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.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Calling Out "Kennedy Catholicism"

Chris Kennedy


It’s still winter in here in Chicago (fresh snow yesterday), but things are about to heat up as this Tuesday, March 20th, marks the primary election for both parties. The Democratic candidates for governor feature a cast of deplorables when it comes to the issue of abortion and respect for unborn human life: State senator Dan Biss, billionaire and Hyatt Hotel heir J.B. Pritzker, and Chris Kennedy, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and former president of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago (a former Kennedy family property).

Unsurprisingly, the position of each of these candidates on abortion reflects the extremism of the DNC – that abortion should be available through all nine months, for any reason, and paid for at public expense. Still, Kennedy’s stance is especially disappointing given that he (like other members of his family) outwardly identifies as Catholic.

The abortion issue received special attention here in Illinois this past year as the legislature passed and Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law HB40, a measure that provides for taxpayer funded abortions for state employees and Illinois Medicaid recipients. HB40 also repealed Illinois’ 1975 Abortion Law that would have restored the State’s prohibition against abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

Rauner’s decision to sign the law was a controversy in itself. He had campaigned for governor in 2014 as a fiscal conservative who had little interest in social issues. When HB40 (the full text of which appears here) was put forward Rauner promised the Republican caucus, various pro-life groups, and Cardinal Cupich himself that he would veto the bill. He lied to them all. In signing the bill, Rauner joined the dark ranks of many politicians – Republican and Democrat alike – who have betrayed voters – Democrat and Republican alike – who voted for them precisely because of their pro-life stance or their pledge not to advance the abortion license. Rauner’s contemptible behavior generated a substantial backlash and gave rise to a formidable primary opponent, pro-life State representative Jeanne Ives, West Point grad and Catholic mother of five.

But this hideous piece of legislation would never have reached Rauner’s desk in the first place were it not for the active support of many politicians who openly identity as Catholic, including, most prominently, Speaker of the Illinois House, Mike Madigan, and President of the Illinois Senate, John Cullerton. These individuals possess many of the signs of Catholic identity including the pedigree of Catholic education (e.g. Madigan went to St. Ignatius College Prep for high school, Notre Dame for college, and Loyola-Chicago for law school; Cullerton attended St. Francis High School in Wheaton, and Loyola-Chicago for both undergrad and law school) Both men regularly attend Mass, and the cultural/ethnic identity they share features prominently in their campaigns for office. But their public actions reflect a different identity: the culture of death.

HB40 was not an example of a policy matter upon which sincere Catholics could reasonably disagree in the exercise of their prudential judgment (e.g. whether the speed limit should be 55 mph or 65 mph, or a tax deduction should be 2.8 percent or 3.1 percent).

No. This was an instance in which Catholic politicians voted to support the murder of unborn children in the womb and to do so at taxpayer expense. This was a case in which those who claimed to be Catholic defied the teaching and pastoral counsel of the Church by knowingly and deliberately working to enshrine into law that which (as a matter of both faith and reason) the Church teaches is intrinsically evil, and to make the incidence of this evil more frequent through public subsidy.

How did Chris Kennedy approach the controversy over HB40?

On April 20, 2017, while the bill was under consideration in the legislature, Kennedy sent out an e-mail to his supporters and potential donors warning them that Roe v. Wade could be overturned, jeopardizing “a woman’s right to choose.” “Luckily,” he said, “our state is home to activist organizations like PersonalPAC, which have been working on the issue for years.” In the e-mail Kennedy not only criticized Rauner for vowing to veto HB40, he urged his supporters to contact their legislators “to ensure that the bill is passed with a veto-proof majority.”

Following Rauner’s reversal on the issue and his signing of HB40, Kennedy wrote to his supporters again, this time telling them that they should “celebrate” the news that “Governor Rauner signed HB40 into law – protecting Illinois women’s right to access safe, legal, abortion care.” He warned, however, that “Governor Rauner has waged countless attacks on Illinois women.” Kennedy expressed his own position in terms what were quite personal: “I’m raising my three daughters in the midst of this war on women. This is not what I want for my daughters.”

So here we have Chris Kennedy – one of the heirs to the Kennedy name, and perhaps to his family’s political legacy – set forth his vision for the future. The future that he wants for his daughters and for everyone else is safe and legal abortion. Here the standard bearer for the most prominent American family most closely associated with Catholicism in public life says that the Church’s most foundational teachings on public life mean absolutely nothing to him.

