The 1964 Hyannisport Conclave: Catholic leaders teaching Catholic pols how to ignore evil

Back in January, the Wall Street Journal had an article about how the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, Catholic and staunchy pro-abortion, came to embrace the pro-abortion position he championed for decades in the most public way possible.

The article was sparked from the possibility that Caroline Kennedy would be appointed to fill the senatorial seat opened by Sec. Hilary Clinton’s choice to take a pay check from the Obama Administration.

My emphases and comments.

JANUARY 2, 2009

How Support for Abortion Became Kennedy Dogma


For faithful Roman Catholics, [Ms. Hendershott thinks that the Catholic dimension is important enough to raise here. She leads with it.] the thought of yet another pro-choice Kennedy positioned to campaign for the unlimited right to abortion is discouraging. Yet if Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of Catholics John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton, abortion-rights advocates will have just such a champion.

Ms. Kennedy was so concerned to assure pro-abortion leaders in New York, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Dec. 18, that on the same day Ms. Kennedy telephoned New York Gov. David Patterson to declare interest in the Senate seat, "one of her first calls was to an abortion rights group, indicating she will be strongly pro-choice."

Within the first week of her candidacy, Ms. Kennedy promised to work for several causes, including same-sex marriage and abortion rights. In responding to a series of 15 questions posed by the New York Times on Dec. 21, Ms. Kennedy said that, while she believes "young women facing unwanted pregnancies should have the advice of caring adults," she would oppose legislation that would require minors to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion. On the crucial question of whether she supports any state or federal restrictions on late-term abortions, Ms. Kennedy chose to say only that she "supports Roe v. Wade, which prohibits third trimester abortions except when the life or health of the mother is at risk." Presumably Ms. Kennedy knows that this effectively means an unlimited right to abortion — including late-stage abortion — because the "health of the mother" can be so broadly defined that it includes the psychological distress that can accompany an unintended pregnancy.

Ms. Kennedy’s commitment to abortion rights is shared by other prominent family members, including Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and Maryland’s former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Some may recall the 2000 Democratic Convention when Caroline and her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, addressed the convention to reassure all those gathered that the Democratic Party would continue to provide women with the right to choose abortion — even into the ninth month. ["the ninth month"] At that convention, the party’s nominee, Al Gore, formerly a pro-life advocate, pledged his opposition to parental notification and embraced partial-birth abortion. Several of those in attendance, including former President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had been pro-life at one time. But by 2000 nearly every delegate in the convention hall was on the pro-choice side — and those who weren’t simply kept quiet about it.

Caroline Kennedy knows that any Kennedy desiring higher office in the Democratic Party must now carry the torch of abortion rights throughout any race. [This is liberal dogma, to be sure.  Sadly it is nearly liberal Catholic dogma.]  But this was not always the case. Despite Ms. Kennedy’s description of Barack Obama, in a New York Times op-ed, as a "man like my father," there is no evidence that JFK was pro-choice like Mr. Obama. Abortion-rights issues were in the fledgling stage at the state level in New York and California in the early 1960s. They were not a national concern.

Even Ted Kennedy, who gets a 100% pro-choice rating from the abortion-rights group Naral, was at one time pro-life. In fact, in 1971, a full year after New York had legalized abortion, the Massachusetts senator was still championing the rights of the unborn. In a letter to a constituent dated Aug. 3, 1971, he wrote: "When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."

But that all changed in the early ’70s, when Democratic politicians first figured out that the powerful abortion lobby could fill their campaign coffers (and attract new liberal voters). Politicians also began to realize that, [wait for it] despite the Catholic Church’s teachings to the contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda[Bishops and priests at the time failed in their duty.  However, consider also the horrific damage done by enablers such as the late Fr. Robert Drinan, SJ.  Men like Drinan gave the Kennedy’s and others their instructions on how to dodge the abortion issue, how to relegate faith (at least concerning abortion) to the sphere of the private so that it would not impinge on their public actions.]

In some cases, [as I just said] church leaders actually started providing "cover" for Catholic pro-choice politicians who wanted to vote in favor of abortion rights. At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a "clear conscience."


The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book "The Birth of Bioethics" (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion[Get that?  There was a workshop for them to help them get around the teaching of the Church.]

Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that [AGAIN… pay attention…] "distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue." It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians "might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order."  [And there it is, folks.]

