I only met Edward Kennedy once.
I had been invited to visit then-senator Phil Gramm, who was contemplating a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. Having read some of my musings on the topic, Senator Gramm wanted to brainstorm about some innovative welfare-reform policies that would simultaneously make economic sense and really help the poor.
After we had chatted for some time in his office, a bell rang and Senator Gramm rose. “I need to take a vote. Walk with me and let’s continue this conversation,” he said.
As we walked down the corridor, I could spy familiar names on the various Senate office doors. We came to an elevator that would take us down to an underground subway connecting the Senate offices to the Senate chamber. It was a small elevator, no more than a large closet. Senator Gramm, an aide, and I tucked ourselves in and the door began to slide shut.
Just before closing, an arm came through to stop the door’s close. As it reopened, I found myself standing face-to-face with the Lion of the Senate, arguably the most prominent Catholic layman in the country, scion of the most prominent Catholic family, perhaps, in U.S. history. Kennedy immediately looked me up and down, and then quizzically glanced over to Senator Gramm trying to figure out why his colleague was hanging out with a priest.
As Senator Kennedy stepped into the elevator, Senator Gramm welcomed him with his Southern tones, “Come on in, Teddy. We’ve called you here to pray for you.”
Without missing a beat, Senator Kennedy tossed a mischievous wink in my direction, nudging me with his elbow in Catholic camaraderie and replied in his Bostonian accent, “Uhh [there was that familiar pause of his], uhh, no Phil, Father and I have called you here to pray for you.”
There was laughter as the elevator door slid closed. It was my turn to speak so I decided to enter the spirit of the moment.
I stood erect, place my hand on Senator Kennedy’s broad shoulder and said, “Actually, senator, this is an exorcism.”
Later on Fr. Sirico gets serious:
Kennedy’s death also brings the Church face-to-face once again with the fact that there is a massive problem of basic Catholic education — catechesis — among the faithful. So many Catholics — even some clergy — make an absolute out of prudential issues such as economic policy, while relativizing absolutes, such as abortion, euthanasia, and marriage. This is done in the face of clear, binding teachings from John Paul the Great, who said that no other right is safe unless the right to life is protected, or, as Pope Benedict wrote recently in Caritas in Veritate, that life issues must be central to Catholic social teaching.H/T Fr. Z.