Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Bishop's Concern for His Flock

In the following letter, Congressman Kennedy (son of the late Ted Kennedy) receives a public admonishment from his bishop. God bless this bishop and pray for all the Catholic politicians who, like Kennedy, don't truly understand what it means to be a Catholic.

Dear Congressman 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


Anonymous saintos said...

The sad state of much of the laity is evidenced in that this letter which is an attempt to save a soul is seen rather as an attack. It also shows the truth of the damaging effect of the recent Kennedy funeral debacle though sadly many clergy have denied any scandal was created.

November 13, 2009 9:04 AM  
Blogger kkollwitz said...

Wow, it'll be hard to parse this away.

November 13, 2009 12:06 PM  
Blogger George Weis said...

That was awesome! I think he handled it with directness and with gentleness. It may still sting, but it was all the truth and said without an intention of stinging.

I hope he listens!


November 13, 2009 1:58 PM  
Blogger TJ said...

Hopefully the other members of congress will get the hint that they can't wave their Catholic faith around like a banner and at the same time support measures that are against the issues of life. Tmay be some soul seraching and perhaps repentance or sadly, repudiation of the faith as a result of this. Either way, it needed to be stated and Bishop Tobin did the right thing.

November 13, 2009 4:34 PM  
Blogger David L. Hall said...

Praise the Lord for faithful and courageous bishops. May they and such words as these increase and proliferate.

November 14, 2009 10:22 PM  
Blogger Rachel M said...

I applaud those priests and pastors who boldly and unswervingly stand up for the truth of Christ. IT would be so much easier to just shrug his shoulders. I'm sure he will be labeled an extremist, a hater, politically incorrect and so forth. God bless this man of God, his bravery and honesty.

November 15, 2009 3:46 AM  
Blogger Joyful Catholic said...

St. Alphonsus and St. Jerome ARE not gone! I believe they're intercession for our shepherds has moved the hearts of many to be BOLD and speak the truth. So many Saints when they spoke, never sounded 'apologetic' about the Truth. They knew love has to be 'tough' at times. God bless him, and I pray for Kennedy, and all like him, touting Catholicism, yet supporting a culture of death. Stunning.

November 15, 2009 3:38 PM  
Blogger NanaR said...

I just want to stand up and cheer. Thank the Lord for courageous Bishops!

November 15, 2009 8:13 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...

The Left’s attacks against Christianity, especially by politicians and especially against Catholics, continue to increase in both quantity and premeditated deceit. It will be interesting to see if Kennedy and his handlers are capable of a reasonable response. It is still incredible that Nancy Pelosi, after being rebuked by a Cardinal, continues to insist that the Catholic Church has an “ambiguous” stance on abortion. While they rapidly revise and rewrite our nation’s history in their image, we cannot allow them to do the same to our Church.

Thanks for posting this TJ.

November 18, 2009 8:21 PM  
Blogger Church Defender said...

That letter is "sharper than a two-edged sword" it pierces the heart.

Congressman Kennedy in no way remains a politician, not a clergy and so he must accept his own mistake, repent, and abide.

November 19, 2009 7:50 AM  

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