Father Milhaven later recalled the Hyannisport meeting during a [And refresher courses were necessary….]1984 breakfast briefing of Catholics for a Free Choice: "The theologians worked for a day and a half among ourselves at a nearby hotel. In the evening we answered questions from [from who?] the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Though the theologians disagreed on many a point, they all concurred on certain basics . . . and that was that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion."  [Have you wondered how Catholic Democrat pols such as Speaker Pelosi and VP Biden, not to mention a score of other Catholic pro-abortion pols, could justify avoiding the evil of their stand on the instrinsic eveil of abortion?  This is how it was done.  They were given formation by Catholic theologians.  They were given a framework whereby they could justify supporting what Catholics know is evil.]
[QUAERITUR]  But can they now? There are signs today that some of the bishops are beginning to confront the Catholic politicians who consistently vote in favor of legislation to support abortion. Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, has been on the front lines in encouraging Catholics to live their faith without compromise in the public square. Most recently in his book "Render Unto Caesar," Archbishop Chaput has reminded Catholic politicians of their obligation to protect life.

The archbishop is not alone. The agenda at November’s assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops included a public discussion of abortion and politics. The bishops’ final statement focused on concern about the possible passage of the "Freedom of Choice Act," and referred to it as "an evil law that would further divide our country." The bishops referenced their 2007 document, "Faithful Citizenship," which maintains that the right to life is the foundation of every other human right. In it, they promised to "persist in the duty to counsel, in the hope that the scandal of their [Catholic congregants’] cooperating in evil can be resolved by the proper formation of their consciences."  [Moreover, the Notre Dame Debacle has not been forgotten.  For the USCCB, this is not over.]

Whether the bishops truly will persist remains to be seen. New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan, for instance, has not publicly challenged Ms. Kennedy’s pro-choice promises. This is unfortunate. Until the clerics begin to counter the pro-choice claims made by high-profile Catholics such as Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and, now, Caroline Kennedy, faithful Catholics will continue to be bewildered by their pastoral silence.

Ms. Hendershott is a professor of urban studies at The King’s College in New York. She is the author of "The Politics of Abortion" (Encounter Books, 2007).


This was an excellent piece.  I remember when it came out. 

Do yourselves a favor and memorize those dates and names. 

1964 … 1984 … Jonsen… Fuchs… Milhaven… McCormick… Curran… Drinan… Hyannisport

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  1. EXCHIEF says:

    “-…faithful Catholics will continue to be bewildered by their pastoral silence” Maybe. But faithful Catholics will continue to pressure clerics to speak out publicly. Faithful Catholics will continue to be active in the pro-life moveent. Faithful Catholics will continue to oppose politicians who are part of the culture of death. Faithful Catholics will continue to pray for and financially support young mothers yet to give birth. Faithful Ctholics will continue to speak out against the Wun’s proposed health care reform bill. For really faithful Catholics pastoral silence, wrong and unwelcome as it is, serves simply as a motivator for the laity to meet its obligations to uphold true Church teaching with or without proper example from the hierarchy.

  2. Supertradmom says:

    Thank you for this. This should be read and discussed in every college and seminary morality/ethics course.

  3. McCormick and Curran – founders of the proportionalist movement. I’m sure they were able to make the Kennedy’s feel very good about their choice. They are very good at what they do – essentially deny the proper concept of intrinsically evil. To them, every act must be evaluated independently, taking into account both principal and particular circumstances and any possible consequences. Of course, much of America had already embraced this proportionalism in reaction to Humanae Vitae and earlier during WWII when it was used to justify the dropping of the atomic bombs.

    It’s tragic that the Kennedy’s (and others) were given bad theology from some of the “foremost” theologians of the day.

  4. haleype says:

    To me, it’s a denial of the absolutes in favor of relativistic ethics. The fifth commandment states: “Thou shalt not kill” and implicit in this commandment is the unjust taking of a human life. The only justified taking would be a consequence of self-defense. Notice I said the consequence of not the direct willing of the taking of another person’s life.

    To imply that the mother is in some way committing an act of self-defense by taking the life of her child in the womb shows how ethics have been twisted around to justify the most heinous of acts, the taking of the life of an innocent child. But, God will not be mocked and those who practiced such deceit IMO will pay heavily for doing so. That includes: Jonsen, Fuchs, Milhaven, McCormick, Curran, Drinan and other like-minded souls who even today give politicians such a free pass for infanticide.

