How “Special” are the Kennedys?


Last night Christopher Matthews abused his guest, Thomas Tobin, the Catholic Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island in a manner that calls into question Matthews' sanity as well as his claim to being (in his words) a "good Catholic."  It has been well known for some time that Matthews is not a gentleman.  His public behavior established that long ago.

Having invited Tobin to speak on his television program, Matthews screamed and raved at this clergyman for some minutes over Tobin's disapproval of the consistent advocacy by Representative Patrick Kennedy of public laws that do establish or would establish practises that the Catholic Church teaches are morally unacceptable.

Abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, homosexual "marriage," these are the issues we are talking about.

Throughout this conversation Bishop Tobin insisted that what he was talking about was the Catholic Church's insistence that law should reflect morality.  He argued (when he occasionally got a chance) that it is generally accepted that morality should influence law.  If that is not the case then why are; murder, incest, theft, child molestation, etc illegal?  Are these crimes not judged to be unacceptable under law on the basis of morality?

Matthews screamed at the bishop that he was not competent to make law.  The bishop said that this was correct and that he did not wish to do so, but he would have his say.

The US Constitution fortunately forbids the establishment of an official state religion.  It does not attempt to limit the ability of ministers, priests, rabbis, 'ulema or any other spiritual leader to express their views with regard to what the moral content of law ought to be,

Thomas Tobin writes to Kennedy in his letter below that he has no power to compel Kennedy's vote, no power other than moral suasion as Kennedy's spiritual guide within the Catholic communion.  The Catholic Church is not like a buffet.  One does not choose what one likes from column A or column B.  The teaching of the Catholic Church is a meal in which one partakes of all the courses.   Those who say (as Matthews and Kennedy evidently do) that this is not true have already left the Church.  pl


"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"

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59 Responses to How “Special” are the Kennedys?

  1. Matthew says:

    Col: I stopped watching Matthews years ago. Why do you continue?
    You are wasted on the guy.

  2. GulfCoastPirate says:

    I disagree. As a Catholic I thought the bishop received the treatment he deserved. While CM may have gone a little overboard it was apparent the bishop was refusing to answer the question as to exactly what penalties he would give to a woman that had an abortion or a doctor that performed one. You can’t weasel your way out of that question if you want a Catholic politician to enforce Catholic law on a secular society. If Mr. Kennedy’s position is unacceptable to any portion of his fellow parishoners then the proper response would be to not vote for him in the next election.
    CM was correct, the bishop avoided a response not on intellectual grounds but because he would lose about half of his parishioners – and the bishop himself knows it. It is not Mr. Kennedy’s job to represent the Catholic Church or to enforce its edicts, it is his job to represent all of his district many of whom are not Catholic.
    I find all this right wing religious fundamentalism disgusting. Even when it comes from my own church.

  3. Al Spafford says:

    Col Lang, As a frequent and appreciative reader of your blog, I have to take issue with your depiction of Matthews confrontation with Bishop Tobin. I heard no “screaming”. Rather, Matthews pressed the Bishop in a confrontive manner throughout the “conversation”. By the way, I am NOT particularly a fan of Matthews,only happened to tune in at the time of this broadcast, and have questioned often his “journalistic” approach. What was a very confrontive stance by Matthews should not be termed as “screaming”. His repeated point centered on the needed separation of Church and State, as well as trying to get the Bishop to more clearly state a position on that.

  4. Nancy K says:

    I am not Catholic or Protestent and I would hope that it never comes to the point where I cannot vote for a politician because of his religion. However if a politician is unable to represent his constituents because a minister or priest is holding excommunication over his or her head if they don’t obey the dictates of said church, then I feel I cannot vote for that politician.
    I fear the US is becoming increasingly polarized and religion is just another facet of this polarization.

  5. Morality is not the basis of law in a successful society. Social utility is the basis of law. e.g., our tribe can’t defend against other tribes if we are killing each other.
    Morality screws things up.
    Or, e.g., we have to feed our poor people because we may need them as troops.
    I know this is simplistic so I expect an elegant refutation.
    btw: I’m gay, pacifist, Jesuit educated. I view Roman Catholicism as equivalent to radical Islam.

