Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bishop Tobin to Rep Patrick Kennedy, for a second time

In a follow-up to the exchange brought about by Rep. Patrick Kennedy's intemperate assault on the stance of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the issue of health care reform, specifically their outright refusal to support a bill that provided federal funding for abortion or increased access to abortion, a stance reinforced by his cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in her Newsweek article, Bishop Thomas Tobin, the bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, the state Kennedy represents in the House, made public a letter he addressed to the congressman, in which he engages Kennedy's public claims about what publicly persistent disagreement with church teaching means with regard to one's status as a Catholic. Bishop Tobin takes particular aim at Kennedy's claim that because he disagrees "with the hierarchy on some issues" he is no less a Catholic. His bishop does not want to leave that statement unchallenged lest it "lead others to believe it’s true." Besides, as Bishop Tobin points out, "it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?"

So, addressing Kennedy's claim, Bishop Tobin writes that the fact that he disagrees "with the hierarchy on some issues does not make [him] any less of a Catholic" does, in fact, make him somewhat less of a Catholic because "when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents."

Bishop Tobin brings up a very delicate matter, but does so forthrightly-

"Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?

"In your letter you say that you 'embrace your faith.' Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?"

Bishop Tobin, who no doubt made his letter public because Kennedy chooses to continue their dialogue in public and by so doing likely rebuffs efforts to resolve the matter in person with his bishop, ends with these words:

"Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic 'profile in courage,' especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so."

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