Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Robert George, Ted Kennedy, and Criticism of the Dead (and the Living)

I will make three final observations regarding Robert George’s attack on the Kennedy family:

1.    I see his point about social justice. I had read him to say that the Kopechne matter together with Kennedy’s position on abortion and stem cell research justified the Arkes conclusion.

2.    I did not maintain that Ted Kennedy’s only grave sin in his life took place forty years ago. I observed that George’s attack was based on a forty-year old matter. In reply, George contended that Kennedy’s later life was so marred by sin that it is appropriate to call his Catholicism into question. I doubt George means that Kennedy’s statements about his religious faith were fraudulent. Given that virtually all Catholics sin on a daily basis, I wonder in general what the standard is for calling one’s Catholicism into question and I wonder whether Kennedy’s actions ever crossed that threshold. Perhaps all George means to say is that Kennedy committed many grave sins in his life that were not consistent with Catholicism. If so, Kennedy had much company, but I took George to be saying something more.  

3.    Finally, I do not agree that the question is whether Catholicism benefits when Catholics expose unjustified reputations of other Catholics. Perhaps, it is my liberal squeamishness, but I find attacks on the dead to be unsettling. I agree that criticism of politicians is fair game when they are alive. But the Bible is filled with admonitions like Do not judge, so you will not be judged. Matt: 7,1. See also Luke 6:37, 41, Romans 14: 10, 13. I must say I regret the instrumental mode in which these admonitions are cast, but the message is that such judging is not for us. If this admonition applies, the Church enters into no compact with the Devil by following Christian principles. I realize this reading would have strong counter cultural implications. It would have severe implications for biographies. So perhaps, I read too much into this. At a minimum, it suggests we should take no pleasure in negative revelations about the living or the dead (I do not mean to suggest that George has taken such pleasure). And perhaps, George’s recognition that he cannot really know what is in the heart of a Kennedy or another person covers this. But my inclination is to believe that the admonitions carry implications for daily gossip and for the ferocity with which we engage those with whom we politically disagree. I do not claim I have a well worked out view (and my comments to friends about Bush and Cheney regrettably do not match my standards), but I think it is this inclination that has fueled my response to George’s posts on the Kennedy family. I would be grateful if Robert or others would comment on the meaning of these admonitions for our private and public (whether teaching, writing, or blogging) lives.

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