Kennedy Vs. Kennedy

THERE'S PROBABLY NO PERFECT moment for your ex to tell all about your breakup. But for U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the timing could hardly be worse. His ex-wife is beginning a national tour to plug an unflattering new book just as the six-term congressman is plotting a step up to governor of Massachusetts. In "Shattered Faith," Sheila Rauch Kennedy describes Joe, the eldest son of the late Robert Kennedy, as a hot-tempered and impatient man who badgered her for an annulment of their 12-year marriage. "My former husband was powerful and popular," she writes. "I was, as he so often reminded me, a nobody; and nobody in his town would be on my side."

The Kennedy family is no stranger to questions about how its men treat women. Aside from a 1978 Jeep accident on Nantucket that left a young woman paralyzed, however, Joe has evaded scandal. But he does have a reputation for being temperamental-an impression his former wife's book reinforces. "[B]y the end of our marriage I had simply become afraid of him," Sheila writes. The congressman declined to discuss the book's specifics. "These are very private, personal issues," Kennedy told NEWSWEEK.

In 1993, two years after the Kennedys had obtained a civil divorce, Joe sought an annulment so he could wed longtime aide Beth Kelly in a Catholic ceremony. Sheila got the news in the mail. "I was unable to read any further," she recalls. "As I rushed to the bathroom, I tried to remember when I had last actually vomited... I remember thinking Joe must simply be out of his mind." She tried to call Kennedy, but he was out of town-on a Caribbean vacation with Kelly. Though Sheila is an Episcopalian, she believes in the Catholic view that an annulment would signify that their marriage had never been valid-and she shuddered at the moral implications for their twin sons. She says Kennedy was stunned by her refusal. "I don't believe this stuff," Sheila recalled his saying. "Nobody actually believes it. It's just Catholic gobbledygook, Sheila." When she explained that she took annulment seriously, Kennedy exploded. "Sheila, you can't be stupid enough to believe this. Jesus Christ!" He added: "You're not even Catholic... You've got no right to believe this. This is my church, Sheila." She held fast, and Joe, whose request is still being considered by the church, remarried in a civil ceremony in 1995. Contested annulments can take years, but he is an active Catholic who needs the decree to receive communion.

Kennedy, 44, admits he's no great thinker (he recently said his three favorite expressions were "duh," "uh" and "the fact of the matter is"). He is, however, popular with voters-60 percent view him favorably-and he is a formidable candidate in the 1998 governor's race. Still, Sheila's story could gall women and Catholics. And GOP Gov. Bill Weld, Kennedy's possible rival, is already taunting Joe about his intellect: the governor bet Kennedy that the congressman couldn't finish "Moby-Dick" by Election Day. But it's Sheila's book-not Melville's--that everybody's talking about.

Kennedy Vs. Kennedy | News