Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Law Tries to Trammel Teddy; His Church Not for Everybody

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Law Tries to Trammel Teddy; His Church Not for Everybody

Article excerpt

Some keepers of the Vatican flame are rankled that one of their fellow Catholics - Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. - dares to disagree with the pope. I count myself among the growing number of Catholics who support the ordination of women as priests," Kennedy told The Boston Globe.

Cardinal Bernard Law scolded the senator, saying politicians should stick to politics: "The internal life of a religious body has nothing to do with public policy."

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights went further, declaring Kennedy a heretic: His statement was "entirely consistent with his lack of fidelity to Catholicism. ... It's just one more indication, along with his stand on other major issues such as abortion, how far Sen. Kennedy has separated himself from the Catholic community."

Both reactions might be credible if, indeed, dissent from church policy equaled disobedience to Catholic morality. More broadly, a Catholic politician disagreeing with the pope on an issue other than faith or morals is, or should be, as legitimate as a churchman speaking out on governmental policy. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic groups do so routinely.

Kennedy has never told the bishops that they or their representatives were unwelcome before the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which he chairs. Cries of intolerance would be heard if Kennedy reversed Law's law by pontificating: "The internal life of a governmental group has nothing to do with church policy." Catholic officials regularly opinionate before Congress and are reverentially received.

If bishops demand and are given a voice in secular politics - the Vatican went hoarse over the recent U.N. population conference in Cairo - what's the difference when a senator does it the other way?

Within American Catholicism itself - the country's largest denomination - few of the faithful appear to be taking a vow of silence on telling other Catholics how to think. …

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