  6. Patrick Lang says:

    “we have to feed our poor people because we may need them as troops.”
    You are too contemptible to argue with. pl

  7. jamzo says:

    the Vatican decided they did not want any more father dinans – liberal leaning politically activist priests
    they decided to have conservative leaning politically activist priests instead
    actions have their consequences
    the bishop from rhode island may need a political advisor if he went on matthews show expecting the deference a bishop gets in religous matters

  8. YT says:

    Col., sir:
    Talkin’ ’bout “politically correct”, I was readin’ this post ’bout an hour ago & it featured some poster for a university but now it’s some coffee advert. Apologies sir, but do you fear some particular church pals of yours?

  9. Patrick Lang says:

    That is the coat of arms of the bishop of Providence.
    Aren’t you needed somewhere else?
    Call me a coward again and you are out. pl

  10. Patrick Lang says:

    jamzo old thing. I think he had a right to expect civility. he did not get it. pl

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    Nancy K
    Following your reasoning you should vote for atheists who function on the basis of “social utility.” I don’t know how old you are but you should consider whether or not you want to live in a society ruled by people who would think that retired people of modest means are socially useless. What is the social utility of; “Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.”
    Then there is the issue of whether or not from the point of view of men, the stronger, more aggressive and perhaps less considerate of the genders, it is really a good idea to allow women the franchise, property rights, etc.
    What is the social utility of laws that forbid polygamy? pl

  12. Medicine Man says:

    The bishop can have his say and the Catholic politician can believe all or some of the church teachings as he sees fit. The important part is that Christianity as a whole has an established tradition of separating the public life from the spiritual, to one extent or another. It is possible for a devout man to make compromises in order represent a larger constituent, contrary to what some may argue.

  13. Patrick Lang says:

    “the Catholic politician can believe all or some of the church teachings as he sees fit”
    That is not correct. As Bishop Tobin said, people are free to leave the church and there are other spiritual homes available.
    There will not be a “fatwa” condemning Kennedy for his “irtidad” if he leaves the Catholic church. pl

  14. Very interesting post to me and discussion. Disclosure–not Catholic but have tried to understand at least on a rudimentary basis the history and doctrine of the Catholic Church. Here are tentative conclusions! First, the Catholic Church has least discussed and debated its doctrines at least since the Council of Niacea in early 4ht Century C.E! Second, it took 250 year including the brilliance of a ST. THOMAS ACQUINAS to reconcile Aristotlian philosophy with that of Christian beliefs, shorthand how do you reconcile “faith” and “reason”! Short answer is you don’t but that get complicated. Third, the fundamental approach of the Catholic Church is that their is “natural law” and “manmade law” and the closer the latter to the former the better for all mankind. The TEN COMMANDMENTS seem to be largely based on what I believe is also the Catholic concept of natural law. THOU SHALL NOT KILL is certainly a key commandment. It does not have the words “A human being” attached so that makes problematic the discourse on abortion.
    For an example of man-made law going tragically wrong look at the eugenics practices and holocaust created under NAZI law, to which all NAZI judges subscribed. Why I always though “Judgement at Nuremburg” one of the really great movies of all time!
    AS to Chris Matthews is early promise as a possible companion to Tim Russert in forging and advancing knowledge about the world of Washington, politics, and American in general long since faded. Too bad but often ego and hubris destroy good people in Washington or as the saying goes “Whom the Gods would destroy they first make Crazy.”

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    Nancy K
    I forgot a couple of examples.
    – What is the social utility of children born with sever disabilities?
    – What is the social utility of laws against cruelty to animals?
    – What is the social utility of the chronically homeless? pl

  16. N. M. Salamon says:

    As an RC, I appreciate your comments above.
    Having had the experience of living under ATHEIST government [Communist] your analysis of social utility based laws, and the rules of the RC church with respect to dogma and major tenets are welcome.
    It is Mr. Kennedy’s right to make decisions on his political views, and it is the Bishop’s right to exlude him from RC obserances if Mr. Kennedy elects to reject the teahing of his church.
    Within the RC church there is no fruther penalty than being excommunicated. Mr. Kenedy can not have his pie and eat it too!

