Analyzing Bishop Morlinos Chastizement of Catholics Critical of the Funeral Mass for Ted Kennedy

[Updates at the bottom of this post as of 1:08pm CDT on AD 9-10-2009]

Michael Voris, S.T.B., breaks down Bishop Morlino’s chastizement of those Catholics that were scandalized by Ted Kennedy’s funeral Mass. has the following commentary by Patrick B. Craine and John-Henry Westen concerning the very same issue of Bishop Morlino chastizing Catholics critical of the pomp and ceremony bestowed upon the abortion advocate Ted Kennedy during the funeral Mass.

Bishop of Madison, Robert C. Morlino, expressed his support for the Kennedy funeral in a column last Thursday, basing his approval on the claim that the funeral was celebrated “in a subdued fashion,” and that this “low key” approach was appropriate due to the Senator’s support for abortion and other issues.

. . .

“All of this is leading me up to the expression of my contentment with how our Church, in a subdued fashion, celebrated the Rites of Christian Burial for Senator Kennedy,” he said. “The proclamation of God’s Mercy was powerful, the prayer for forgiveness of his past sins was clearly offered, and all of this in a subdued way because of his long-standing and public holding of pro-abortion and other stances which have been a scandal in the literal sense.”

A funeral that the Bishop calls “subdued,” however, has been criticized specifically for being a “spectacle,” featuring as it did numerous Church prelates and priests, a lengthy eulogy from President Obama, the presence of a number of other past U.S. presidents, and performances by world-renowned musicians, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tenor Placido Domingo.

Robert Royal of the Faith and Reason Institute has commented on the contention that the funeral was low key, noting that “some…see the small number of bishops and priests at the Mass as an indirect statement of some kind.”  But, he says, “for the ordinary person … the Cardinal [Sean O’Malley] was present and Placido Domingo sang Panis angelicus, just as if it were a papal Mass.  And Cardinal McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington … said the graveside prayers.”

Judie Brown of the American Life League said that “The entire travesty, from the television cameras to spectacle itself, goes beyond anything I have witnessed in my more than 65 years of life.  In fact, while we all thought the appearance of President Barack Obama at the University of Notre Dame was a scandal, the very idea that he offered a eulogy in a basilica, while the real presence of Christ was in the tabernacle, is perhaps the most dastardly thing I have ever seen.”

Phil Lawler of called the funeral “a ceremony of public acclamation so grand and sweeping that it might, to the untutored observer, have seemed more like an informal canonization.”  Further, he responded to rumors that Cardinal O’Malley had distanced the diocese from the event by not allowing it to happen in the cathedral or by his choice of vestments, saying, “If any such subtle message was intended, that message was not received by the American public, which saw the funeral as the most glorious send-off the Catholic Church can arrange.”

David Warren, pressed by readers to respond to Kennedy’s passing, said in a column last week, “I’d have been scandalized, and ashamed, had my Roman Church given him a Christian burial. In the event, the responsible bishops gave him all the pageantry they could supply, thereby further alienating themselves from the faithful laity.”

EWTN’s News Director Raymond Arroyo, further, highlighted on his blog the funeral’s spectacle while deploring the scandal that resulted, saying, “The prayer intercessions at the funeral mass, the endless eulogies, the image of the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston reading prayers, and finally Cardinal McCarrick interring the remains sent an uncontested message: One may defy Church teaching, publicly lead others astray, deprive innocent lives of their rights, and still be seen a good Catholic, even an exemplary one.”

. . .

Bishop Morlino continued, saying, “I’m afraid, however, that for not a few Catholics, the funeral rites for Senator Kennedy were a source of scandal – that is, quite literally, led them into sin,” pointing specifically to some who rejoiced in the belief that Kennedy would have been sent to hell.  However, “From the earliest days of the Church it was defined as sinful to enjoy the thought that someone might be in Hell,” explains the bishop.

