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Catholic Culture Resources
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Bishop Tobin publicly calls Rep. Kennedy to ‘conversion and repentance’

November 10, 2009

By a mutual decision, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence and Representative Patrick Kennedy-- the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy-- have postponed their meeting to discuss the Catholic congressman’s support of abortion. Over the weekend, the Rhode Island congressman sided with abortion advocates in voting against the Stupak amendment, which barred the use of federal funds from paying for most abortions in the House’s health care reform legislation.

Following the vote, Bishop Tobin issued a public letter to Representative Kennedy in which he ripped the congressman’s statement that “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,” wrote Bishop Tobin in the letter, which will appear in the November 12 edition of his diocesan newspaper. “And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?”

The bishop continued:

[W]hen 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 …

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?

The prelate concluded:

[I]n 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.


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  • Posted by: - Nov. 10, 2009 9:36 PM ET USA


  • Posted by: Hal - Nov. 10, 2009 6:03 PM ET USA

    Wow. Now THAT is a Bishop. Hooray for Bishop Tobin! Wish we had a couple more like him! May God bless his work.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Nov. 10, 2009 5:43 PM ET USA

    Thank you Bishop Tobin! When you take a stand such as this, the message is that the Catholic Church is not ambivalent about her beliefs and will defend them at every opportunity.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 10, 2009 2:05 PM ET USA

    Specifically, I'd like to see my Archbishop, George Niederauer, address such a public letter to the "Catholic" Nancy Pelosi.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Nov. 10, 2009 1:46 PM ET USA

    St Thomas Becket, pray for your brother Bishop Tobin! May he continue to draw on your courageous example.

  • Posted by: benkulp5284 - Nov. 10, 2009 11:20 AM ET USA

    Legacy of Cardinal Bernard Law ? He escaped but not for long.

  • Posted by: sparch - Nov. 10, 2009 10:20 AM ET USA

    Wow! Now that's what I'm talkin' about. Befrank blunt and to the point. More members of congress need an open letter written just for them.

  • Posted by: New Sister - Nov. 10, 2009 9:58 AM ET USA

    These headlines of US Catholics Bishops finally taking a stance against culture of death politicians have been heartening. “Cradle Catholics” have stopped by my desk in recent weeks to tell me that they have been hearing the strongest (and most say also the *first*) pro-life homilies in their lives in recent Sundays. Thank you, Bishop Tobin. Deo gratias!

  • Posted by: adamah - Nov. 10, 2009 9:09 AM ET USA

    Wow. We need more bishops like this.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 10, 2009 8:57 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Bishop Tobin. Let us pray your fellow bishops have as much concern for the souls of the Catholic politicians in their dioceses as well.