  17. Speaking as an Episcopalian, I have no dog in this fight, which gives me an excuse not to tackle this issue directly.
    However, we should note that – for all the talk about transnationals nowadays – the biggest, baddest transnational of them all is the Roman Catholic Church.
    And we should further note that – with all the deficits and filibusters and TARP bailouts and such – government’s ability to deliver social services is declining every day. Nongovernmental institutions therefore must step up to the plate.
    If the Church does not, others will. Much of the growth of Evangelicalism in Latin America results from the Church’s failure to respond to new megacities and their surrounding slums. More disturbingly, the drug gang, La Familia, which espouses a religious doctrine, provides social services in the region it controls. The Col. can correct me if I’m wrong, but Hamas and Hezbollah likewise provide social services.
    Political power flows from the ability to provide such services. Much of the Church’s power during the Middle Ages flowed from its role as social service provider following the fall of Rome.
    As to how special are the Kennedy’s within this context, the question is whether the government, the Church, or some other organization will be the social service provider. If the government, then the bishop better accommodate the Kennedy’s. If the Church, then the Kennedy’s better accommodate the Church. And if some other, then a plague on both their houses.

  18. JLCampos says:

    Last night I was surfing the TV and found this screaming guy attacking a man that I thought was bishop, because he probably was carrying a crucifix under his jacket. It was an amazing hysterical performance by Matthews. The Kennedies are notorious and for many people their opinions seem to carry weight. That a Kennedy promotes a certain position may be a source of scandal in the church, others may be influenced by him and commit a grave sin. The bishop is absolutely right not only right but has the obligation to prescribe the necessary corrective for a wayward son.

  19. Chris says:

    Col. Lang,
    I have a great respect for your thoughts generally, but have to say this isn’t worth worrying about.
    Matthews is a whimsical buffoon, and politics on tv dire stuff. One has to say that if a Bishop knowingly inserts himself in the political fray and goes on a horserace show, he’s a big boy and can look after himself.
    The Catholic Church is welcome to enter the policy/political debate, within the limits of their tax status.
    But threatening hypocritical, selective use of excommunication over Catholic politicians, and usually only of one party, will bring them the scorn they deserve.
    If they happened to apply the same criteria to the church’s teachings on the death penalty, one might take them seriously. One would have thought the political whitewash of the execution of an innocent man in Texas this year was worth comment from a Bishop. I can’t find a comment.
    Personally, I’d give more credibility to church heirarchy had they not exposed themselves to hundreds of millions of dollars of liability for the sex abuse scandal, and not proved so worldly in the execution of obstruction of justice
    Moral outrages like airlifting Cardinal Law from Boston with the feds on his back to the diplomatic immunity cover of a position of honor as archpriest at one of the Vatican churches AND participating in the 2005 Papal Conclave means that I don’t really want to hear moralizing or political hardball from a Bishop on up in the CC.

  20. RJH says:

    Matthews: “If you said one minute in prison, you’d be laughed at.”
    I’m not laughing.
    Matthews is a scold and a tool. The second half of the interview is just a lecture by Matthews using his Jesuitical whammy-jammy.
    His argument would be pretty good in a barroom after 4 or 5 drinks.
    I suppose he outwitted the Bishop by forcing him into an argument of false choices (It’s either the murder penalty or unlimited license. What’ll it be, Bishop!?), or maybe the Bishop was too Christian to hit back, but he didn’t outwit me and, I’d hazard to say, most others who attempt to be faithful to the Church’s teachings. We know why Tobin did what he did, and we’re still rooting for him.
    By the way, why does Matthews always look to be in such pain? Is he constipated? Same with Joan Walsh of Salon, one of his frequent guests. Their brows furrowed by all the weight they carry upon themselves. Is it the seriousness of all that they know that leaves them humorless?

  21. JT Davis says:

    The Catholic Church is not like a buffet. One does not choose what one likes from column A or column B. The teaching of the Catholic Church is a meal in which one partakes of all the courses. Those who say (as Matthews and Kennedy evidently do) that this is not true have already left the Church. pl
    It does seem as though we’ve been here before. If I’m not mistaken, that’s how the Church of England was established.
    Col., have you ever read Herbert Packer’s “The Limits of the Criminal Sanction”?
    “The Limits of the Criminal Sanction”

  22. Bill Wade, NH says:

    I did click on the Matthews interview with the Bishop and it served to remind me why I rarely bother to watch TV except for the Food Network where the people are intelligent, affable, and willing to teach me something.
    Years ago when my Mom told me she was going to vote for George Bush as he was against abortion I asked her how she could reconcile that with his record of executing criminals in Texas. She replied, “well, I can’t but I’m still voting for him”. I did some digging (googling) about how many voters were one issue voters (abortion) and it’s quite high as I remember, above 20% I think. I think this one issue is why our Presidential elections are always so close, is that by design?

