Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

a toast for Bishop Tobin

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 12, 2010

Bishop Thomas Tobin, please stand up and acknowledge a hearty round of applause.

For three generations, Catholic bishops had coddled the Kennedy family, shrinking away from any confrontation as the nation's most prominent Catholic political dynasty moved steadily away from Church teachings on a host of critical public issues. Finally last year Bishop Tobin took a firm stand-- and then refused to back down in the face of criticism. His clear pastoral leadership was the single best story of 2009: the most conspicuous of many displays of episcopal backbone during the year.

Now, just a few months after picking a public fight with his bishop, Congressman Patrick Kennedy has announced that he won't seek re-election. It wasn't the bishop who drove him out of political life; it was the polls. Still it's worth noticing that when the bishop took a stand, the sky didn't fall in. Liberal commentators criticized Bishop Tobin, naturally. But most reasonable people recognized that the bishop was saying what the Catholic Church has always said. Kennedy was unable to turn the bishop's public statements to his own political advantage. If anything, the bishop's stand on principle exposed the Congressman's opportunism. The bishop won the political battle because he refused to act like a politician.

We might wonder how American history might have evolved if another Catholic bishop had been equally clear in rebuking another Kennedy, 20 or 30 or 40 years earlier. But that would only be conjecture; it didn't happen. Let the record show that when a bishop finally did deliver the much-needed rebuke, after a flurry of controversy the bishop's authority was intact-- in fact, considerably enhanced-- and the politician was leaving the scene.

Bishop Tobin has responded to Patrick Kennedy's withdrawal with a characteristically gracious statement, offering his best wishes and promising his prayers. Yet again he shows himself as a true shepherd, concerned for the spiritual welfare of a member of his flock. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 13, 2010 12:20 PM ET USA

    Thank-you for your positive article..., After all, with all Her wounds, inflicted by others or even Herself..., the Catholic Church is still God's light in the darkness... JP

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2010 2:01 PM ET USA

    I want to heartily commend Bishop Thomas Tobin on being a 'true shepherd of his flock.' Like the article said, too bad another Bishop in Massachusetts didn't lead his flock 30 ro 40 years ago; when he was idolizing the Kennedy famiy. I guess those checks in the basket soothed his pastoral feelings. Now I know why so many catholics became the 'cafeteria kind.' in America.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 20, 2010 6:17 AM ET USA

    Wish we had a Bishop like Bis.Thomas Tobin up here in Quebec.God bless him