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
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.