  23. JohnH says:

    I would have a lot more respect for the Church if it pursued those who violate the Just War Doctrine with the same zeal that it condemns those who are pro choice. A human life is a human life, and it should never be terminated except under the most extreme of circumstances
    As it is, I see little difference between the hypocrisy of politicians and those in the clergy who selectively sit in judgment of them.

  24. Nancy K says:

    Col Lang, I’m 62 years old and have worked for most of my adult life as a nurse working with the severly disabled, the poor and even the chronically homeless. I also have 5 children and hope Medicare is is solvent when I begin drawing it out.
    I don’t equate religion with social justice nor do I equate religion with the lack of this justice.
    I believe there are many people who believe in a god and many who don’t, that care about humanity and animals.
    My issue is not with religion or anyone who practices such religion. My concern is a represenative of the people ie House or Senate of states and US who may be more concerned about what their minister or priest thinks about them than what their consituents want.
    I don’t believe an elected official has the right to push his or her beliefs on the rest of us.
    I hope you do not think my feelings are any criticism of your beliefs or feelings because I can assure you I hold you in highest regard.

  25. Grimgrin says:

    Col Lang: I’m having a hard time following your argument in responding to Nancy K.
    Where did atheism come into it? For that matter where did this notion that all atheists are brutal social Darwinists come from?
    And how do either of those ideas follow from Nancy Ks post, which I read as saying she prefers politicians to be representative of their communities and not of the church to which they belong?
    For what it’s worth, I agree with you that Bishop Tobin has the right ask that those who don’t follow the teachings of the Catholic church refrain from taking communion, and to make a case informed by his position as a Bishop as to what the moral content of the laws should be.

  26. Patrick Lang says:

    OK. “Atheist” was not the right term. What I was trying to convey was the prospect of rule by people for whom morality with its implicit preservation of shared community values has no meaning. pl

  27. Patrick Lang says:

    Nancy K
    So you think that elected oficials should be guided in their voting and decisions by polling in their constituencies? pl

  28. Patrick Lang says:

    JT Davis
    The Anglicans left because they followed ther king in his desire for an annulment as invalid as the one that the late Edward Kennedy obtained. (IMO)
    The pope’s unwillingness to grant that annulment was equally political.
    I have not read the book and am not interested in reading the book. This is not about sanctions and compulsion. It is about doing what is right. pl

  29. Patrick Lang says:

    “within the limits of their tax status”
    That’s really chicken shit.
    So, in your view they should be silent in order to protect their “riches.” pl

  30. Paul says:

    The bishop’s letter was intended as clarification but to me it raises many issues beside abortion. Having been raised and educated (nuns, Christian Brothers and the Benedictines) I never heard such waffling by a senior member of the church. Those educators explained that being a good Catholic meant living a life free of mortal sin. The bishop generally opines that anything espoused by church leaders – be it spiritual or doctrinal – must be exactly followed. I never heard anything so far-reaching and political. The letter reminds me of George Bush: “you’re either with us or against us”.
    The bishop seeks to deny Kennedy the sacrament of Eucharist yet he does not call Kennedy a sinner as that word is understood by me. I can only conclude that Kennedy’s sin must be one of omission – he isn’t following the leadership commands (many of them vague and over-broad) outlined by the bishop. The bishop is dancing on the head of a pin.
    Kennedy, a secular representative of the district he represents has to be mindful of those who might favor abortion so he has to pay attention even though he may personally reject abortion. Does the ratification of another’s viewpoint warrant the punishment? The church and the rest of the religious community should keep its nose out of secular matters.
    It is not surprising that many Catholics reject the arbitrary and rigid stance taken by church leaders and I don’t mean their position on abortion, but rather the idea that whatever they say must be blindly followed. If you want another example of the “we are in charge” mentality, ask a few catholic nuns about the hierarchy’s heavy-handed interference in their lives.

