AS the nation mourns the passing of liberal Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, some leaders within the Irish American community are taking a more measured response to his political legacy.
Seamus Boyle, national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the country’s largest Irish American Catholic group, took the opportunity to celebrate Kennedy’s leadership on signature Irish issues like immigration and the peace process in Northern Ireland, but he lamented Kennedy’s stance on abortion rights.
“There’s no doubt that Kennedy did a tremendous job for the Irish people,” Boyle told the Irish Voice. “His support for immigration and the Nationalist people in the north of Ireland was consistent. He was instrumental in supporting the peace process in the North. He was one of the few guys who went over there to see what was going on -- and early on, when the Troubles were at their height.”
The point of departure for Boyle and his organization the AOH was Kennedy’s stance on abortion.
“We have had our difficulties with Kennedy also. The major one was the abortion issue. Kennedy really wasn’t one of the guys that supported the unborn, he went for the opposite way, which is against Catholic teaching. We are a Catholic organization,” Boyle said.
But Kennedy’s decades long record on signature Irish issues and the obvious sincerity of his Catholic faith were factors that Boyle took into consideration.
“At the end he looked for forgiveness. He wrote that letter to the Pope and he realized that he made mistakes during his life -- and everybody does -- and I think he wanted to work for clean slate before he met his maker.”
Boyle added that he did not believe Kennedy’s support for abortion rights was heartfelt. It was, he suggested, more a political calculation in support of his party’s base.
“I think in his heart and soul he did not want to support abortion, but at the same time it’s law -- and he was one of the people in the Senate who had to go by this.
“I think maybe in his heart and soul he was for the rights of the unborn. A lot of times the politicians do things that are easier for them to get other things done. That was part of the problem with him.”
At Kennedy’s funeral Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, read excerpts from Kennedy’s letter to the Pope, which asked for the pontiffs blessing. Boyle said that his organization was heartened by both by the respectful tone and heartfelt content of the letter.
“Cardinal McCarrick in his remarks at the funeral spoke about his Kennedy’s shortcomings in his own words. People make mistakes -- and sometimes politicians make more mistakes than the average person -- but that’s only our perspective. The only issue that we had that we disagreed on was the abortion issue. As far as the Irish issues go we were in sync.”
Brothers John, Robert and Ted Kennedy.Getty Images