Yet, while some Catholics certainly have been guilty of such wholly un-Christian positions, the most significant critics of the funeral almost uniformly advocated a private funeral, and emphasized the need to pray for the salvation of Kennedy in Christian hope.  In his article, Royal commented, “Some Catholics have argued Kennedy should have been denied Christian burial. That is wrong, even though he never publicly recanted a grave public sin. But could the Church have commended him to God in a way that paid respect to the 50 million aborted souls who were not here to watch the spectacle? She could have, and it’s a tragedy for the Church and America that she did not.”

The bishop goes on to proclaim the message of God’s mercy, but then claims that the public funeral was offered in the spirit of true Christian mercy, which, it is implied, is lacking in those who opposed it.  “The death of Senator Kennedy has called forth at least an apparent rejection of mercy on the part of not a few Catholics,” he says.  “Without denying any misdeeds on the part of Senator Kennedy, the Church, seeking to reflect the face of Christ, proclaimed God’s mercy for the whole world to see in a subdued but unmistakable way. It was more than appropriate.”

According to Raymond Arroyo, however, the “spectacle,” rather than being about proclaiming “God’s mercy for the whole world to see,” as the Bishop says, was fundamentally about trivializing the defense of life.  “This entire spectacle – the Catholic funeral trappings and the wall to wall coverage – was only partially about Ted Kennedy,” he says.  “It was truly about cementing the impression, indeed catechizing the faithful, that one can be a Catholic politician, and so long as you claim to care about the poor, you may licitly ignore the cause of life.”


To view’s video link of Michael Voris’ commentary on Bishop Morlino click here.

To read the entire’s Patrick B. Craine and John-Henry Westen’s article click here.


Update IBishop Gracida has an opposing statement to Bishop Morlino, for the post click here.

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  1. Well, It’s a good thing the Pope appointed Raymond Arroyo and LifeSiteNews to critique the bishops! What would we do without lay people to evaluate episcopal decisions?

  2. Zak, are you willing to admit there were problems with the funeral service?

    I don’t have a problem with him being given a funeral Mass, but it’s pretty obvious Bishop Morlino has a nigh-unto-unique definition of the word “subdued.”

  3. Things were not as I would have done them, but I agree with Morlino’s writing about the conduct of many who are criticizing. I would also note that Morlino is among the most outspoken bishops in the country on pro-life and other bioethical issues. I think we laypeople should focus more on how we can transform the world through our faith, and less on ecclesial matters like how liturgies are conducted or who should receive communion, though I am quite conservative in my liturgical preferences. Leave such matters for bishops and canon lawyers.

  4. I think Carl Olson provides some perspective on the selective outrage aimed at those who were scandalized as opposed to those who caused the scandal:

    Within a week of Kennedy’s funeral, those making offensive and inappropriate statements of his eternal destination are being called on the carpet for their objectively sinful actions. Fair enough. My question is this: how long after Ted Kennedy made it known in the 1970s that he was going to publicly support abortion (and, later, other evils), was he called on the carpet by bishops or priests for his objectively sinful actions? How often throughout his public career was he publicly confronted and chastised for his support of abortion, contraceptives, “same-sex marriage,” embryonic stem cell research, and so forth? And why does Bishop Morlino only use the word “sin/sinful” regarding those comments, but never in referring to Kennedy’s many public actions and positions? Is it really so hard to call a spade a spade?

    Once again, it’s interesting how easy it is to chastise pro-life Catholic bloggers for being “vicious” and “bullying” and “sowing seeds of hatred” and being “agents of destruction and violence”, but how hard it is to state the facts about Sen. Kennedy’s public record. I suppose it was Kennedy’s good fortune that he was never a pro-life Catholic blogger, otherwise he might have had to face public criticism from Catholic clergy.

  5. “Things were not as I would have done them”–OK. A bit too de gustibus, but fine. Which things?