  31. Patrick Lang says:

    My understanding of Tobin’s reluctance to state what the law should be was that it was based on a reasonable inisistence that his function was to insist on the moral teaching of the church as a basis for the conduct of members of his flock and not to dictate to the civil government what they ought to do.
    Tobin’s message to Kennedy was clear. He should consider whether his job is more important than acting morally.
    Some here suggest that they can not vote for people who adhere to a specific moral code. Well, so be it. pl

  32. Nancy K says:

    Col Lang,
    I feel of course that our representatives have to be faithful to their beliefs but they should also be sensetive to the beliefs of their constituents.
    Example. Rep Kennedy may very well be in a distict where the majority feel a woman has a right to make a decision regarding her own body in the case of an abortion. If Rep Kennedy adheared only to his religion he would not be faithful to his constituents.
    I realize it is a razor’s edge but they have chosen to run for office to represent citizens. many of whom are not of the same religion as they are.
    As a nurse I cannot tell you how many woman I have encountered who had a child that she could not afford and did not want because using birth control or having an abortion was a sin.
    Maybe it is a sin, only God can judge not me, but children born into such homes often have a very difficult life.

  33. N. M. Salamon says:

    Off topic, but also touches both on morality and utility based views and laws:
    The Chilcot inquiry in UK. Inquiring minds would pose the question: the revalations therein of immoral [and illegal] actions by the UK Govenrment would or would not reflect the same on USA Congress, President etc in the appropriate time frame?
    Further, would the utility based [a.k.a. dirty politics’s] outcome indicate that Bishop Tobin is right to demand moral behavoir rather the Business as Usual political BS?
    And finally would not these questions be appropriate to President Obama when he elects [soon] to put either war or investment in USA as his primary action?
    Your views on the above dichotomies would be appreciated!

  34. Grimgrin says:

    The only thing I wonder about is why abortion? Why is that the moral issue that matters?
    Patrick Kennedy quite notably voted in favor of the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002”. IIRC The Iraq war was held to be against the Catholic doctrine of ‘Just War’ and opposed by both Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul the second.
    Now I’m admittedly not an expert on the statements and sermons made by the Bishop of Providence, so I may very well simply be ignorant of what been said on that topic.
    As for voting for people who adhere to a specific moral code, that’s fine. I just want to make sure they thoroughly explain their moral code to me beforehand and are willing to justify their policy decisions informed by their moral code with arguments that make sense to those who don’t share that particular morality.

  35. Patrick Lang says:

    Nancy K
    I revere your service to God’s people as would Bishop Tobin. pl

  36. Bobo says:

    Congressman Kennedy is not the only politician that Bishop Tobin has gone after on this issue. He has mentioned the transgressions of many others in letters to his flock. Unfortunately young Kennedy is front and center and at this moment he has a decision to make. One many of us ex-catholics have made in the past. Yes, its an either/or religion, no in-between.
    Possibly the following will help Kennedy and others.
    “US Constitution, Article VI, Section III:
    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned … shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
    The test is with his religion not whether he is a God fearing man or not.

  37. Ael says:

    I believe that the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment was poorly translated.
    A better translation is “Thou shalt not murder”.

  38. Yohan says:

    How special are the Kennedys that they warrant special attention from the church?
    Again, how many such actions have been taken against catholic politicians who support the death penalty? Why were no letters sent to politicians who voted for the Iraq War and continue to support it despite the Vatican’s disapproval of this clear life-and-death issue?
    If Catholics cannot pick and choose what dogmas to accept then why does the church get to pick and choose which politicians they single out for special punishment?
    Furthermore, are not all humans sinners? Are any of us perfect? Would the church deny holy sacraments to ALL Catholics since all are surely guilty of willful immorality? Will the church only administer holy communion to those who are perfect in every way?
    This smacks entirely of politics.

  39. frank durkee says:

    There is a sense in which the Bishop is well within his legitimate institutional capabilities in acting as he has. the Col.’s case is essentially on target withiun the Roman Catholic church, However, what is moral within the Roman Church.. correct for RC’s is not necessarily so for non RC’s. Other Christian institutions take different views as to what is ‘moral’ on abortion and other issues. While the RC’s have aclear and very comprehensive set of moral doctrines on the taking of humman life, the institution is highly selective on which of these they call out public figures for ignoring. There is a certain level of political gamesmanship as well as institutional gamesmanship in the working out of these processes [ to be polite]. The institutional abjective is to gain obedience to the ‘moral rules’ as laid down as well as to seek to determine public policy in the area involved. Mr. Kennedy is free to live out his institutional life as he sees fit and his church has the right to treat him as it thinks he deserves. The final adjudication as to what is moral is God’s neither the Bishop’ nor Mr. Kennedy’s nor in fact any one else’s. We are each however responsible for what we declare to be moral and what indifferent. And, at least in theological terms, face the same absolute and final judgement. In my personal experience of almost 50 years of dealing with this and and a significant spectrum of the difficult dilemmas, and situations into which people can find themselves, I am of the judgement “…that though the Law is holy just and good..”, compassion is most often the better course.
    I think these issues are not as simple or as clear as sometimes presented. Posturing simply does not help.

