Edward Kennedy, Senate's 'Liberal Lion,' dies

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Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles at the U.S. Capitol in 2007. Mahony met with Kennedy to discuss comprehensive immigration reform legislation. (CNS file photo)

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, known as the "liberal lion of the Senate," and the last surviving brother of a fabled political dynasty, died late Tuesday at his home in Cape Cod after a year-long struggle with a malignant brain tumor. He was 77 years old.

As the news of his death was broadcast this morning, politicans, world leaders and the citizens he represented for decades in the U.S. Senate shared reflections and eulogies.

Raymond Flynn, the former US Ambassador to the Vatican, and Mayor of Boston reflected on the life of Senator Ted Kennedy on New England Cable News.

Flynn talked about Kennedy's deep faith, and his connection to the city of Boston.

Flynn says it was his mother Rose, who instilled his deep Catholic faith in the entire family. He says she had many connections within the Catholic Church and its charities.

Flynn also recalled Senator Kennedy's work to better the city of Boston.
He says he would be willing to help anyone, whether they were a supporter of his or not.

"I think that's the reason we had the relationship, and we had the success that we did," said Flynn. "It was based on really public service, getting the job done."

President Barack Obama honored Kennedy Aug. 12 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was honored for his accomplishments during his 46 years in the Senate, particularly his work in education, civil rights and health care. The Medal of Freedom ceremony was held a day after the death of Kennedy's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She had received the same honor in 1984 for her work in founding and running the Special Olympics.

Kennedy was diagnosed in May 2008 with a cancerous brain tumor and has been in Washington infrequently since then. He did not attend the ceremony, but was represented by his children. His daughter, Kara Kennedy, accepted the award on his behalf.

Early this morning, President Obama issued a statement from his vacation in Martha's Vineyard. The statement read in part:

Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. … An important chapter in our history has come to an end."

The Los Angeles Times notes that "Ted Kennedy, along with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of the slain young President Kennedy, passed the mantle of Camelot to the young Obama early in last year's campaign. It was an embrace of memory, a recognition that in the Illinois senator and his stylish wife Michelle there was an echo of the charisma that had come to characterize the Kennedy White House."

In an obituary for The Associated Press, David Espo writes:

"In his half-century in the public glare, Kennedy was, above all, heir to a legacy — as well as a hero to liberals, a foil to conservatives, a legislator with few peers.

Alone of the Kennedy men of his generation, he lived to comb gray hair, as the Irish poet had it. It was a blessing and a curse, as he surely knew, and assured that his defeats and human foibles as well as many triumphs played out in public at greater length than his brothers ever experienced.

He was the only Kennedy brother to run for the White House and lose. His brother John was president when he was assassinated in 1963 a few days before Thanksgiving; Robert fell to a gunman in mid-campaign five years later. An older brother, Joseph Jr., was killed piloting a plane in World War II.

Runner-up in a two-man race for the Democratic nomination in 1980, this Kennedy closed out his failed candidacy with a speech that brought tears to the eyes of many in a packed Madison Square Garden.

"For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end," he said. "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

It was with those words -- "the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die" -- that Kennedy introduced Obama to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Kennedy has worked with Catholic bishops and Catholic Charities officials on a variety of issues, such as immigration, the federal minimum wage and health coverage. He also has been criticized by Catholic leaders for his support for legalized abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

When President Obama met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican July 10, Obama gave the pope a personal letter from Kennedy, D-Mass., Catholic News Service reported at the time.

Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and a member of Obama's entourage, told reporters after the papal-presidential meeting that Obama also asked the pope to pray for Kennedy.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama spoke with Kennedy by phone after the meeting.

"The president, just as we lifted off, spoke with Sen. Kennedy for about 10 minutes, telling him that he had delivered the letter on his behalf to the pope today," Gibbs told reporters on Obama's plane en route to Ghana.

"The contents of the letter were not known to anybody that I know of except Sen. Kennedy," he added.

On his blog the Christian Broadcasting Network, CBN White House Correspondent David Brody notes that in 1983, Kennedy delivered a speech called, "Faith, Truth and Tolerance in America". The speech was delivered at Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College (now called Liberty University). The speech to gives you a better understanding of how Kennedy viewed his own faith and how it intersected with his political life -- at least at that time in his life. Remember, at that time, Reagan was a new president and Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority was feeling its oats as a national, political organization.

A 5 minute video clip of the speech is below but you can watch the whole speech here.

Here are some excerpts that Brody pulled from the speech:

"A number of people in Washington were surprised that I was invited to speak here and even more surprised when I accepted the invitation. They seem to think that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Kennedy to come to the campus of Liberty Baptist College."

* * *

"I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society. I believe there surely is such a thing as truth, but who among us can claim a monopoly on it?"

* * *

"People of conscience should be careful how they deal in the word of their Lord. In our own history, religion has been falsely invoked to sanction prejudice -- even slavery -- to condemn labor unions and public spending for the poor. I believe that the prophecy, "The poor you have always with you" is an indictment, not a commandment. And I respectfully suggest that God has taken no position on the Department of Education -- and that a balanced budget constitutional amendment is a matter of economic analysis, and not heavenly appeals.

Religious values cannot be excluded from every public issue; but not every public issue involves religious values. And how ironic it is when those very values are denied in the name of religion. For example, we are sometimes told that it is wrong to feed the hungry, but that mission is an explicit mandate given to us in the 25th chapter of Matthew."

* * *

"Those who favor E.R.A [Equal Rights Amendment] are not "antifamily" or blasphemers." And their purpose is not "an attack on the Bible." Rather, we believe this is the best way to fix in our national firmament the ideal that not only all men, but all people are created equal. Indeed, my mother, who strongly favors E.R.A., would be surprised to hear that she is anti-family. For my part, I think of the amendment's opponents as wrong on the issue, but not as lacking in moral character."

* * *

In short, I hope for an America where neither "fundamentalist" nor "humanist" will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of goodwill look at life and into their own souls.

I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt -- or religious belief.

I hope for an America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern Inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion, or angry division.

I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.

Follow NCRonline.org throughout the day for updates.

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