    Philip: Yeah, I’m just hoping my parish priest isn’t too ticked off, myself. 😉

    In all seriousness, I don’t have a problem with Cardinal O’Malley presiding, either. What sticks in my craw was that it turned into a de facto canonization process–in my less charitable moments, and yes, I have many, Tedapalooza. Instead of a celebration of the hope of Christian resurrection, we had a celebration of the deceased–a man who lived at very public odds with the Church, to boot. The clerical plaudits for the man should stir universal unease in Catholics regardless of political loyalties.

    The failure of both Cardinal O’Malley, Bishop Morlino and those in the same camp to admit to the serious scandal caused by the way the funeral *was handled* (as opposed to *the granting* of a Catholic funeral to the deceased) is telling and doesn’t bode well for the future.

    Not only do we have the right to protest how the Mass was handled, we have a duty to do so. Charitably, and Bishop Morlino is right to call for that. But no less a duty for that.

  6. I might take a somewhat different approach. Zack notes that liturgy is for clerics. Fine. It is. So let them make their choices. But politics is for the laity. And a “canonization” carries political implications. And those implications we can critique as laity.

  7. I don’t think there’s any chance of a literal canonization of Ted Kennedy. The point that he had fundamental character flaws and that he dissented from essential church teachings for Catholics in the public sphere and that in doing so he was supportive of and complicit in the abortions that have taken place is clear and can be made without the internecine attacks on prelates we’ve seen. They play into an anti-clerical culture that further undermines the hierarchy’s authority, marginalizing its voice further while lamenting the fact that it hasn’t managed to change our pro-abortion legal regime.

    I also think Bishop Morlino has been one of the more outspoken bishops in criticizing pro-choice politicians. Ted Kennedy and other pro-choice politicians have been criticized repeatedly by bishops through the years. It’s very selective of Mr. Olsen to suggest otherwise.

  8. Zak,

    Have you ever considered the fact that many bishops in this country have de facto been derelict in their duties?

    And because of a lack of leadership, character, and charity among our many bishops the laity have been scandalized to the point that their respect for our prelates have dropped precipitously? Especially after the homosexual pedophile scandals and committing the sin of omission one too many times when it comes to the most preeminent issue of our lifetime?

  9. Zak:

    While I can well have empathy with some of the remarks you’ve made concerning the anti-clerical nature that might underlie many of the criticisms made by those of the Catholic faithful themselves which these may indeed play into some undermining of the Catholic heirarchy; I believe you might yourself be losing sight of the fact that not every instance of criticism is actually anti-ecclesial pers se or do even undermine the heirarchy.

    If you were to survey many of the lives and corresponding works of the great Saints of the Church, you would find criticisms that saints such as these held and subsequently even expressed concerning clergy they sought to correct during their lifetime.

    Take for instance, Catherine of Sienna (a mere tertiary) who dared criticize even the Pope for that matter or even Thomas More (a mere layman) who did so concerning the corrupt nature of a certain of the English Catholic clergy in his days.

    Perhaps what might be more proper to discuss here is how such criticisms should be accordingly laid out, such that they do not, as you say, visciously undermine the hierarchy (especially in the public arena where anything and everything becomes twisted for the sake of mob media), but more importantly cause unjust scandal to the Church and, thereby, detracts and even deters from (or, worst, destroys) the Work that Christ is attempting to accomplish through her for the sake of the Salvation of many.

  10. Tito,
    Certainly it is true that bishops have made mistakes, been negligent, or even actively done wrong at various times, particularly in relation to abusive priests. Criticizing specific acts, in those cases, is certainly permissible. Criticisms should nevertheless be voiced in a charitable manner, not with the vitriol we see spewed at people like Cardinal O’Malley, who has been unfailing in his his pro-life advocacy and who, having done so much good in restoring multiple dioceses torn apart by the scandalous episcopal behavior you decry (regarding priestly pedophilia) ought not to be attacked on that issue.