  40. optimax says:

    The problem with Mathews is he answers his own questions and doesn’t give the guest a chance to answer. Like most modern tele-journalists, Mathews is playing to his followers and not to a discriminating audience. What’s ironic is that Mathews, and his kind, are playing the role of old-time preacher condemning the guest with a secular fire-and-brimstone sermon. Someday Nancy Grace will be stretching a confession out of some poor sap on a rack and get an Emmy for it.

  41. Fred says:

    Chris Matthews was certainly disrespectful of the Bishop Tobin, more so 5 minutes into this. Matthews moved off topic to speak almost solely of abortion while Bishop Tobin continued to try to remain squarely on the issue of the law reflecting morality. This is a far more important issue than Matthews was willing, or prepared, to discuss.
    Former Governor Cuomo addressed the issue of religious belief and public morality very eloquently at the University of Notre Dame in 1984:
    I would also note that Father Drinan also served ten years in Congress – Representing Massachusetts – before stepping down following the instructions of Pope John Paul II that priests not hold public office.

  42. Chicagoan says:

    I don’t get the impression that Bishop Tobin or Col. Lang are saying that Kennedy can’t be a good person or good Christian without following the instruction of the Church on these issues, simply that he can’t be a good Catholic and that his rebellion calls into question his communion with the church. As this seems tautological many of the responses here puzzle me.
    As to Kennedy if he can’t reconcile his conscience and his faith one has to change. There is little more irritating than a Catholic who decides to define for himself what Catholicism is. It is not that sort of confession.
    If one can’t tolerate the Church’s teachings on abortion, its puzzling insistence on elevating that issue above others of equal gravity, the pederasty scandal and so on one might think about becoming an Episcopalian. I did so myself for essentially these reasons. Staying in the Church is an affirmative choice that carries certain obligations and Bishop Tobin is more than within his rights to say so.

  43. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    I have nary an ounce of theological talent (but, hey, at least I admit it) nor is it my style to speak upon things religious (Old school Episcopalian influence during “blessed” upbringing). But it seems to me that the Catholics of Matthews’ age and ilk were raised with an attitude perhaps reflected from title of the 70’s (60’s?) bestseller, “I’m okay, you’re okay”.
    Maybe that book had its place during those days, but, imo, all kinds of evil can take place under the “I’m ok, you’re ok” approach because it assures us that there is no reason to self reflect. Taken to its extreme, we are all perfect little princes and princesses who are incapable of doing evil. We are all as theologically gifted as St. Thomas and so on. Under the “I’m okay, you’re okay: approach, everyone can view himself or herself as gifted a theologian as Maximillian Kolbe.
    From what I can tell, a number of significant thinkers from the 20th century agree that the greatest evils occur when a society becomes increasingly unconscious of its own acts. Limited consciousness gives rise to the banality of evil and so forth. (Even Freud and Jung seemd to agree on that one. Freud’s book Civilization and its Discontent comes to mind, and Jung wrote some obtuse rambling essay called Wotan about the rise of Nazism and the such).
    So, I always thought an interesting sequel to the book “I’m okay, you’re okay” is a book titled, “I’m disordered and so are you, pal”. That line of thinking is probably a bit more old school Catholic or old school Greek Orthodox (maybe old school Episcopalian?) but I can’t say for sure.
    Speaking of the banality of evil…this entire Rapture business makes me most uneasy as evangelicals use the Book of Revelations to justify the killing of millions of innocents via nuclear war. In this scenario, it is not the banality of evil but worse: it is joy at seeing evil. Rapturists base much of their view on the Book of Revelations, of course.
    The theologian Scott Hahn — a former Presbyterian turned Catholic convert — wrote an astonishing book, imo, in which he points out that Mass (communion) is based on the Book of Revelations. The book is titled, “The Lamb’s Supper, the Mass as Heaven on Earth.” I have given copies to many Protestant friends (and family, as my roots are Episcopalian, supra.) and they all nod in agreement that Scott Hahn’s book is a great read. It really is worth a gander if you are tired of hearing people say helicopters are the locusts mentioned in Revelations and so on. Gives hope during dark times. But then again, I admit I have no theological talent, nor do I lead a religious life, and I reckon I should confess I am disordered . Egads. Sounds Irish (or Celtic) Catholic. Here’s a link to Hahn’s book:

