The Kennedy cop-out

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 April, 1997, 12:00am

It has always been said the Kennedy family is the closest thing America will get to the British monarchy. That is just as well, because some of them certainly act like Henry the Eighth.

The weight-challenged Tudor monarch had several run-ins with Rome when he found the Pope unsympathetic to his desire to be shot of members of his marital sextet. Thus was the Church of England born.

Good Catholics to a man, the Kennedys have always found it weighing on their conscience when they have to resort now and then to divorcing their spouses. There is one way out - asking for an annulment, which is supposed to restore the divorcee to good standing in the Church, allowing him to keep taking the sacrament and ensuring a one-way ticket to heaven.

However, when figures as famous as Congressman Joseph Kennedy ask for an annulment, it puts America's Catholic establishment into the uncomfortable position of appearing to favour not the meek and the blessed, but the rich and powerful.

A book just published by Mr Kennedy's ex-wife Sheila reveals he asked for and received an annulment in 1993, the same year he went on to marry - what a surprise - one of his young congressional staffers.

Sheila is now appealing the annulment, because she is angry it was granted to Mr Kennedy on the grounds that the couple were not 'psychologically prepared for the marriage' in the first place.

It is no secret the Catholic Church has manufactured such bizarre get-out clauses to enable it to justify the huge increase in divorces among members of the Church. But the former Mrs Kennedy is angry that allowing such grounds for an annulment has demeaned her former marriage.

Joseph's famous uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, is also thought to have benefited from an annulment, because he is regularly seen taking Communion even though he got divorced in 1982 and has since had the Church's blessing for a second walk to the altar.

It seems to be the thing to do among Massachusetts Democrats, since it emerged last week that dashing Senator John Kerry also has an annulment petition being challenged by his former missus. However, the best-looking Catholic in the Senate has plenty of cash to get a lawyer to fight the case, since his new wife, Teresa, is a beneficiary of the Heinz family.

The Church is adamant it does not favour celebrities with annulments, and points out it issues 50,000 a year in the US.

Henry the Eighth was clearly a man ahead of his time.

At this time of year, the postman feels like it is the Christmas rush and virtually every American citizen feels like it is Armageddon.

The annual April 15 deadline for filing tax returns is everyone's least favourite date - except, of course, the Internal Revenue Service.

But this time round, the IRS is beginning to collect what is due with a distinctly sheepish look. So much has gone wrong for it that it is vying for the title of worst-run federal department.

It has already had to admit that it is writing off US$500 million (HK$3.87 billion) on a computer upgrade programme that never worked. This led politicians to joke that the taxman - the undisputed king of the audit - would not stand a chance if he was the one underneath the auditor's magnifying glass.

The department is also facing a congressional probe into allegations that it has been serving as a willing tool of the Clinton administration by targeting right-wing think-tanks and similar organisations for audits. It is known Richard Nixon used to order IRS audits - which can be extremely disruptive - into his political enemies. But Republicans are taking a dim view of evidence showing the IRS appears to have singled out conservative groups - such as the esteemed Heritage Foundation - which lent ideological support to Bob Dole during the 1996 campaign.

The department is also under fire in Congress after revelations that snooping by IRS staff members into VIPs' tax records has got out of control.

Still, the taxman shows signs of fighting back. Last week, the IRS made a controversial decision to bar a political research group led by last year's vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp from claiming tax-exempt status.

This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that the organisation's role is to promote overhaul of the IRS and promote a flat-tax system - which will simplify tax collecting so much that thousands of IRS staff will lose their jobs.

More than two decades after Richard Nixon mistakenly pressed the 'erase' button, and three years after his death, the former president can finally have his tapes back.

The Nixon Memorial Library in his birthplace of Orange County, California, has reached an agreement under which it will get all the White House tapes and records seized by the federal government after Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.

Since he was caught brazenly trying to cover up his role in the Watergate break-in, the government at that time ruled he could not be trusted to keep his own records.

Under the deal, Uncle Sam will take control of the Nixon Library, and allow the famously incomplete tapes to be back in their spiritual home.