    My problem is that people think the bishops aren’t owed any respect, and they are, by virtue of their office. When someone attacks a bishop for not constantly talking abortion, as if they should all be Bishop Martino, one wonders whether they want to be members of the Catholic Church or the Anti-abortion Church. Certainly we are anti-abortion, but that isn’t the pre-eminent issue for bishops, because politics isn’t pre-eminent for bishops.

    And no group in the country has done more to advocate against abortion than the Catholic bishops. Even before Roe, no one was more outspoken. After Roe, virtually no other group in the public sphere spoke out loudly. Their leadership – in cooperation with Catholic lay people – has been tireless in establishing alternatives to abortion for pregnant women. To speak of sins of omission – it’s absurd. Even Cardinal Bernadin, faulted by so many for his ideas about the seamless garment, spoke out loudly against abortion. What the bishops did not do is embrace the notion that many right-inclined Catholics have that beyond abortion (and pay marriage and abortion), everything else is merely “prudential” and thus something where the Church has nothing to say (thankfully not a view of many of the principled Catholic conservative- and libertarian-inclined Catholics on the this site). And so they’re faulted for the scandal. The scandal is not that the bishops did not speak out. It’s that so many laypeople, both right and left, are willing to ignore them (or at least the difficult things they have to say) when they do.

  11. Zak,

    not with the vitriol we see spewed at people like Cardinal O’Malley

    like Bishop Morlino, you are making unsupported, and non-specific accusations, thereby demonizing ALL of those who were critical of the Cardinal’s shameful actions in this matter.

    Be specific, what vitriol? Said by whom?

    Personally, the only vitriol I have heard is from the Cardinal and his apologizers.

    ps. Cardinal Sean (as he refers to himself) has been credibly implicated in attempting to allow Catholic healthcare institutions to be complicit in abortions…

  12. e,
    What you say is true, and having a lot of reverence for St. Catherine of Sienna, I’ve puzzled about this issue a lot. I think when a bishop or priest does something explicitly and undeniably sinful, then its clear it can be criticized (Rembert Weakland’s inexcusable behavior, for example), but one should still be cautious not to adopt a pharisaical attitude. When Bishops make administrative decisions (not in the manner of faith and morals) these should be submitted to in the end, though arguments against them can be raised.

    In between those two poles, I’m not sure. I personally find much of the criticism I read (from both right and left, although with conservative sympathies, I’m more surprised and bothered by those from the right) bothersome.

    I remember when Donald wrote a piece attacking a Jesuit professor I’ve had. Now, I disagree with the Jesuit on a number of prudential matters, butI never heard him actually dissenting from Church teaching or saying anything unorthodox. The picture of him that accompanied the article in (the bad) NCR (where he had argued that a more conciliatory tone on abortion would achieve more) showed him not wearing clerical attire, which inspired a number of comments on his heterodoxy and need to be disciplined. Is this where laypeople should be focusing? Or is it a distraction from what we are truly called to? The schism St. Catherine was criticizing was indisputably a scandal and worthily condemned by her. A priest not wearing his collar, though?

    Maybe the problem is the Internet. When St. Catherine spoke out, it was in a society where she was clearly recognized as a holy woman and she thus had some authority (though not official). Here, I don’t know you from Adam. Maybe you’re similarly holy, and if I saw you speaking out on a subject, I would say, “here’s a modern day saint! I should listen as he criticizes our laxness in these days.” I lack the context in which to set people’s criticisms, so they can sound particularly harsh,because I think, “well,I’m no St. Catherine of Sienna (really, I’m not) so I won’t speak like that about a bishop.” At the same time, we feel free to say things on the Internet with a lack of charity we would rarely employ when speaking to someone’s face. St. Catherine of Sienna addressed the pope to his face. It was Martin Luther who put his criticism of the pope in the 16th century equivalent of a blog post. 🙂

  13. Matt,
    I had an example where the Catholic League of Massachusetts said the funeral displayed “the corruption of the Catholic Church” or something like that, but my browser crashed when I tried to post it and I don’t feel like looking agin. There were also numerous comments throughout the blogosphere about how the Church in Boston (and O’Malley) suck up to the Kennedys for money and comparing bishops who don’t refuse communion to pro-choice politicians to Pontius Pilate. That’s far more vitriol than Bishop Morlino displays.

