Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The bishop and the cafeteria Catholic

Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island recently claimed that his dissent from the Magisterium on certain issues "does not make me any less of a Catholic."

His bishop disagrees.

From the Rhode Island Catholic ...


Dear Congressman Kennedy



Dear Congressman Kennedy:

Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership.

For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, 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.

For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)

Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)

There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”

But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?

Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

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?

Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.

Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

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.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin

Bishop of Providence


In the choir loft said...

I sent an email to Bishop Tobin to thank him for being a true shepherd to his diocesan flock and, by his example, to all Catholics in the United States in general.

Ink said...

This bishop is now my hero.

Mr. B said...

When you pray the 2nd decade of The Glorious Mysteries, please intend them for our Bishops - the ones left behind to guide the flock.

Fast for vocations. It also strengthens those already called.

God Bless

Ben Anderson said...

This is an excellent letter and an excellent bishop. It all seems so obvious when it sets it out so plainly.

Matt said...

Sent a letter after his initial response a couple weeks ago, should prolly send another thank-you his way!

Joe E. said...

Sweet! Someone who can and does address the deranged politicians who claim to be sticking to their faith. Nancy... Speaker... are you reading this? Senator Leahy... are you out there?

Anonymous said...

I am a baptized Catholic. I attend Mass every Sunday. I oppose abortion. I oppose capital punishment except in cases of where effective incarceration of murders is impossible. I opposed the Iraq War invasion as did our current and former pope. I supported the Afghanistan invasion although now I agree with my 84 year-old mother that it should have been a police action to arrest or kill Bin Laden and his allies who were directly behind 9/11, not to invade a country that did not attack us. I believe the Church’s teaching regarding the preferential option for the poor including government help when individual charity is inadequate. I believe the Church's teaching that health care is a right, not a privilege, and should be universal. I disagree with the Church's absolute prohibition on contraception between married Catholics as did the overwhelming majority of theologians Pope Paul called to examine the issue and the majority of Catholics who attend Mass on a regular basis today. I think most annulments are a crock. I would never leave the Church.

Am I Catholic?

If not, do you really want to lose "Catholics" like me and our money? Are there enough of "you" to pay the bills?

For honesty, please list your agreements and disagreements with me and how they define your answer.

I will probably be banned again soon so add your voice if it matters. I'm really interested to know if most of you think I'm Catholic.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you're a Catholics, that's between you and God. I do know that you're a stalker and have no life at all.

Mike said...

Anon. 5:03,

A few points and a question ...

First, Jesus gave the keys to Peter, not to a theologian (or a group of theologians, no matter how large). That makes a pope's ex cathedra declaration infallible, while theologians' opinions will always be just that: their opinions.

Second, the pill sometimes does cause abortions by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the wall of the uterus. You say you "oppose abortion," yet this kind of abortion seems okay with you.

Third, you should read Humanae Vitae, especially section 17 (see here). Paul VI was spot on in his predictions of the dire consequences that would accompany widespread use of artificial contraception. I suspect not very many of your "overwhelming majority of theologians" got that call right.

Fourth, the divorce rate for Catholics practicing artificial contraception is about 50%; i.e., essentially the same as that of the general population. The divorce rate for Catholics using NFP methods (i.e., those obeying the Church) is well under 5%.

Finally, the "typical use" failure rates for the pill and NFP are roughly identical, while long term use of the pill carries a significant risk of detrimental side effects and long term use of NFP carries none.

And so my question is: How much louder does the Holy Spirit have to scream at you before you will listen to him?

Anonymous said...

Irondequoit Catholic, no, you do not sound like a "Catholic" in the Roman sense to me. Your views sound more in line with the Polish National Catholics, who look the other way when it comes to birth control, and who hold a liberal view on Church teachings. They are schismatic by the way.

gretchen said...

Anon 5:03,

Are you Catholic?

Do you want to be? What does it mean to you? Only God can know what's in your heart. None of us is perfect - we are all striving for perfection (or at least we should be) and we are all in various stages of our personal faith journeys.

God asks us to live in this world, yet not be of this world. Many of us struggle with things of this world - for some it's money and the acquisition of material possessions, for others it might be contraception or some other worldly temptation.

I pray for all of us on our journeys that we might gain wisdom and discernment and that it will become easier and easier to follow God's will.

