such would have been a great example of a Kennedy who actually follows church teaching.

    Part of the letter that Senator Kennedy sent to Pope Benedict was read at the funeral. The parts that were excerpted seemed to be excuses not sorrow and nowhere have I read that he asked forgiveness for his life actions.

    We must remember that Ted Kennedy was pro-life until it was politically expedient to become pro- death.

    I have also read that some priests talked with the Kennedy family so that they could become comfortable voting for abortion laws. If the teachers of the church did that, they have even more to answer for than Senator Kennedy.

    If it looks like a scandal, walks like a scandal, it is a scandal.

    As for your participation, you have to do what your conscience tells you and I do appreciate that.

    Sincerely in Christ,


    These are the comments I left at Cardinal Sean’s blog.

    [The Bishop could have, I suppose, requested that the funeral not be televised, but the media would have been under no compulsion to follow that request. I do not think the bishop could have made a private funeral a "condition" of allowing one, because if he was aware (by knowledge of confession, etc, which a priest or bishop may not divulge) of the deceased state-of-grace at death, and was allowing that funeral based on his knowledge, then I think it would be an unconditional event. I don't know for sure - I'm not a canon lawyer - but confessed is confessed, absolved is absolved. I don't think a bishop can then say, "absolved, but public funeral denied." That would fly in the face of the whole notion of the mercy of God, and put us back into the lap of the Pharisees. Kennedy certainly complicated things for his priests and bishops, there is no doubt. When we consider the unbreakable seal of the confessional, we have to have a little pity on these priests and bishops who know more than we know on these issues, sometimes, but cannot tell us about it -admin]

  • dymphna

    Being Catholic means being let down by a bishop at some point in your life. I accept that. The thing I feel bad about it is the poor example being given to non Catholics. It’s pretty hard to talk about the Faith when it’s clear that many a bishop doesn’t believe half of what I’m talking about.

  • Bender

    when a Cardinal participates in a funeral he must surely know that he’s conveying one of two messages:
    Either the deceased had status and power and therefore deserves to be buried by a Prince of the Church or
    The deceased was an outstanding Catholic and his holiness deserves public recognition and celebration by the Church.

    I haven’t commented before on the Kennedy funeral Mass specificially, but this is as good a point as any –

    There is a third message and that message is not a message of honoring the deceased, but a recognition that the deceased really needs the big guns to be brought out for the sake of his soul.

    Indeed, the purpose of a funeral Mass is not so much to honor the dead, but to effectively dishonor him or her, to pray for his or her soul and that God receive him or her notwithstanding their sins. If the deceased were really all that “worthy” of a funeral Mass, or all that “worthy” of a VIP celebrant, then he or she likely would not need the Mass in the first place.

    The Mass is not (properly understood) to praise and pat the deceased on the back, but to recognize that the guy was a sinner and needs our prayerful intercession on his behalf. When they are canonized and get a feast day, then that will be a Mass of honor, but not the funeral Mass. Even the funeral Mass for John Paul II had a long, long litany of intercessions, asking the faithful and saints in heaven to pray for him.

  • Sally Thomas

    I agree, Dymphna. My husband, children and I are converts; our non-Catholic family very often feel the need to tell us which Catholics they approve of (“supports public healthcare=cares about the poor, UNLIKE THE POPE AND YOU.”)

    My mother spent Saturday morning watching the Ted Kennedy funeral and thought it was wonderful. Trust us to become the wrong kind of Catholics . . .

  • Sally Thomas

    Incidentally, I probably chose a poor example in citing the healthcare debate, though that was pretty much a verbatim conversation that was had not long ago. But you can fill in the blanks: abortion, condoms in Africa, etc etc etc. Why can’t we be like the broadminded, forgiving, understanding, intelligent Catholics, instead of like the Pope? (as if; I hope you know what I mean)

    That’s how the unspoken line of questioning invariably goes, and funerals-cum-spectacles don’t help much.

  • Beatrix

    Bender – Thanks for the response. That is perfectly logical and I can follow it; the funeral Mass is not a celebration for the deceased (in fact I thought that eulogies weren’t allowed; shows what I know).

    In practice, though, high-ranking clerics don’t perform funeral Masses for the most obviously wicked people (think Charles Manson again). If we’re all sinners and we all need the “big guns” then we all could do with a Cardinal (or to have letters delivered to the Pope, for that matter).

    In practice, Cardinal O’Malley’s participation comes across as an official endorsement of the things Kennedy stood for; or else as an unabashed sell out to the man’s power, wealth and status. I don’t know what it actually was, but that is how it seems.

    Couln’t he simply have been given a private funeral instead of a public celebration?

  • cathyf

    Stephan, no, she would be kathyg… ;-)

  • Beatrix

    Honestly, I will shut up after this. I wrote “could’nt he simply have been given a private funeral instead of a public celebration?”. I should have read the Anchoress’ response to Miriam more carefully. By “private funeral” I merely meant one at which his parish priest officiated.
    I’m just hung up on the hierarchical status of the clergyman officiating and what message it conveys.

  • Martin Snigg

    Mrs Scalia I think you’re a star I love your writing. But on the need for outstanding leadership I disagree emphatically.

    We all know life issues are a priority. I wouldn’t take Bishop Martino’s misfortune as a failure of leadership or as an example that we face a vexing issue :)

    Its the same as always – Bishops just have to get exiled its as simple as that. There can be no accommodation on abortion – the Church’s very reason for existence is as witness to the justice owed to intrinsically valuable humans.

    Jesus was the greatest communicator the world has ever known, the most charitable the most just and forgiving – look what happened to Him!

    LOL this is a no brainer Elizabeth.

  • Al

    Nuanced positions aside. Today we need more Martino’s not more O’Malley’s. If you think Christianity (See Lutherans Gay Marriage) and the public (See Wall Street) has gotten into the position it has been in because we have men who are willing to defend morals and ethics publicly. You are deluding yourself. The ONLY, and I mean, ONLY, nuanced position I would take is that we must not make the truth look ugly when we defend it. That being said, I will still side with the ones who are trying to do that but still fail…then the ones who completely run from it….

    You know who you are….Those that mask and mingle “Wussiness as Charity” – Mark Shea

  • Bender

    Beatrix — you make very good points. It looks bad.

    However, one struggle of us Christians is to try to reconcile our concept of justice with the scandal of Jesus dining with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. He didn’t come to heal healthy saints. It’s not an easy thing (for me anyway), but something we do have to keep in mind.

    Now, Jesus didn’t (as far as the Gospels report) go to any public celebrations of the lives of those sinners, or otherwise give public approval to their actions, much less intimate that they were living saints because of their political contributions in one or two social areas, so to the extent that such might go on for the funeral of a politician who happens to be a member of the Catholic Church, it would seem to be inappropriate.

  • cathyf

    Sometimes I have thought of it as a division of labor… You know, it’s Jesus’ job to be scandalously abundant in grace and love, and it’s our job as disciples to be scandalized by it.

    So we’re following in the footsteps of the apostles, so to speak…