These are not the words of a faithful Catholic politician who is struggling – a man caught between the demands of his conscience and the demands of his political party. These are the words of a man whose spiritual and moral commitments and political convictions seem to perfectly align. These are the words of a politician who identifies as Catholic but is actively campaigning to advance the most conspicuous example of barbarism in the world today.

If one had any doubt as to Chris Kennedy’s commitment to the abortion license and his lack of commitment to the Catholicism he publicly espouses, one need only listen to the answer he gave in response to a question posed to him at DePaul University around the same time as the HB40 controversy. A recording of Kennedy’s answer is available on Soundcloud (here). A transcript of the answer follows below:

Question: I’m a Catholic as well… I wanted to know how you reconciled being a Democrat and the abortion thing and also being Catholic and being such a public figure while being Catholic?

Kennedy: Um, on the abortion thing, I think you know we have laws in our country and the laws are the laws. And if if, and I think we ought to protect them. I’m a big believer in science and medicine and I think a relationship should be between a woman and her doctor. I’ve had four kids, my, my wife’s OB, I was in all of those meetings, the woman never even looked at me. Never even looked at me. She was like, I was over there and she talked to her and those were her relationships. I learned a lot from that and I don’t think I have a role in all of that. And I don’t think I should tell other people what we should do either.

Question: You’re not worried about being excommunicated? [Laughter]

Kennedy: I actually like the Cardinal in Chicago. I like the Pope. But if the last guy did it to me I wouldn’t have minded. [Laughter]

Let that sink in for a minute.

Kennedy is so attached to the Catholic Church, so on fire for the faith, so full of the Holy Spirit that it would not bother him to be excommunicated.  Moreover, what attachment he does have for the Church seems more driven by personality (i.e. he likes Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich but didn’t care for Cardinal George) rather than by a belief in the truth of the faith – a truth that, when it comes to the dignity of every human being, he flatly rejects.

Now, of course, Kennedy’s position on abortion isn’t new. It has been peddled by Chris Kennedy's late uncle, Ted Kennedy, by Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Tim Kaine, and dozens of others for many years. Neophyte Catholic Democratic politicians like Conor Lamb dutifully learn to mouth the same line (see here and here for differing perspectives on this fact).

It was given the air of intellectual respectability by Mario Cuomo when he spoke at Notre Dame in 1984 – not because it was intellectual, or respectable, or even coherent (see here), but because it was what supporters of abortion rights who also claimed to be Catholic needed to hear in order to save face. It was celebrated in order to give a ready answer to the obvious disconnect between the foundational premise of any genuinely Catholic perspective on law and politics (i.e. That the life of every human being matters; That the common good cannot be advanced or sustained through the deliberate killing of innocent human beings) and the abortion license as the necessary companion to the new ethic of sexual liberation. Notwithstanding its repetition over the years, the Cuomo position hasn’t improved with age.  It was vinegar when it was first put into the bottle in 1984, and the cork has long ago disintegrated.

Now Chris Kennedy does not speak for every pro-choice Catholic politician. Still, the next time you hear a Catholic politician talking about how much he loves his faith, how he loves being Catholic, how his family always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, how he looks back fondly on his days as an altar boy, and how much he loves the Church for what it does to care for the sick, the hungry, the immigrant, and the homeless, but that he feels compelled to support the legal killing of children in the womb – you would be well within reason to question whether that person understands the Church to be anything other an NGO – one that he happens to agree with on certain “policy” positions and disagrees with on others – rather than an ontological and eschatological reality founded on the truth of Christ – a community that proclaims that it is our responsibility to protect the weakest and most vulnerable, one that fulfills the Lord’s command by calling individuals and the whole world to repentance.

Moreover, the next time you hear a Catholic bishop say that his constituent, so-and-so politician, is a good man or a good woman, a person of good faith and good character, and a good Catholic in full communion with the Church, who is struggling to serve the common good (as can be seen in his or her other efforts "Just look what he tried to do on gun ownership and immigration!"), even as he or she votes in favor of the killing of unborn children in the womb and at public expense, you would be well within reason (and your rights within the Church) to question how that can be so, and if it is not, who is served by the lie and why.


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