A Look at Ted Kennedy's Catholic Faith

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When Sen. Ted Kennedy eulogized his slain brother Bobby in 1968, it seemed to many Americans that he was destined to be president like his brother John. 

Just a year later he was mired in a scandal that would have ended other Senate careers, when a young woman he was driving with drowned in an accident at Chappaquiddick off of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

It was symbolic of the Kennedy contradictions,  public and private, faith and failure.

Regent University School of Government Dean Charles Dunn said Kennedy turned from his Family's conservative roots.

"He gradually in metamorphosis moved from the right of center theologically and politically to the far left of center," Dunn explained.  "So he left the mooring spiritually of his mother and ideologically and politically of his father."

Watch more analysis from Charles Dunn on the senator's faith here.  Also, click here to watch all of Kennedy's 1983 speech on The Brody File.

Dunn said that produced an edginess among many traditional Catholics.

"We will see of course a Catholic funeral and he will be laid to rest as a good son of the church, but beneath the surface there are a lot of misgivings," Dunn claimed.

Even after he became the entrenched leader of liberal Democrats, sometimes his faith put him in touch with the other end of the political spectrum-- never in a more unusual way than in 1983, when Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell invited him to speak at Liberty University.

"I am an American and a Catholic.  I love my country and treasure my faith," Kennedy said in his speech.  "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," he continued.  "But who among us can claim a monopoly on it?"

Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, talked in depth with Kennedy and his wife about their faith.  He says it was real.

"He was, I think, influenced by the Catholic Church tradition that talks about the poor and the weak and the vulnerable," Wallis said.

He added that Kennedy will be remembered in Washington for his warm personal relationships on both sides of the political aisle, and for the restoration in his family life.

"He was very human.  We're all very human," Wallis said.  "But the way he admitted those shortcomings and turned his life around, I think is admirable."

"What we trust is that he did indeed know the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior," Dunn added.  "But that's ultimately God's decision."

*Original Broadcast Date: August 26, 2009.


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John Waage

John Waage

CBN News Sr. Editor

John Waage has covered politics and analyzed elections for CBN News since 1980, including primaries, conventions, and general elections. 

He also analyzes the convulsive politics of the Middle East.