  44. Patrick Lang says:

    “if you are going to single out Mr. Kennedy’s vote on abortion then to be consistent you have to also carry out the same actions against those who voted for Iraq (and other military adventures). Are we to now give the bishops and other higher ups in the church hierarchy the ability to decide the votes of Catholic politicians?”
    Which way do you want it or do you want it bothe ways? pl

  45. Patrick Lang says:

    Go find another place to vent your hostilities. pl

  46. Andy says:

    It’s kind of shocking that so many people here seem to think that actions don’t or shouldn’t have consequences. Kennedy made several decisions and prioritized his duty to represent his constituents above the teachings of his church. He had every right to do that and it could even been viewed as commendable and selfless, but choices, nevertheless, have consequences.
    As Col. Lang has said before here, policymaking is often the art of choosing between a list of bad and mutually exclusive options. Decision-making in our everyday lives isn’t all that different.

  47. steve says:

    I would only add this observation to the “dialogue” between Matthews and the bishop:
    When the bishop stated that an elected official had to follow the dictates of God, I was reminded of the statement by either Jefferson or Madison (I wish I could find the exact source–and I’ve looked) to the effect that in our democratic republic an elected official owes his sole allegiance not to God, but to the voter.
    One final thought–Matthews is not only rude, but dumb. I suppose I could tolerate rudeness better if wrapped in brilliance, but certainly not dumbness.

  48. Jim Bouman says:

    It has been a long time since I paid much attention to statements by the bishops. Dom Helder Camara was, I think, the last leader of the Catholic Church, who–in my opinion–really addressed the genuine moral issues of our day.
    But, I wonder why this act of public rebuke by Bishop Tobin toward a Kennedy is such a singular act. If Tobin is compelled by his ecclesiastical and magisterial position within the church to publicly admonish–to ex-communicate–why is it that few, if any, of his bishop brethren engage in the same or similar public acts on TV and in the papers.
    Is it a moral failing when a bishop neglects to seek out a Catholic judge or governor or executioner to condemn this taking of a life and excommunicate those guilty individual{s}?

  49. par4 says:

    “It has served us well,this myth of Christ” Pope Leo X

  50. Mary says:

    I would just note, Col. Lang, that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The Catholic Church is also against the death penalty. Yet you yourself have publicly advocated for the death prenalty for Maj. Hasan. So have you left the church? And if you have, why are you lecturing on Catholic doctrine?

  51. Patrick Lang says:

    Happy Thanksgiving.
    I did not claim to be a good Catholic. I accept the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. In the case of the particular wretch that you named, I am personally unable to follow that teaching, but I do not claim that the church’s teaching on the death penalty is incorrect as Representative Kennedy does with regard to abortion. pl

  52. Mary says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you too Colonel. If I recall, Patrick Kennedy claimed to be imperfect, though.
    In any event, the Catholic Church, through its own hierarchy, has broken its own rules is such a grave manner with its handling of the sex abuse scandal, more of which came out today, that this “bad” Catholic simply has no respect for the corrupt hierarchy singling out and lecturing Rep. Kennedy in this way while they simultaneously sell false dispensations to the likes of the pro-death penalty Newt Gingrich.
    Now, I’ll be off to dinner with the rest of my Catholic family, who are also excommunicable for the mortal sin of practicing birth control. Sorry if I sound hostile. I am.

  53. Patrick Lang says:

    “Sorry if I sound hostile. I am.”
    Yes. You do sound hostile. Civility is a good idea especially among those who disagree.
    In fact, I largely agree with your criticism of the failings of the clergy and hierarchy.
    On the other hand, I do not think that contraception and abortion are equivalent. I don’t know anyone who has been excomunicated for practising contraception. Do you? Actually, Kennedy has not been excommunicated.
    It seems that you explicitly reject the teaching authority of the church. If that is so, why stay?
    If it is for the sacraments, then that is a bit of a mystery to me. pl

