The Irish Mail on Sunday

Jackie’s letters should be burned, says US priest

Sale sparks outrage among US clergy while relative of Irish priest says he is disappoint­ed at prospect

- By Nicola Byrne news@mailonsund­ay.ie

THE proposed sale of letters written by Jackie Kennedy to an Irish priest has been heaviliy criticised by American Catholic commentato­rs – with one prominent Jesuit arguing they should have been burned rather than released.

And a distant relative of Father Joseph Leonard, the priest with whom Mrs Kennedy correspond­ed, has told the Irish Mail on Sunday of his ‘disappoint­ment’ at the sale.

The former First Lady’s intimate thoughts about her marriage to JFK, their life in the White House and her reaction to his assassinat­ion were revealed this week in the newly discovered dispatches.

The archive of her 14-year-long correspond­ence with Fr Leonard, a Vincentian priest who lived at All Hallows seminary in Dublin, will be sold at an auction next month, pending the outcome of a court case over ownership of the letters.

The pair met through a family connection in 1950 when Jacqueline Bouvier, as she was then, was on a trip to Ireland. They went on to develop a close relationsh­ip despite meeting only once more.

Seminarian and later Bishop Raymond J Boland was present at

‘Neither of them would

have wanted this’

their second meeting in September 1955 and it was he who ensured Mrs Kennedy was informed of Fr Leonard’s death in 1964.

The depth of their relationsh­ip is revealed in the letters, which have attracted worldwide interest, and are expected to fetch upwards of €1m at auction.

But several high-profile Catholic writers in the US say, irrespecti­ve of who owns the letters, they should never be sold or published. The affair has also prompted a significan­t internet backlash from Catholic clergy across the US.

‘As a priest, I am appalled,’ says Fr Thomas Reese, author of Inside The Vatican: The Politics And Organizati­on of the Catholic Church. ‘The letters should have been burnt.

‘Although nothing in these letters is protected by the seal of confession, there is a presumptio­n of con- fidentiali­ty when a person writes to a priest about her spiritual life. Simply because the person is famous is no reason to break that confidenti­ality.

‘All Hallows College should have never sold these letters. At a minimum, they should have been buried in the archives for 100 years. By making them public, it puts everyone on notice that what you write a priest could become public.’

His comments are echoed by Fr Isaac McDaniel, a correspond­ent with the influentia­l National Catholic Reporter who expressed his ‘grave reservatio­ns’.

‘The fact that the money may be used for a worthy cause does not exonerate anyone who violates the privacy of another person,’ he said.

The priests are supported in their views by hundreds of other priests and members of the Catholic Church in online forums in the US.

Meanwhile, a distant relative of Fr Leonard’s in his birth county of Sligo also said it was a ‘shame that they had to be sold’.

Speaking to the MoS, the relative, who asked not to be named, said: ‘They were to be private correspond­ence and I think they should have been kept like that. I don’t think either of them would have wanted this.’

He said Fr Leonard, who died in 1964 without leaving a will, had lived all of his life in Dublin and had little connection with Sligo after leaving there as a boy to board at Castleknoc­k College.

A spokeswoma­n for All Hallows said the bad feeling was ‘unfortunat­e’ but that the letters were of considerab­le historical value and did not break any confidence­s between priest and confessor.

‘Let’s be clear, the letters were not of a confession­al nature,’ says All Hallows director of marketing, Carol Ann Henry. ‘These letters were correspond­ence between friends who had a great many shared interests including, for example, medieval literature.

‘They were about everyday occurrence­s. The Vincentian order would never have released correspond­ence of a confession­al nature.’

Opponents of the sale disagree. They say the contents are intimate and confession­al. One extract published in the Boston Globe newspaper this week appears to support this viewpoint.

In it, Mrs Kennedy was question-

‘She comes out of it as a normal, decent woman’

ing her faith. ‘I am so bitter against God,’ she wrote a few months after the assassinat­ion of JFK. ‘I think God must have taken Jack to show the world how lost we would be without him,’ she wrote

‘But that is a strange way of thinking to me – and God will have a bit of explaining to do to me if I ever see him.’

Asked for his response to the US backlash, Fr Seamus McDonagh of the Associatio­n of Catholic Priests defended All Hallows – saying he didn’t believe from the details he had read that there was anything untoward in the sale.

‘Not at all. I didn’t see anything in them of a confession­al nature, rather it’s of a friendship. She comes out of it as a normal, decent, attractive young woman who had a difficulty with God at a time when she lost her husband.’

The debate isn’t the only issue that has come to the fore with a court case over the ownership of the letters set to resume tomorrow.

The High Court granted temporary injunction­s last week preventing valuer Owen Felix O’Neill from presenting himself as the owner of the letters. The judge said that, as the valuer, Mr O’Neill would be entitled to a commission in relation to their sale.

 ??  ?? friends: Jackie as First Lady and above in 1950 with Fr Leonard at All Hallows meeting: Bishop Boland, above, met Jackie and JFK with Fr Leonard in 1955
friends: Jackie as First Lady and above in 1950 with Fr Leonard at All Hallows meeting: Bishop Boland, above, met Jackie and JFK with Fr Leonard in 1955
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