Please pray for me in my day-to-day struggles as I will pray for you.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:03 is just fishing for something that can feed his hunger for making snarky attacks against people.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your replies.

Anon writes,

"Irondequoit Catholic, no, you do not sound like a "Catholic" in the Roman sense to me. Your views sound more in line with the Polish National Catholics, who look the other way when it comes to birth control, and who hold a liberal view on Church teachings. They are schismatic by the way."


How did you feel about the Iraq invasion? How do you feel about capital punishment? Did you disagree with the popes over that? How much money do you give to the poor? What do you do for charity?

How Catholic are you?

I'll let you and God be the judge.

I know I'm Catholic.

I come from a long line of Irishmen who had differences of opinion with the clergy but remained loyal and defended the Church for 1,500 years.

We are the Catholics who have kept the Church alive throughout the centuries.

I will never leave the Church for any reason. I am not schismatic.

Some of you sound sympathetic to those who are.

Am I going to be banned again for this?

If not being a member of the High Five Back Slapping Bishop Clark Hating Club earns me that privilege, ban away.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your very Catholic reply.

I thank you for your prayers and will pray for you.

God Bless,

Catholic non-Grata

Anonymous said...

"And so my question is: How much louder does the Holy Spirit have to scream at you before you will listen to him?"


Pre-VII Latin Mass & First Communion, Catholic school, former altar boy, married 26 years, 3 kids, Mass every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation, Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic Charities, Open Door Mission, Scout Leader, paid and active member of my parish.

Do you speak for the Holy Spirit?

How long do you have to scream?

God Bless,


Anonymous said...

Irondequoit Catholic, are you trying to pick a fight?

Anonymous said...

"Irondequoit Catholic, are you trying to pick a fight?"

You folks picked it with this "cafeteria Catholic" post and your sanctimonious back slapping that you are more Catholic than the rest of us. You are not.

Anonymous said...

"You folks picked it with this "cafeteria Catholic" post and your sanctimonious back slapping that you are more Catholic than the rest of us. You are not."

I think I got my answer. There you go again, flapping your lips and ripping everyone here. And some people thought you actually changed... You're the same a--hole who has been flooding blogs with nasty and sometimes blasphemous comments. You're the same person hopping on several different computers to do this at all hours of the day.

GET A FREAKIN LIFE. Better yet, go to confession. You probably haven't been there in 3 decades.

And get a job too. You have too much time on your hands.

Anonymous said...

It's also hilarious that you come in here pretending to be an innocent victim ('oh, I guess I'll be banned again. sigh. poor me. nobody respects me. waa waa waa. I'll plead my case before you meanies decide to ban me. WAAAAA') then you finally show your true colors when you say the following: "You folks picked it with this "cafeteria Catholic" post and your sanctimonious back slapping that you are more Catholic than the rest of us. You are not."

You posted with the intention of picking a fight and setting yourself up for a chance to trash people here and promote your progressive agenda. You've been waiting, drooling at the lips for someone to say something that will allow you to unleash comments against us. Then nobody feeds you, and you get called out for trying to pick a fight, so you finally cave and show your true colors.

You're pathetic.

Irondequoit Catholic said...

I am sorry to have affronted all of your pious suggestions and insinuations. Indeed, I realize now that the Holy Spirit is indeed screaming at me. Perhaps I have been blind? I do still disagree with the war in Iraq and the manner of the war in Afghanistan. However, I have "been converted" i terms of social justice, abortion, etc . . .

I was here to pick a fight, and I vow to you all that this is the last you will hear of me. I still have some of my own beliefs, but I have been, as some said a while back, "a massive jerk" and a "moron of morons." In your language, and mine, I must now say, "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." Pray for me, brethren, that I may more readily hold my tongue.

Thank you for your patience. This is what happens when a middle-aged fellow such as myself has way too much time on a computer! Please forgive my intemperance.

Anonymous said...

You folks don't know anything about me. You're right, you're a waste of time.

Enjoy your Super Catholic Club.

There aren't enough of you to keep the lights on.

Irondequoit Catholic said...

I apologize for being a terrible sinner, which I indeed am. I've carefully reread the blog post, and I am now willing to admit that you are right. Thank you.

Gen said...

The lights are bright at Our Lady of Victory.