Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Catholic Funeral for Ted Kennedy?

Most of Teddy Kennedy's politics, and most of whatever parts of his personal life I knew through the media, angered and sometimes even disgusted me. But my opinions about Teddy's legacy are not at issue in assessing his right to a Catholic funeral under canon law. I trust that my writings on the proper understanding and correct application of 1983 CIC 1184 (the canon regulating the funeral rites to be accorded - - or not, as the case may be - - to Catholics) are reasonably well-known to readers of this blog.* So let's move directly to the canonical question of Kennedy's funeral.

Now, any man with a 100% rating from NARAL (to highlight just the tip of the iceberg of Teddy's decades-long campaign against natural rights) has, to put it mildly, the burden of proof in seeking a Catholic funeral (okay, technically, his executors have the burden of proof, but you see the point) in that notorious pro-aborts seem to be "manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful."

Unless, that is, "they gave some sign of repentance before death." And there is at least some evidence that Ted Kennedy did just that.

Mark Leibovich of the New York Times notes that, among things, "The Rev. Mark Hession, the priest at the Kennedys' parish on the Cape, made regular visits to the Kennedy home this summer and held a private family Mass in the living room every Sunday. Even in his final days, Mr. Kennedy led the family in prayer after the death of his sister Eunice . . . [and when] the senator's condition took a turn Tuesday night a priest, the Rev. Patrick Tarrant of Our Lady of Victory Church in Centerville, was called to his bedside."

Folks, my reading of the canonical tradition behind Canon 1184** says that those actions suffice as "some signs of repentance", making Ted Kennedy eligible for a Catholic funeral. Of course I wish that Teddy's repentance, if that is what it was, had been more explicit, for the scandal the man left was enormous and demanded great atonement in this life (or more dreadfully in the next).
But on the narrow question as to whether Edward Kennedy is eligible for a Catholic funeral, the information before me suggests that he is, and that a bishop who permits such rites can find support in the Code of Canon Law for his decision.

Now, about President Obama giving a eulogy thereat, don't even get me started.


* See, e.g., Edward Peters, "Lest amateurs argue canon law: a reply to Patrick Gordon's brief against Bp. Thomas Daily", Angelicum 86 (2006) 121-142 (defending Bp. Daily's decision to withhold Catholic funeral rites from a notorious mobster), Edward Peters, "State-sanctioned suicide and ecclesiastical funerals", New Oxford Review (June 2009) 30-40 (questioning whether Catholic funerals should be granted in such cases), and Edward Peters, "Steven Sueppel should not be granted an ecclesiastical funeral", Canon Law Blog 26 March 2008 (arguing that "family annihilators" should be deprived of Church funerals).

** See, e.g., J. Manzanares, [commentary on Canon 1184], in L. Echeverria, ed., Codigo de Derecho Canonico: Edicion Bilingue Comentada, 5th ed., (1985) at 574, wherein: "Those [manifest sinners] are no longer considered unworthy who, before death, give some sign of repentance. Moreover, this clause should receive a benign interpretation. A sign of repentance could be not only calling for a confessor, asking publicly for the forgiveness of God, or kissing a crucifix, etc., and could also be gleaned, despite one's otherwise irregular situation, by giving clear signs of adhesion to the Church, for example, by collaborating in its works, sending children to catechism, or participating themselves in ecclesiastical initiatives whenever possible." My translation and emphasis.

28 Aug 2009: This post now available in French at Americatho.