Bishop to Kennedy: “Your position is unacceptable to the Church…”

 “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?”

Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence



This from The Providence Journal:

‘Even as they agreed to postpone a planned face-to-face meeting that had been set for Thursday, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin turned up the heat Monday on U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy over his “rejection” of church teaching on abortion, calling on him to enter into a process of conversion and repentance.’

Turned up the heat?

Try pulling out the heat and pummeling the double-tongued Kennedy with a good ol’ fashioned episcopal pistol-whipping… POW!!! SPLAT!!!

The public reply of Bishop Tobin below is in response [Here] to a Kennedy letter accepting an invitation from his bishop to discuss health care reform. However, after passage of the bill on Saturday last, in which, Kennedy voted against a provision preventing federal funding of abortion, the meeting was postponed by mutual agreement after their staffs agreed that the meeting was not as urgent…

Perhaps not, but, after reading over the remarks below one is left wondering if Mr. Kennedy’s own health care package includes ‘urgent ambulatory care.’

[My emphasis/Comments]

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. [Honestly, when I first read this portion I took it to mean fellow bishops, and only moments later considered it in the probable light– high-ranking Catholic pro-abort politicians. But, is it far-fetched to consider a double entendre here? Remember this phrase: “Profile In Courage.”].

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.” [Boy, how often have we heard this error?] That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true.  [“Profile In Courage…”Note: From here on read as P.I.C.!] 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,’ [Inspired Word of God.] 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 [P.I.C.!], obligations and expectations [P.I.C.!]. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church [P.I.C.!, P.I.C.!!], especially on essential matters of faith and morals[P.I.C.!!!!]; 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.[Sing it with me… P.I.C!!!!!!].

Congressman, [Stop. Switch places with Mr. Kennedy and consider if this was your own bishop speaking to you…] I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, [He’s serious.] 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.[A possible forewarning here?].

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. [keep in mind this letter is intended to be instructive to other Catholics and those in prominent positions of leadership.] 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

Extraordinary and timely… The Bishop and his letter.


By Karen Lee Ziner

Journal Staff Writer

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.

In his letter to Kennedy — printed in his column, “Without a Doubt” — Bishop Tobin challenged Kennedy’s assertion that he is not any less of a Catholic for supporting abortion rights. The bishop, in addition to calling him to a process of “conversion and repentance,” said that being a Catholic involves much more than cultural heritage or being baptized a Catholic.

The bishop asked in his letter if Kennedy supported the church’s essential teachings on faith and morals, including abortion, if he belonged to a parish, attended Mass on Sundays and regularly received the sacraments.

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 initiially 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 they, weren’t going to support overall health-care reform,” he said. “That’s something i felt very strongly was destructive to the process.”

Kennedy’s meeting with reporters took place outside the Chafee Health Center in Providence after volunteers thanked him and Rep. James Langevin for their work on health-insurance reform.



53 thoughts on “Bishop to Kennedy: “Your position is unacceptable to the Church…””

  1. All pro-choice Catholic politicans need to research the Apostolic Fathers of the Church, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Irenaeus of Lyons. These defenders of the faith, from the heretics of their times, were very explicit about abortion being the taking of human life and being a grave sin. Nancy Peloise was way off base when she said that even the Catholic Church did not know when human life began. It has been affirmed by the Church since the earliest beginnings of the Church that life began at conception. End of argrument.

  2. It is definitely a call to true Catholicity by Bishop Tobin to everyone, in this particular case to one of the Kennedy family members since their family name seemed to have gotten to their heads and make them forget who has allowed us to be on this earth. It has always been God who created us and placed us here for a purpose, and in the end we will have to render account of how we used our given talents. I support Bishop Tobin on his explanation of what a true Catholic is, a call to all of us Catholics who have become very comfortable with our lukewarmness, possessions and prestige.

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