Ted Kennedy: Catholic political icon

US+Sen+Edward+KennedyFrankly, I do not quite know where to start, in terms of focusing on the role of religion in the mainstream media coverage of the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. For starters, his Catholic faith is a given. At the same time, so is his standing as a deeply troubled leader, husband, father, uncle and patriarch of the always controversial Kennedy clan. Thus, let me offer this chance for our readers to help us scan the coverage, looking for the best and the worst of the news coverage of the role that faith played or did not play in the life and career of this lion of the U.S. Senate. It is, of course, impossible to separate his work from his standing as a Roman Catholic in the culture of Boston and Massachusetts.

So let me pose this question as a starting point for the discussion (and please read it carefully):

True or false? Based on the information available in the mainstream press coverage of his death, Edward Kennedy is the most influential American Catholic political leader in our nation's history.

Take a deep breath and start reading, here, here, here and here (of course), for starters.

You may also want to check out some material from two very different evangelicals. First of all, here is a link that will take you to a short statement about Kennedy and his faith from the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Here's the key part:

In the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential elections, the Democrats were roundly accused of losing the "moral values voters" in America, and of being the party of "secularists" who were hostile to faith and religion. The very first Democrat to call me and ask to talk about that accusation and how to change the moral debate in America was Ted Kennedy. He invited me to his home, where he, and his wife Vicki, engaged me in a long and very thoughtful conversation, into the night, about the relationship between faith, morality, and politics. Their own deep Catholic faith was evident and their articulation of it very impressive. Our discussion was not partisan at all -- it was not about how to win religion back for the Democrats. Rather, we focused on the great moral issues facing the nation, and how we as people of faith needed to respond to them.

Then, head on over to the weblog of David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, who has posted some crucial quotes from a 1983 speech by Kennedy entitled "Faith, Truth and Tolerance in America," which was delivered at the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College (which is now simply called Liberty University).

tedkennedylibertybaptistHere's a link to the full speech, too. A sample:

... I hope for an America where neither "fundamentalist" nor "humanist" will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of goodwill look at life and into their own souls.

I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt -- or religious belief.

I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern Inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.

I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.

So what kind of Roman Catholic was this Kennedy?

Only God and his father confessor -- if he maintained such a relationship throughout his life -- have any right to claim inside information about the state of his soul and neither will be granting interviews today. It will be interesting to note the role of the hierarchy in his funeral Mass.

However, journalists can deal with facts. Kennedy took many public stands that clashed with the doctrines of his own faith and, during the final years of his life, caused Catholics on the left and the right to search for every scrap of information about his standing in the church. How tense did this get? Click here.

So here is that question one more time. Read it carefully.

True or false? Based on the information available in the mainstream press coverage of his death, Edward Kennedy is the most influential American Catholic political leader in our nation's history.

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