By John-Henry Westen

FALL RIVER, MA, September 16, 2009 ( – Father Roger J. Landry, editor at The Anchor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River (the diocese where the late Senator Edward Kennedy resided), has written extensively on the passing of Senator Kennedy and his funeral. Fr. Landry himself was ordained by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the presider at Kennedy's funeral.

In his latest column, to be published in the September 18 edition of The Anchor, Fr. Landry writes that the funeral with all of its extravagances created a “controversy that was totally avoidable.”  

“The overall tone of the funeral liturgy – from the three eulogies, to the prayers of the faithful, to the homily, to the celebrity musicians, to the guest list, and to the nationally-televised gushing color commentaries – seemed to communicate that it was more a public, political apotheosis of Senator Kennedy than a humble, insistent prayer of the Church his mother for the forgiveness of his sins and the repose of his soul,” writes Fr. Landry.

“This last controversy was totally avoidable; all that was necessary was to adhere to the letter and spirit of the Catholic funeral rite.”

Fr. Landry also reflects in detail on “one of the most important lessons that pastors in the United States need to draw from the history of the Church's interactions with Senator Kennedy for its future engagement of other pro-abortion Catholic politicians.” The lesson is that the “education-only” strategy employed by most pastors has “failed.”

“Kennedy's example was so injurious to the Church,” said Fr. Landry, “because the pastors of the Church, for the most part, made the imprudent call to do little or nothing about it beyond general teaching statements that they hoped offending politicians would apply to themselves.” 

He added: “There were no real consequences, and as a result, Senator Kennedy, scores of other Catholic politicians, and millions of American Catholic lay people concluded that the Church's teachings in defense of human life cannot be that important if those who publicly and repeatedly act in violation of it do so with impunity.” 

In another editorial on the subject, Fr. Landry stressed the point. “To say that (the education-only approach) hasn't succeeded, however, is really not strong enough.”

He names nineteen Catholic pro-abortion politicians, “to name just a handful,” and asks if the strategy has worked with any one of them. ”Over the last three and a half decades, can we point to even one success story?” he asks. 

He questions further: “Even if they haven't experienced a total conversion, have they moved closer toward limiting abortions or toward making abortions easier to access?” 

Using examples from the past, Landry observes, “The facts show that the vast majority of personally opposed, publicly pro-choice Catholic legislators have become far less personally opposed and far more publicly in favor over the duration of the strategy.”

Fr. Landry observes: “Even though the U.S. bishops have taught with one voice that pro-choice Catholic legislators should not present themselves to receive Holy Communion, if they pay no heed to that teaching and present themselves anyway, they have observed that in practice they will almost never be denied.”

“With Senator Kennedy's funeral, they have now grasped that even a 100% pro-abortion voting record will not only not prevent them from having a Catholic funeral, but will not even stop them from receiving possibly one of the most publicly panegyrical Catholic funerals in U.S. history. “

Fr. Landry's conclusion applies the teaching of Christ to the matter, showing that pastoral concern includes discipline for the good of the sinner:

“Jesus spoke of a different way in the Gospel (Mt 18:15-18). It involves not merely general educational statements that we hope offenders will apply to themselves in conscience, but the type of one-on-one instruction traditionally called fraternal correction. If that fails, and fails repeatedly, Jesus enjoined us to regard the offender as someone who no longer belongs to the community, who is no longer a member in good standing.

“This may seem harsh, but we should remember that Jesus always seeks nothing but the best for his Church and for individual sinners, even obstinate sinners. Implied in Jesus' strategy is that education involves not just information, but formation, and that you can't form disciples without discipline. This is a lesson that, after four decades of the undeniable failure of another approach, we need to consider anew.”


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