A Look at Senator Kennedy’s Letter to the Pope

Portions of the personal letter which the late Senator Edward Kennedy sent to Pope Benedict XVI some months before he died have been published online.

Kennedy was, understandably, reaching out for some spiritual comfort and encouragement from the pope — something which the Holy Father duly assured him of in his letter of response. While some of the senator’s comments, such as where he begs the pope to pray for him, are poignant and elicit my heartfelt sympathy, others I find somewhat . . . curious. In any case, today being the Lord’s Day, I will continue to pray for the late senator in a special way, offering my Communion intention at Mass today for the repose of his soul.

Excerpts of the letter from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that President Barack Obama delivered to Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year and an account of the pope’s response, as read by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington:

“Most Holy Father I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am so deeply grateful to him. I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our church and inspire our world during these challenging times. I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines.

“I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago and although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life. I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful family and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provides solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path. I want you to know Your Holiness that in my nearly 50 years of elective office I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war.

“Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator. I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone. I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”

An account from the Vatican of the pope’s response, according to McCarrick . . . (continue reading)


  1. Gary

    One must sympathize with Kennedy's situation as he faced death and Catholics should certainly pray for his soul. That said, his letter to Benedict strikes me as a pathetic enterprise. Kennedy states that he has "never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith." Yet he was a staunch and consistent supporter of abortion and opposed the "fundamental" teachings of his church on the full range of life issues. On other social issues, Kennedy spearheaded the effort to make everything the responsibility of the government, a position not found anywhere in the words of Christ, the writings of Paul, or the teachings of the Church. After all, if the government is responsible, Kennedy won't have to feel guilty about his huge personal wealth, so little of which was apparently ever donated to charity. Reading between the lines of his letter, there is a tinge of regret — but typically no apology — for what presumably were his personal weaknesses but there is a note of almost defiant pride on his public record in the Senate. Given the rest of his letter, it is ironic and hypocritical in the exstreme that he asks the Vicar of Christ, whose teachings he rejected for decades, to "pray for me".

  2. BillyHW

    It sounds to me like he has a guilty conscience about something…

  3. Jack Smith

    So what was excised from these two letters?

  4. PLD Consulting

    Interesting!Hand delivered by the US president. Form letter response from the Vatican.

  5. Taylor Taylor

    Curious, indeed. Could he possibly have been so poorly catechized as to misunderstand abortion so entirely?

  6. John

    I sadly watched the dog & pony show performed by roman catholic prelates, priests and laity at the canonization mass of edward m kennedy. this is the last in a long line of abuses in the Catholic church over the last 40 years, I for one am shaking the dust of this apostate church and seeking to actively participate in a real Christian community i am/hope to be a practising Orthodox Christian very soon. I am not the only one, millions have left this "Catholic" church since the ambiguous uncalled for "council" referred to as Vatican 2.Called for by a "pope" incidentally who chose the same name as a 15th anti-pope john 23. I watch another pope paul 6 rape the catholic divine liturgy The Sacred Mass turning into something luther calvin knox cranmer and a host of other schismatics would love, it is the Protestant service called the novus ordo missae aka ordinary mass. i've heard of thousands of innocent catholic children being raped for the last 40 yrs by priests and bishops alike all the while being protected by the novus ordo bishops. Catholic chancellory vocational offices staffed by active lesbian nuns who it seems sole purpose is to screen out hetersexual candidates for their respective diocesan. It is a church corrupted by men like bernardin, weakland seunan,tod brown mahoney kaspar and a legion of perverts running around playing at being holy.Jesus Christ & 2000 years of Holy Catholic martyrs and saints cry in heaven at thi mass apostasy that is the post vatican 2 so-called Catholic church. It will take God alone to turn this so-called Catholic church from it's apostasy. As a former Catholic i too cry for that which was the most beautiful thing this side of heaven which WAS the Catholic faith & her 1600 yr old divine liturgy codified at the Holy council of Trent and abandon at the Satanic council vatican 2.I'm just one more to leave this catholic church and i can be of a certitude this is not one"catholic priest or bishop that could care less at just one more soul leaving it.

  7. Catholic SAHM

    Perhaps as a tortured soul, he did support abortion and other anti-life agenda – but nevertheless, a soul he has, even in death. And you can see this letter as almost a confession of sorts, seeing the end of his life, and having little consolation in his personal achievements. Perhaps this was his way to beg for forgiveness…..only God knows.