  14. Zak,

    exactly my point. Don’t poste generalizations and characterizations, just post what was said. Please don’t bother with mentioning comments on the blogosphere, we’re talking about prominent critics not just some schmo on the internet.

    ps. If the Church in Boston (and O’Malley) aren’t sucking up for money, why exactly are they sucking up?

  15. But with all due respect, we’re not just talking about prominent people – we are schmos on the Internet. We’re the people who shouldn’t be wasting our time judging whether bishops’ decisions are good or bad.

    “Shameful” “sucking up” – that language sounds self-righteous to me, and it’s exactly the tone I think should be avoided.

  16. Zak,

    But with all due respect, we’re not just talking about prominent people – we are schmos on the Internet. We’re the people who shouldn’t be wasting our time judging whether bishops’ decisions are good or bad

    With all due respect (speaking of self-righteous). We are not the ones that the bishop and his apologists are attempting to demonize by their generalizations. Frankly none of the schmos on this blog or anywhere else I’ve seen have suggested he should have been denied a Catholic funeral which is the primary charge being leveled by the Cardinal et al. It’s precisely this misdirection which is so contemptible, especially when it’s used in a attempt to cover ones own shameful actions (sorry, no PC from me, I call it as I see it).

    Here is the quote you’re referring to from the “Catholic Action League” of Massechusets:
    “No rational person can reasonably be expected to take seriously Catholic opposition to abortion when a champion of the Culture of Death, who repeatedly betrayed the Faith of his baptism, is lauded and extolled by priests and prelates in a Marian basilica. This morning’s spectacle is evidence of the corruption which pervades the Catholic Church in the United States. The right to life will never be recognized by secular society if it is not first vindicated and consistently upheld within the institutions of the Church itself.”

    It seems to me that you are not denying any of my assertions or the one from CAL, just whether or not they should be asserted, is that accurate?

  17. “Ted Kennedy and other pro-choice politicians have been criticized repeatedly by bishops through the years. It’s very selective of Mr. Olsen to suggest otherwise.”

    Really? In the same “sin/sinful”, “divisive”, “lacking in mercy”, etc. terms as Kennedy’s detractors were described? I’d like to see a cite for that. I’m guessing you’d be hard-pressed to find a single instance – much less “repeatedly” – of a Bishop (outside of perhaps now-retired Bishop Martino and maybe Bishop Bruskewitz) ever using similar terms to criticize Kennedy or any other “pro-choice” politician.

    And, with all due respect to Bishop Morlino, it is difficult for me to take some of those arguments the Bishop made on Kennedy’s behalf (especially (1) describing Kennedy as a “pro-life leader”, (2) about Kennedy’s meeting with dissident theologians to discuss how to fudge abortion as showing his “seriousness” as a Catholic, and (3) the comment about the “subdued” nature of his funerally) as anything other than spin.

    Bishop Morlino gives Kennedy every benefit of the doubt, while assuming the absolute worst about the pro-lifers who were scandalized by Kennedy’s pro-abortion advocacy.

  18. Zak:

    I can see where you are coming from, in spite of certain particulars that I would happen to disagree with.

    For instance, I feel that on the one hand, you make a valid point concerning how malicious certain criticisms of various ecclesiastics can be so as to ultimately undermine their very authority as such and even that of the Church itself.

    However, on the other, there are certain matters so pressing (such as those that carry with them not only rightful ecclesial responsibility but also Christian moral duty as well) that should any such member of the Church be found derelict in their duty, both as clergy as well as fellow Catholic, then criticism as concerning their failure to live up to these in such matters is most likely well deserved and, indeed, even necessary.

    Yet, I can feel for what you’re saying.

