The black sheep story
Twice today, on different blogs, I’ve come across links to this Time article: “After Ted Kennedy’s Death, Silence from the Pope,” by Jeff Israely. It tells the story of how Teddy fell from favor with Catholics, built around a dramatic final rejection: as the (original) article tells it, the pope simply ignored the deathbed letter Ted Kennedy wrote and had hand-delivered by President Obama.
Israely rehearses the usual RC sqabbles, and then tosses in a few quotes from “one veteran official at the Vatican, of U.S. nationality”:
“Why would he even write a letter to the Pope? The Kennedys have always been defiantly in opposition to the Roman Catholic magisterium.”
Back at headquarters, however, there is little room for nuance. “Here in Rome, Ted Kennedy is nobody. He’s a legend with his own constituency,” says the Vatican official. “If he had influence in the past, it was only with the Archdiocese of Boston, and that eventually disappeared too.”
The problem with this article — aside from the scurrilous anonymous quotes from “headquarters” — is that the pope did, in fact, respond to Kennedy’s letter with his own letter promising prayers and imparting his apostolic blessing (as the AP reports here). We know this because Cardinal McCarrick read from both letters at the gravesite on Saturday. After that, the article was amended, but not exactly “corrected.” A parenthetical briefly interrupts the flow, and then it’s back to handicapping Kennedy’s Catholic credentials:
(UPDATE: At Kennedy’s burial at Arlington on Saturday, retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick read excerpts from Kennedy’s letter; he also provided portions of the Vatican’s response to it.)
I think that pretty seriously underplays the extent to which this article got it wrong. I know the pope’s letter wasn’t anything extraordinary, and there are genuine reasons for Catholics to feel ambivalent about the Kennedy legacy. But gossip and bad information is a pretty flimsy hook to hang an article on — especially one that ends with an attempt to discern “the final flicker of Kennedy influence in American Catholicism.”
UPDATE: If Israely was embarrassed by the article linked above, he’s hiding it well. His follow-up article has this headline: “The Pope’s Response to Ted Kennedy’s Letter: Pro Forma.” Rather than acknowledge that the “pro forma” response revealed on Saturday discredits his original report, he’s now reporting that the Vatican’s failure to comment after Kennedy’s death proves…something. (His anonymous sources say so!) And, oddly, he tries to set up a contrast with the letter received by Ted’s sister Eunice just before she died, even though that sounds like it was precisely the same kind of we’re-praying-for-you form letter. Is this another example of that incorrigible liberal media bias I keep hearing about?