  5. Childermass says:

    Those theologians are unspeakable traitors to Christ and the Catholic Church. The damage they have done is incalculable.

  6. TJM says:

    We all know Kennedy was a fake Catholic. [cool down] The real scandal is that he will be afforded a Chrisitan burial with full honors by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Boston. Benedict XVI should issue an order, tres vite, that this fake Catholic, just like Al Capone, is not entitled to a Catholic burial and order the Archbishop to deny him this last photo-op. If I were an Catholic girl in Boston and was pregnant I would go to the press and announce that I was going to “celebrate” his “life” by exercising my right to “choice” by having an abortion, compliments of the Cardinal’s pusillanimous position. I am sick and tired of the heirarchy’s weakness in this matter. They are crucifying Chris once again. I don’t care if you delete this comment, I am at an end. Tom [Have it your way.]

  7. ssoldie says:

    I believe we can get a pretty accurate picture of what John F Kennedy’s stand on the abortion issue would have been. Didn’t he say he would not let his Catholic Religion influence his political decisions, or something to that affect? Again the Kennedy’s actions speak –etc. Oh! Yea, wasn’t the Rev. John Courtney Murray (Liberal folk-hero) the main drive behind the ‘Religious Liberty’ confrotation at the Vatican II council…. Cardinal Ottaviani and Monsignor J.C.Fenton pray for us.

  8. ssoldie: Is that helpful, now? We just don’t know. We should be able to know, but those were different times. And the 1964 Hyannisport Conclave had not yet taken place.

    Had other, pre-Conclave “synods” taken place? We don’t know.

  9. TJM wrote, above: We all know Kennedy was a fake Catholic.

    We are all “fake” Catholics, to a certain extent. We are everyone of us sinners, and fall short of the glory God intends for us.

    The Catholic Church has been accurately described as “here comes everyone”.

    The Church is, precisely, for sinners, thanks be to God.

    If the late Senator repented his sins and received the sacraments of the Church, then I would say he was an authentic Catholic at the end.

    I don’t want to diminish the confused message sent by big public events of praise and near canonization.

    I just want to interject a little sober mercy into this difficult discussion.

  10. TJM says:

    Father Z, of course you’re right. But I am about at the end of my rope with the American Church dancing around the obvious. The Church will never
    have real credibilty on how serious an evil abortion is until the American heirarchy (at least one for the Love of God) implements Catholics in Public
    Life and publicly excommunicates obstinate Catholic politicians who time and again poke Christ in the eye by promoting abortion “rights.” Perhaps
    I’m being simplistic but Faith without Action is meaningless. Tom

  11. EXCHIEF says:

    I fully understand and appreciate TJM’s frustration. I think one of the duties of the hierarchy is, in addition to doing what is right, to do some things publicly as a sign and motivator to the faithful. I have had the privilege of working for some great leaders in my profesional career. One of the attributes of a great leader is that s/he “takes care of the troops”…in this case the faithful. Sometimes the faithful, to remain faithful themselves, must see that their intentionally scandalous peers are held accountable by Church leadership.

    In the case of prominant “catholics’..the Kennedys, Bidens and Pelosis of this world, there is another dynamic. That is the perception that their public, scandalous transgressions are ignored by the Church because of who they are.

    I know the Bishops must take action with Christian charity but doing nothing or in outragious cases doing it privately may be doing the culpret a favor but it does the millions of faithful a real disservice. It is extremely demoralizing to see prominent Catholics who blatantly defy Church teaching cause scandal that is not offset by a strong public defense of the truth by our Bishops.

  12. trad catholic mom says:

    “despite the Catholic Church’s teachings to the contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda. [Bishops and priests at the time failed in their duty.”

    Bishops and priests are STILL failing in their duty, not all of them of course. But many are. Why are the likes of Biden, Pelosi, and the Kennedy’s still defiantly receiving communion given their actions? Why did the Notre Dame fiasco even happen? What was that pathetic voter guide published by the USCCB?

  13. TJM says:

    EXCHIEF, thanks for your support. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one that feels this way. Tom

  14. CallZorbin says:

    Wasn’t John Courtney Murray the one everyone praises now for his great achievement on religous freedom?. Wow, he had some distinguished friends. It is incredible that this person could enter Vatican II and make so much damage. God forgive him.

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