.- Bishop of Providence Thomas J. Tobin has responded to Rep. Patrick Kennedyâs contention that his dissent from Catholic teaching on abortion does not make him âless of a Catholic.â Saying that such dissent renders the lawmaker's communion âflawed,â he urged Kennedy to become a âprofile in courageâ and to defend the unborn.
Rep. Kennedy (D-R.I.), the son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, had accused the Catholic Church of fanning âthe flames of dissent and discordâ because of the Catholic bishopsâ opposition to proposed health care reform that does not explicitly prohibit funding of abortion.
Bishop Tobin responded critically to the congressman and asked for an apology.
A meeting had been scheduled between the prelate and the politician, but a Tuesday statement from the Diocese of Providence said it had been postponed.
âBishop Tobin remains hopeful the he can meet with Congressman Kennedy in a personal and pastoral setting in the very near future,â the diocese reported.
Responding to Rep. Kennedy in his Nov. 12 diocesan newspaper column, Bishop Tobin said he usually does not speak about someoneâs faith in a public setting but it has become an issue in his exchange with Rep. Kennedy.
The bishop focused on Rep. Kennedyâs comment in an Oct. 29 letter in which the Congressman said:
âThe fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.â
Bishop Tobin said the statement could not go unchallenged because it raises an important question about what it means to be a Catholic.
In a way, Bishop Tobin commented, disagreement with the Catholic hierarchy does make someone less of a Catholic.
âAlthough I wouldnât 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.
âThis principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents,â the bishop explained.
He cited sections from canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the laymanâs obligation to learn Christian doctrine and to live in accord with it.
Oneâs refusal to accept the teaching of the Church, Bishop Tobin added, makes oneâs communion with the Church âflawed.â
He explained that a Catholic believes and accepts the teaching of the Church âespecially on essential matters of faith and morals.â A Catholic must also belong to a local parish, attend Mass on Sunday, and receive the sacraments regularly.
Further, a Catholic must give personal, public, spiritual and financial support to the Church.
Bishop Tobin asked whether Rep. Kennedy accepted these âbasic requirements of being a Catholic,â including the Catholic stance on abortion.
The bishop said it was âterrificâ that Rep. Kennedy has said he embraces his faith. But he wondered what makes Kennedy a Catholic.
Rep. Kennedyâs rejection of Catholic teaching on abortion is a different category than ordinary human imperfection, Bishop Tobin added. Rather, he wrote, it is âa deliberate and obstinate act of the willâ that has been re-affirmed âon many occasions.â
âSorry, you canât chalk it up to an âimperfect humanity.â Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church,â the bishop continued.
The prelate told Rep. Kennedy that he wrote his words not to embarrass or judge him but to correct the public record and to invite him into âa sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance.â
He said Rep. Kennedy could still repair his relationship with the Church and redeem his public image. Alluding to the book by the congressmanâs uncle, President John F. Kennedy, he said Rep. Kennedy could become an authentic âprofile in courageâ by defending the sanctity of unborn human life.