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Is there really such thing as a "generational curse"? Do family trees need healing and deliverance? It's a controversial notion gaining currency among both priests and the laity: that misfortune, illness, and even spirits can be passed down through the generations.

Experts assert that such is especially seen in families plagued by afflictions like psychological disorders, alcoholism, accidents, and suicide. In this regard we recommend the work of both Father John Hampsch and Father Robert DeGrandis.

The argument is that sins from the past -- from forefathers -- or other brushes with evil can allow in a darkness that visits to at least the third or fourth generation, if such a curse is not broken. In the case of the Kennedys, there had been a history of bootlegging and involvement in unsavory business deals. Whether or not this led to a curse, it's impossible to deny the family's bad "luck," which is truly (and probably inexplicably) stunning. Start with JFK's older brother Joseph. He was killed when his bomber, laden with explosives, blew up over the English Channel. A sister, Kathleen Agnes, died in a plane crash just four years later, in 1948. Another sister, Rosemary, was born retarded and given a lobotomy. JFK was shot to death, of course, on November 22, 1963, in one of America's greatest tragedies. Before that, he barely survived when a boat he was assigned to during the war, the PT-109, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. His brother Teddy was critically injured in a plane crash the year after the assassination -- and then was involved in the fatal crash that killed a woman named Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick. Robert was shot to death in Los Angeles.

Both John and Bobby had their good points, but were also playing fast and loose with life. It is as if their protection was dismantled.

These are just immediate siblings. What about their children? Here it becomes even harder to deny something beyond the usual at work. John and Jacqueline Kennedy suffered the heartbreak of a stillborn, and then the traumatic death of a son named Patrick who was less than a week old when he died August 9, 1963 -- just months before the assassination. Another son, John Jr. -- eternally famous for his heart-breaking salute at his father's funeral -- died in a plane crash in 1999. Pieces of the wreckage floated up on a Martha's Vineyard beach where Jackie once had a home. Martha's Vineyard is also where Chappaquiddick is located.

Children of other Kennedys have also had their struggles. One of Bobby's children, David Anthony Kennedy, died Aug. 25, 1984, in Palm Beach of a drug overdose in a hotel near the family vacation home. Another named Michael died in 1997 in a skiing accident. One of JFK's sisters had a son who went on trial for rape. Meanwhile, Teddy Kennedy had a son who lost a leg to cancer. Another was treated for cocaine addiction.

This is not to judge. It is to recognize how misfortune can operate in our lives. And it is to consider the remedies. Frequent prayer, fasting, and Mass can break runs of bad "luck." We especially recommend asking a priest to place the names of family members on the altar during Mass, if there seem to be unusual problems. When we stray from God's protection, we find ourselves in grief and turmoil. Is there mercy? This too is hinted at with the Kennedys, for whom we should pray, especially this weekend. Ironic it is that JFK was born in 1917, the year of Fatima, at precisely 3:00 p.m., the hour of mercy.

[see also: Jackie O's spiritual crisis]

[resources: Healing the Family Tree, Healing the Haunted, and Intergenerational Healing]

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