The Price of Life

In deference to Lent, I hadn’t followed the congressional budget battle as closely as I might have. Reading about high-stakes wrangling over numbers and programs wouldn’t help my efforts to prioritize God during this time, I figured, although I did glance at headlines more than I usually do during this season of greater spiritual focus.

And yet, when the battle began to coalesce around the government subsidy for Planned Parenthood, the numbers game assumed a decidedly moral twist, and I began to pay more attention. Obviously when an annual budget hovers in the trillions, $360 million is a relatively small amount—so miniscule that it became evident that either cutting or maintaining it was not a budgetary imperative but a philosophical one. And this imperative wasn’t one that either side was willing to sacrifice without a ferocious fight.

While the abortion battle raged (and yes, since abortion constitutes the bulk of Planned Parenthood’s business this is about abortion) the larger conflict emerged: pro-life citizens don’t want to contribute money to something to which they are philosophically and morally opposed. This doesn’t touch the notion of banning the procedure or even restricting it, but only the funding mechanism.

Crabby abortion proponents have said for years, “If you don’t like abortion, then don’t have one,” while ignoring the fact that those who don’t like abortion are deeply insulted to have to pay for them.  We can grumble forever about wasted tax dollars, inefficient programs, duplication of services or outlandish schemes but none of these compare with the horror that our own hard-earned dollars are in turn passed onto a corporation that exists primarily to kill—one child every 90 seconds.

Most Republicans sensed the wider implication of the Planned Parenthood issue and held fast to the opportunity to honor the growing pro-life sentiments of their constituents. The gaudy display of abortion supporters, though, was beyond all parody. Just before the final votes were cast, the nation’s capitol was subject to a barrage of pink, flung about in myriad forms as a way of showing that feminists were as wedded to sterility as they were to sexual license. Not only did they insist on celebrating their sacrament of “Free Love” (meaning intimacy free of its natural consequences) but their “choice” wouldn’t mean a thing without the country picking up the tab. One local clinic director from Texas was aghast that the budget battle had become embroiled over her organization, which “provides vital services to communities in need.”

A curious choice of words. It’s precisely life (the root of the word “vital”) which makes so many taxpayers loathe to contribute to her organization. To provide a “vital” service would be to serve life, not death, and the deep-seated emotions that surround abortion have been stirred up once more.

This is a good thing, and essential for the country. Will we be a nation that preserves innocent life? Will we draw a line that protects those whose conscience will not allow them to collaborate with the merchants of death? Will the traditional Judeo-Christian underpinnings of America be honored in any way, or will individualism trump every effort to speak for the defenseless?

Surely, money matters, and there is an important lesson being illustrated for the upcoming generation concerning fiscal accountability and living within one’s means. But if that very debate loses sight of the actual members of that younger generation—the ones who have run the gauntlet even to inherit the discussion—then their solvency will be a slave to their existence, which shouldn’t be in the hands of Planned Parenthood, but in God alone.

Muddying the Waters

In the past few weeks, Bishop Thomas Tobin has been in the news a number of times. Patrick Kennedy a “Catholic” who resides in the State of Rhode Island and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence,  attacked the Bishops of the Catholic Church for opposing any health care reform that would involve public funding for abortion.  Kennedy had the gaul to suggest the Catholic Church was fanning the “flames of dissent and discord”.  With Kennedy’s serious and offensive remarks, Bishop Tobin had no choice but to respond.  The Bishop invited Patrick to meet in privacy to discuss the issue at hand and Kennedy declined.  Since then, Kennedy also made public a letter he received from the Bishop in 2007 requesting that he refrain from receiving Holy Communion.  Kennedy even went so far as to lie about the Bishop notifying his priests to refuse to give him Communion.  I personally never received any such memorandum, and the Bishop stated that he never sent one.

In the midst of this, the media has given their usual spin.  On November 10th, Providence Journal article “Bishop again attacks Kennedy over abortion stand in health-care reform”.  Again on November 24th, Projo reported “R.I. Bishop Tobin has testy exchange with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews”.  Who was the one that actually attacked who?

Last night, Matthews kept turning the issue to how the bishop would punish women who have an abortion.  In reality, this was not the issue at all.  The issue Matthews will not face is that the Bishops, and most Americans do not want to support abortion with our money.  WE DON’T WANT TAX FUNDED ABORTION!

This evening Bishop Tobin was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly.  O’Reilly was much fairer in his treatment of the bishop, allowed him to speak and give his response, unlike the rude and hostile treatment of Matthews.

Again, the issue for the Catholic Church is plain and simple.  We are against the killing of innocent human life in all instances and we do not want to pay for it!  I wonder if our Catholic politicians who are against abortion, but don’t want to force their opinions on others would allow someone to own slaves!  It’s called intellectual dishonesty.

Let’s not muddy the waters!

Bishop Tobin Makes It Clear!

So often people write on blogs and tell us priests, “Why don’t the Bishops speak out?”  We’ll my Bishop does, and, I thought you would all enjoy my bishops response to Congressman Patrick Kennedy.  Patrick is the son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

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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