Commentary By John-Henry Westen

TORONTO, September 4, 2009 ( – The decision to permit a grandiose public funeral celebrating the life of pro-abortion extremist Senator Ted Kennedy has caused a rift in the Catholic Church in North America. Several prominent Catholic priests in the pro-life movement as well as other Catholic pro-life leaders criticized the decision, and advocated a more subdued private funeral instead. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley shot back Wednesday defending his actions with some fairly strong words for his critics.

However, the war of words has escalated to new heights with the latest blogpost of Fr. Thomas Rosica, the President and CEO of Canada’s Salt & Light TV network. Fr. Rosica took a swing at pro-life activists generally, and his US counterpart specifically for daring to criticize Cardinal O’Malley’s decision to participate in and allow the Kennedy funeral extravaganza.

It may be unfair to characterize Salt & Light as the counterpart to EWTN (the Eternal Word Television Network) since EWTN is viewed in some 100 million homes around the world weekly and S&L would be doing very well to have a viewership of even one percent of that number. However, Fr. Rosica’s influence is rather large. He was the organizer for World Youth Day in Toronto, is a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and an advisor to the Canadian Bishops Conference. He is, as they say, a man “on the rise.”

Rev. Rosica began noting that “As a Roman Catholic priest who is pro-life, I was proud of my Church” for allowing the public Kennedy funeral. He then went on to label pro-life activists with more venom than seen publicly from a church leader of his stature in many years.

“Leading up to the Kennedy funeral last weekend, and in its aftermath, many so-called lovers of life and activists in the pro-life movement, as well as well-known colleagues in Catholic television broadcasting and media in North America, have revealed themselves to be not agents of life, but of division, destruction, hatred, vitriol, judgment and violence,” he said. “Their words and actions vitiate their efforts in favor of life.”

The reference to “well-known colleagues in Catholic television broadcasting” was a thinly-veiled reference to EWTN News Director Raymond Arroyo. After the funeral and burial Saturday, Arroyo issued a blogpost highlighting the devastating effect of the prelates’ involvement in the funeral. On his blog Arroyo wrote, “The prayer intercessions at the funeral mass, the endless eulogies, the image of the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston reading prayers, and finally Cardinal McCarrick interring the remains sent an uncontested message: One may defy Church teaching, publicly lead others astray, deprive innocent lives of their rights, and still be seen a good Catholic, even an exemplary one.”

But for all the criticisms from the leadership of the Catholic pro-life movement both lay and religious over the Kennedy affair, nothing has approached the vitriol of Fr. Rosica’s own commentary. “(S)omething is terribly wrong in the pro-life movement. Civility, charity, mercy and politeness seem to have dropped out of the pro-life lexicon.”

“Through vicious attacks launched on blogs, a new form of self-righteousness, condemnation and gnosticism reveals authors who behave as little children bullying one another around in schoolyards- casting stones, calling names, and wreaking havoc in the Church today! What such people fail to realize is that their messages are ultimately screamed into a vacuum. No one but their own loud crowd is really listening. âEUR¦ Sowing seeds of hatred and division are not the work of those who wish to build a culture of life.”

Fr. Rosica noted in his post that he has received some harsh communications from pro-life persons. LifeSiteNews has often advised that angry communications are unhelpful and are usually very harmful. Guidance in composing effective correspondence is available in the article, Composing Effective Communications in Response to LifeSiteNews Reports.

However, the root of Fr. Rosica’s concerns seems to be the fact that lay persons are daring to publicly question the actions of clergy. Fr. Rosica wrote: “Their open and public attacks against Cardinal Séan O’Malley, OFM, Cap, Archbishop of Boston; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C.; the priests involved in the funeral liturgy in Boston’s historic Mission Basilica, (be they Redemptorist, Jesuit or Diocesan) indicate that something is terribly wrong in the pro-life movement.”

While Catholic tradition is that Catholics must not publicly criticize clergy in most cases, saints of the Church and Popes have fought against the clericalism that would suggest faithful lay persons may never express public concern about clergy regardless of the circumstances. In recent years there have been many very serious circumstances involving Catholic clergy that have called for strong lay comment, without which some of those situations would still not have been addressed by the Church.

Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) defended the hierarchy in the Church, but also declared “when circumstances make it necessary, it is not prelates alone who have to watch over the integrity of the faith.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his most famous work Summa Theologica (II, II, q. 33, a. 4) wrote: “When there is an imminent danger for the Faith, Prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects.”

The 1983 Code of Canon Law speaks of the role of the laity and states in Canon 212 (3): “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

Is this a serious and necessary occasion? One of the most senior Catholic pro-life activists in the United States, American Life League President Judie Brown thinks so. Brown, appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy for Life, said of the Kennedy funeral affair: “The entire travesty, from the television cameras to spectacle itself, goes beyond anything I have witnessed in my more than 65 years of life. In fact, while we all thought the appearance of President Barack Obama at the University of Notre Dame was a scandal, the very idea that he offered a eulogy in a basilica, while the real presence of Christ was in the tabernacle, is perhaps the most dastardly thing I have ever seen.”

See Fr. Rosica’s full blogpost here:

Related LifeSiteNews report:

Cardinal Lashes out at Pro-Lifers, Soft-Pedals Criticism of Kennedy Abortion Support