Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bishop Tobin's Latest Correspondence to Patrick Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy's Bishop, +Thomas J. Tobin has released a public letter that to me, indicates Kennedy has refused to go meet with him and iron out the wrinkles in his formation as a Catholic.

The poor man has got to go a long way to unravel the damage done by his father, who realized his errors on his death bed - and Cardinal O'Malley, who opened up the Sanctuary of the Catholic Church to give the appearance that a lifetime of assisting in 50 million murders of children is no obstacle to salvation.

The letter is a testimony to a Bishop who cares whether our eternal destination is Heaven or Hell.

I still have a great deal of trouble as a parent ever imagining myself groveling for absolution for errors that led millions to spiritual chaos and deaths - and leaving my own children in the dark to repeat my errors.

I just can't imagine doing it.

I don't know about you, but if I were the recipient of the letter, it sure would look to me as if the Bishop was firing a very serious warning shot across my bow. It's a sensible, firm but direct letter.

Dear Congressman Kennedy:

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” (Congressman Patrick 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

From his lips to God's ears.


Kennedy responds.

The readers digest version is, Kennedy wants to publicly distort the teachings of the Church and publicly claim his actions are consistent with Catholicism and it's the Bishops protecting the life of children acting inconsistent--but keep any discussions about his version of the faith private matters between him and his Bishop.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rep. Patrick Kennedy says he finds it “very disconcerting” that Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin will not agree to keep private a discussion about Kennedy’s faith.

Talking with reporters Tuesday in response to an open letter to Kennedy published Monday on the Web site of the diocesan newspaper the Rhode Island Catholic, the congressman said he initially agreed to meet with the bishop with the understanding that whatever he chose to bring up with him would be kept private.

He said the planned meeting, which had been set for Thursday, was postponed because the bishop would not stand by a promise to keep the meeting private.

Bishop won't play if I meet with you, you shut up and I'll control the spin of what is Catholic and what isn't?

After all the private and public interactions, Kennedy voted against a provision preventing federal funding of abortion on Saturday. The jig is up.

Kennedy said Tuesday that he has a pastor, and “I have my sacraments through that pastor. I don’t want anyone hounding my pastor. I have sought the sacraments of reconciliation and communion and all the rest.”

When a reporter asked asked Kennedy: “Does all of this hurt you? Do you feel wounded?” Kennedy responded: “I think it’s unfortunate. I’m not going to engage this anymore.”

But when asked if he had been threatened with denial of communion or other sanctions, Kennedy said those were subjects he planned to discuss with the bishop. “Ideally, he will keep it between us.”

Kennedy said he initially criticized the U.S. Catholic bishops because they said that they would oppose the health-care reform bills pending in Congress if they did not explicitly deny federal funding for abortion.

“What I disagreed with them is that if they didn’t get their way, they weren’t going to support overall health-care reform,” he said. “That’s something I felt very strongly was destructive to the process.”

Keeping the status of Kennedy's communion "private matters" didn't serve his father, it hasn't served him, it doesn't serve Catholics in political life following the Kennedys so-called Catholic leadership in matters pertaining to abortion -- and it definitely is not serving the Catholics watching the show.

If one of your children is repeatedly drinking and driving and you as a parent keep the disposition "a private matter" while the rest of your children look on, in the absence of taking the keys of the car away and speaking about the errors and dangers, your lack of action is constructive permission. You're teaching them.

If your children take the crayons to your walls and you don't get off your fanny to take the crayons away and correct the errors - you keep it a private conversation a generation or two later - your grandchildren and their children and their children's children will never know social boundaries and discipline. They're going to be lacking invitations and friends. Someday, they'll be taking a crayon to their prison cell walls.

If the Lord has given you His children to form, there's a responsibility that comes with it. Forty years of silence in the public square has destroyed generations of Kennedys and the Catholics being led away by the pied pipers.

It's time to take a different tack.

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