  8. Steven Cooper

    John,I understand your bitterness about imperfect humans. He who is without sin should cast the first stone. It doesn't matter where you go. If you want to leave the Catholic Church that's your choice. But as a former Protestant who has converted to Catholicism you are only going to make a lateral move with respect toward human behavior. Protestants and Orthodox or whatever are made up of sinners in need of grace, forgiveness and absolution. Stuff like this happens everywhere, the Catholic Church is only singled out because of their prominance in the world and media. You will never find a church of perfect people. If you ever do then you certainly don't need Jesus anymore. I don't agree with Kennedy's stance on abortion nor the fact he let his girlfriend die in that lake many years ago. He will have to answer for that himself. My advice to you is to drop your hate and bitterness for what you see as an "apostasy" and learn to love, otherwise it will eat you up inside and cause your heart to become seared. As you take the Eurcharist this week remember who you are partaking and ask yourself how our Savior would handle the things that bother you so. I will pray for your peace of mind and that division will not take root in your heart.

  9. paschal

    This is a sad letter to Pope Benedict begging for understanding but, in being made public, seems manipulatative. The public may deduce from his words that Ted and the Catholic Church agreed on social justice issues when in fact,the proposed socialized healthcare bill is worthy of a communist nation – with death at both ends of the spectrum. I suspect Obama's administration may have had a hand in this. It didn't ring true as a spiritual connection but rather as a political last ditch effort to help the cause with the Pope's blessing.

  10. PLD Consulting

    John,I think your problem is more an issue of lack of faith than an issue with corrupt men and women in our church. I, like most other Catholics are frustrated and truly hurt over a lot of the failings of the clergy and prominent lay people in our church (as I am of my own failings as well). Where we differ is I don’t believe the Gates of Hell have prevailed against our Church. Now you go down that slippery slope of “Church Picking”. When the Orthodox Church fails you, look to the Episcopal, and then whatever church fits your beliefs. John, many time have I heard your arguments about the Catholic Church from friends and families, however it always mask something they don’t agree with about the church’s teachings (i.e. contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage). I will guarantee you will find a willing audience to listen t your rants. This is easy; it takes no courage to rail against the Catholic Church. I do hope that one day you will find your way back to the Church. If you do, after these rants, it will be with humility and the Church will be so much better for it.

  11. DisturbedMary

    I understand it was a ten-page letter so we are hearing only the portion that Cardinal McCarrick selected. I'm astonished at how hollow and impoverished Kennedy sounds.

  12. John

    You may very well have heard the argument as to why someone leaves the formerly catholic church and may chose one of the thousands of heretical protestant cults or something else. I for my part am not unfamiliar with Orthodoxy I grew up in the midst of it I know her 2000 years of fundamentally un-altered magisterium and organic ancient liturgy , trust me when i say i know whence they come , it is NOT the cafeteria catholicism so prevelent in the present so-called Catholic Vatican two cult. As to lack of faith that too is spurious who but God himself knows a persons soul not mr/ms/mrs PLD (btw that go's for the disposition of the life-long infanticide enabler ole teddy kennedy and so many Catholic lites like him in the end the King of the Universe is the only judge). The prelates of the American catholic church as an opposite of the Roman Catholic Church pander after and to the zeistgeist powers that be and their wealth.The stench of clerical pedophillia, power pandering and liturgical dishonesty since that anti-council vatican 2 is rife and the stench unbearable. I was not nor ever been affiliated with organizations like SSPX but watched over the years as the new order slandered those traditional Catholics and still do. I am still seeing the bile and slander throw at those Catholics who are derogatorially called (sedevacantists) althought i personnal do not accept their argument I accept them as honest Catholic Christians who refuse to accept the post vatican 2 apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church, not deliberatly smear these people like so many "good church going catholics and their pompous cleric do all the time. The smugness and arrogance of so many novus ordo catholics towards those who disagree is a sickening display of sanctimonious self rightiousness.

  13. Nerina

    Pascal: "This is a sad letter to Pope Benedict begging for understanding but, in being made public, seems manipulative."Exactly. I wish this letter had been kept private. It only gives me a more cynical view of the Senator. I will continue to pray for his soul as I hope others will pray for mine when I have left this world.

  14. PLD Consulting

    John, I do not claim to know or judge ones personal relationship with God. My statement of faith refers to your faith that the Catholic Church with all her teachings is the one founded by Jesus Christ (you did make the claim you are Catholic). I hope that one day you are able to forgive the church for whatever harm it has caused you and that you find your way back.

  15. Dymphna

    The letter excerpt, as it was read, sounds like Kennedy was using his political achievements to try to "convince" the Holy Father (and most likely, himself) that he was "fit" for heaven. Reading Mary's comment that the letter was 10 pages, much of which we didn't see, gives me hope, though. I identify a bit too much with John's comments. As a Catholic revert, I am very reluctant, to put it mildly, to leave the Church (and I won't) but Orthodoxy in its unchanging-ness is mighty tempting in times like these. I feel an overwhelming sadness over this whole thing.

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