The announcement on Tuesday that a treasure trove of 31 letters written by Jackie Kennedy to Irish priest Fr. Joseph Leonard will be sold at auction next month has been met with great international interest, but also mixed emotions.
Does selling the deeply personal letters constitute a breach of privacy or is it simply a natural, unavoidable outcome for the writings of such a famous, historic figure?
In a piece for the Washington Post, Diana Reese equates their sale to an invasion of privacy and refers to a friend who said he hopes whoever places the winning bid for the letters will promptly burn them.
The letters were tucked away for years in a church safe at All Hallows College in Drumcondra, Dublin, where Fr. Leonard lived. From 1950, as Jackie finished college, to 1964, the year of Fr. Leonard’s death, they kept up a deeply personal correspondence.
Many of the letters read like diary entries – especially significant considering Kennedy never published an autobiography or memoir and was notoriously private.
Jackie shared her thoughts on everything from her first, canceled engagement to stockbroker John Husted, to her thoughts on being a politician’s wife, to her immense grief and near loss of faith following JFK’s assassination.
She confided to Fr Leonard how she became ‘bitter against God’ and struggled to find comfort in her deep Catholic faith.
She wrote: “I have to think there is a God - or I have no hope of finding Jack again. God will have a bit of explaining to do to me if I ever see Him.”
Fr. Leonard’s letters to Jackie are held in the archives at the Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.
All Hallows College has come under some heat for its decision to sell the letters, with many under the impression that they should have been kept private.
Reader comments on articles published about the letters also express dismay or disgust that Kennedy’s private thoughts, joys and worries – especially those shared with a priest – should be made public.
The Catholic Herald has also taken issue with this angle, noting that even though selling the letter does not technically violate the priest-penitent privilege (the sacrament only applies when a confession is heard in person) it still rests uneasy for a relationship of that much trust and confidentiality.
The college, for its part, has defended its decision, saying that it simply does not have the resources to properly store and preserve the letters any longer and that they would be at risk of deterioration.
The college also defended the historical import of the letters
“Of equal significance, the collection is a treasure trove of valuable historical information, covering seminal events that include her engagement to Senator Kennedy and his assassination in 1963 and will be a valuable addition to the Kennedy archive,” a college spokesman said in a statement.
“This correspondence between friends provides tremendous insights into Jacqueline Kennedy’s opinions and motivations and illuminates a warm, witty, intelligent and insightful woman who remains one of the most iconic and famous women in American history.
“It demonstrates an affectionate and warm relationship between the 21-year-old graduate and a Vincentian priest in his 70s which is refreshing to observe.”
The letters go up for auction on June 10, by Sheppard’s Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois. They are expected to sell for well over $1.3million.
Do you think All Hallows College has made the right decision? Share your view below, in the comment section.