    I believe, likewise, that there is also a responsibility on the part of the critic himself wherein they should do so in such appropriate measure so as to not undermine not only the authority that clergy (mind you, the distinction being the authority that person carries with him as opposed to the person himself) but, more significantly, the Church itself.

    To put the matter more plainly, we should not be in the business of supplying our enemies with ammunition that they can use against us.

    Unfortunately, as even Sir Thomas More himself would learn later in life:

    et inimici hominis domestici eius.” — Mt 10:36

  19. My with “all due respect” was facetious, because I was calling both of us schmos. It was not self righteous.

    I do deny that Kennedy’s funeral suggests that the church is corrupt. I deny that the silly aspects of it like the prayers of the faithful suggest that. I deny that O’Malley’s presence at it suggests that. I deny that anyone can credibly claim that the Church doesn’t care abortion because Ted Kennedy got a funeral.

    Morlino was one of the loudest bishops in criticizing Biden and Pelosi last year. He doesn’t assume the worst about pro-lifers. He says that those who would wish Kennedy in hell, and those who spend their time owrrying about whether he’s there, are sinning. It’s a pastoral caution. Just as when he wrote that Catholics who voted against conscience protections in a Wisconsin law on emergency contraception were sinning.

  20. Zak,

    My with “all due respect” was facetious, because I was calling both of us schmos. It was not self righteous.

    Sorry for missing that. I will accept the mantle of “schmo”.

    I do deny that Kennedy’s funeral suggests that the church is corrupt. I deny that the silly aspects of it like the prayers of the faithful suggest that. I deny that O’Malley’s presence at it suggests that.

    If those don’t suggest corruption, do they suggest health??? Deny all you want, it changes nothing.

    1. the act of corrupting or state of being corrupt.
    2. moral perversion; depravity.
    3. perversion of integrity.
    4. corrupt or dishonest proceedings.
    5. bribery.
    6. debasement or alteration, as of language or a text.

    7. a debased form of a word.
    8. putrefactive decay; rottenness.
    9. any corrupting influence or agency.

    I think the definitions highlighted could be reasonably applied to the American Church as an institution, especially if we look at it’s official body the USCCB, and many of the diocesan organizations and clergy.

    I think we could not say that it is wholly corrupt, as there are a substantial minority of shining lights.

    I deny that anyone can credibly claim that the Church doesn’t care abortion because Ted Kennedy got a funeral.

    I’ll say this louder, because you missed it earlier. NOBODY IS SAYING GIVING HIM A FUNERAL IS THE PROBLEM, IT’S THE NATURE OF THE FUNERAL. That said, none of the Catholic critics are saying that the Church doesn’t care about abortion, we’re saying that the actions of the American Church SUGGEST that. I believe the truth is that much of the American hierarchy (lay and clerical) cares less about abortion than they do about certain leftist issues, and that appears to include the Cardinal of Boston, and the retired Cardinal of DC.

    Morlino was one of the loudest bishops in criticizing Biden and Pelosi last year. He doesn’t assume the worst about pro-lifers. He says that those who would wish Kennedy in hell, and those who spend their time owrrying about whether he’s there, are sinning. It’s a pastoral caution. Just as when he wrote that Catholics who voted against conscience protections in a Wisconsin law on emergency contraception were sinning.

    Good for him last year, but now he’s circling the wagons with his brother bishop, thus lending credibility to the shameful action, and furthermore by his generalized criticism (quite clearly not pastoral) he is slandering the legitimate objectors.

  21. There are two points to make here.
    1) The Bishops pick and choose what parts of our doctrine certain people will get to follow.
    This is consistent through the Church Crisis these past few years in how they have “pastorally reached out” to these sinners.
    2) By Baptism alone this man has a right to be buried a catholic. He will have his day of judgement. I can’t place myself in the place of God.
    What I can say is this: The US Catholic church is having an even greater crisis within itself. We allow these people to receive the blessed sacrament. We allow our institutions of higher learning to give face time to our children at graduation. We allow what ever is non confrontational.
    May God have mercy on us all.

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