Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thank You, Congressman Kennedy (and Bishop Tobin, too)

Now that the dust has seemingly settled over the public debate between Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Bishop Thomas Tobin, several things have become quite clear. 
  1. The cause and nature of the initial debate got lost in a sea of peripheral issues and spin.
  2. Congressman Kennedy irresponsibly throws bombs, distorts facts and retreats.
  3. Bishop Tobin is very articulate and goes where most bishops fear to tread.
  4. US bishops have failed to send a clear, consistent message to the faithful.
  5. The Church is reaping the fruits of forty years of catechesis devoid of substance.
1.  Rep. Kennedy put the ball in motion when he chided the bishops' "so-called" pro-life position for their insistence on health care reform without public funded abortion or an abortion mandate.  The debate evolved when the congressman stated he was no less a Catholic for his pro-choice position or disagreement with the hierarchy.  Bishop Tobin was compelled as a faithful pastor to stave off scandal by correcting this erroneous claim.  This issue had nothing to do with the separation of Church and State or punishing a politician on his vote on a particular piece of legislation, but everything to do with who defines authentic Catholicism.  Roman Catholic Identity.

2.  Congressman Kennedy fanned the flames, escalated and perpetuated this controversy.  Let's see...from his incendiary remarks which prompted this public debate, his erroneous claim to authentic Catholicism despite his contradictory convictions, his accusation that Bishop Tobin betrayed confidences, his 'private' meeting with the bishop at a busy 'public' restaurant at Noon, his interview indicating he would no longer discuss his private faith in a public forum, to his public disclosure of a two and a half year old letter from the bishop requesting him to refrain from presenting himself for reception of Holy Communion--all prompted Bishop Tobin to respond.  Where is he now?  It is evident that Rep. Kennedy's handlers failed him on this latest controversy.

3.  On the few occasions I have heard Bishop Tobin speak I have been very impressed and I would even say "inspired".  "Now THAT was a bishop."   The sad fact is that the majority of bishops would have let Congressman Kennedy's remarks slide without any comment, or perhaps no public comment.  Bishop Tobin said he felt an obligation to address the public statements and misinformation for the sake of Kennedy himself, and to prevent others from being led astray.  Bishop Tobin's press releases, public statements, radio interviews, Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly appearances all demonstrated his intelligence, poise (even during Matthews' disrespectful, condescending, lecturing filibuster) and measured approach in articulating the Church's teachings.  There is a small list of the 'usual suspects'--bishops who respond publicly (Abps. Burke, Dolan, Chaput, Nienstedt) .  It was encouraging to see Bishop Tobin join the ranks of bishops not afraid to defend the Faith and use such public scandal as a moment of instruction.

4.  Reaction to Bishop Tobin's response ran the gamut from those who thought he never should have interfered or went too far, to those who shook fists in the air demanding he excommunicate the congressman.  There is no episcopal handbook on how to deal with such issues, therefore it is up to the discretion and devices of each individual bishop who has the authority over his diocese.  Confusion arises when there are different responses or even public infighting seen among the bishops on how to handle such issues.  There are numerous recent public scandals to cite as examples: President Obama at Notre Dame, Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press, Sen. Ted Kennedy's funeral, and now Congressman Patrick Kennedy's scuffle with Bishop Tobin.  Is a Catholic politician's public voting record on abortion cause for public scandal?  Remember that scandal is defined as "conduct causing or encouraging a lapse of Faith or religious obedience in another".  Public scandal requires a public correction and a public repentance.  The inability of US bishops to reach a consensus on dealing with public scandal is divisive and the inconsistency or lack of response can itself become scandalous.

5. Why do people have the erroneous impression that they can be proponents of abortion and still remain faithful, devout Catholics?  Or how is it possible that people don't see a fundamental flaw in their reasoning when they espouse the "I'm personally against abortion but would not impose my belief on another" argument?  Why is the belief so widespread that it is acceptable to compartmentalize one's religious beliefs from public conduct, or hold Faith as not only personal but also private.  And why is that not seen as contrary to the very heart of Catholicism?   Why do people mistakenly cite their consciences to justify dissent from central teachings of the Church, and just about everything for that matter?  Why wouldn't faithful Catholics approach personal disagreements with Church teachings from a disposition of humility and a fundamental assumption that "if I find myself at odds with the Church, I must not have a clear understanding of what the Church is teaching"?  There is genius and centuries of wisdom in the Church.  As Abp. Fulton Sheen once said, "There are only about 100 people that truly hate the Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Church is".  The answer to all these questions is simple:  lack of education (catechesis).  Where is the substance in catechetical education for children and young adults?  Where is the adult education?  Where is the continuing formation for the clergy?  Where is the reinforcement from the pulpit?

So, thank you Congressman Kennedy for unwittingly bringing much needed discussions to a national audience.  Thank you Bishop Tobin for having the courage and taking this opportunity to instruct the faithful and challenge the unfaithful.  Public scandal requires a public response, lest complacent inaction creates scandal itself.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice summary of what has transpired; thank the Lord for Bishop Tobin! The bishops need to be unified in fighting this and leading us. The Catholic Church is the only institution that can do anything to defend the rights of the unborn. Now is our opportunity to be prophetic in regard to the pro-life cause, while also helping women who have already aborted.