  54. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Steering away from Matthews and Catholic priests, Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story that warrants consideration when discussing the repercussions of abortion, particularly as it effects the man and the woman. First published n 1927, this short story arguably opens the door and leads to certain insights of the human psyche not available to the rest of us .
    Of course, Gore Vidal referred to Ernest Hemingway as a decent Field and Stream writer and nothing more. Now that’s a very funny, if not hilarious, comment and no doubt Vidal was/is a gossip extraordinaire, and I agree with much of his stance on US foreign policy.
    But, alas, imo, Hemingway was willing to take the inner journey to places that Gore would not even dare to venture. Hemingway may have paid a price for it but who knows…
    The title of this short story is “Hills like White Elephants”. Much of this story appears to reside on the very edge of human consciousness.
    As a literary artist, is Hemingway correct or incorrect? Does Hemingway correctly or incorrectly point to the potential unconscious repercussions for the individual (man and woman) and society at large when such decision making is not fully explored?
    Each must face the story unafraid and then decide for himself or herself.
    (I would like to opine if the story were written today, we could very well see an exchange of gender roles in terms of how the man and woman respond to the situation. As an example, imagine Paddy Chayefsky’s character Diane Christiansen as “Jig”).
    If by some chance, Hemingway’s insights are at least somewhat merited, then, imo, compassion is the best way to deal with the pain of an increased awareness. A lack of compassion would be an indicator of misogyny, including among the sacramental priesthood, imo.

  55. lina says:

    I’m really sorry I’m so late to this discussion. I agree wholeheartedly with Col. Lang, i.e., if you’re not going to follow the rules, just go somewhere else.
    Problem is, if you were raised R. Catholic as I was, you were brainwashed to believe that if you left “the one true church” you were endangering your immortal soul. Even as preposterous as this sounds to anyone over the age of 7, we carry it around in our psyches forever.
    Some of us have escaped the psychological tentacles of the Church of Rome, but for others it remains a struggle, hence the “cafeteria” style Catholicism.

  56. Pat Lang,
    I believe I detected an excellent play on words in your reply to Mary, “If it is for the sacraments, then that is a bit of a mystery to me.”
    I must also observe that some things never seem to change: church and state, Protestant and Catholic, Christian and agnostic/atheist, the arguments rage on
    I ran into your recipe for cooking country hams while searching country hams and plan to put it to use. First I must procure one, probably a Smithfield.

  57. Mary says:

    Please understand that I did not mean to be hostile to you or your readers and I apologize for my tone. But yes I am hostile to the Church and I left the Church but they won’t take me off the rolls even after I asked them to! I attend at certain times only for the comfort of my large Catholic family.
    My mother was excommunicated by her local priest for confessing to birth control in the 60s after 4 kids in 4 years. The Church gave her a Catholic funeral and burial anyway presided over by Cardinal McCarrick, who is now in Rome, when she suicided on their property 20 years later. Lovely, perhaps, but the Church is not and has never really been consistent on its supposed core principles. And the Church does indeed equate birth control with abortion, even though you may not.
    In any event, no hard feelings, OK?

  58. MattMcC says:

    Colonel, Sir: Allow me to preface this by saying I am rather new to this site, but one of my Profs in college has introduced me to SST, and I like your style.
    And to the point, I agree with you Col., and being Methodist (like the Anglican who had posted) I have no horse in this race. It strikes me that this scenario is really about two spheres: Kennedy’s private religious beliefs and his public political leanings. The Bishop is speaking more to the former, because of what he has witnessed in the latter. Eg: If you belong to the NRA but are vociferously supporting the ban of all privately held weapons-whats the point of being in the NRA?
    The Bishop isn’t trying to sway Kennedy’s vote; rather, he is simply asking Kennedy to evaluate whether his beliefs match with those of the Church with which he claims affiliation. If they don’t, why not simply join a different church? Oh and I’ve learned that cable news networks hardly have anything of use, I’m more of a C-SPAN man now.

  59. Ian Welsh says:

    The problem is that the Catholic Church often does act as if it’s a buffet. The Church has other positions about, say, un-just wars, which it has not enforced with such threats. It seems that on the buffet gay marriage and abortion are much more important than other parts of the meal.
    Each to their own, but the Jesus I learned of wasn’t primarily concerned about those two issues. But then, my general position on what Christ really cared about was purged from the Church by Ratzinger at the behest of the last pope.
    As Gandhi said “I like your Christ. Your Christians, not so much”.
    Wasn’t so long ago that a presidential candidate had to promise that he wouldn’t obey Rome, now RC bishops are on the phone with Congressional leaders dictating whether a woman can have an abortion or not.

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