You may have seen news stories over the weekend about the controversy surrounding Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and the Bishop’s request that Kennedy refrain from taking communion because of his publicly stated pro-choice stance.
As a result of the controversy, Bishop Tobin appeared on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” For those of you who can’t bear to watch Chris Matthews, I sympathize – I couldn’t watch the entire thing myself. Fortunately, the part I found really interesting was right at the beginning. The segment started with a clip of John F. Kennedy speaking to Ministerial Association of Greater Houston on September 12, 1960.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source — where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.
Matthews assertion, of course, was that the Bishop’s request that Kennedy not take communion was tantamount to imposing the will of the Catholic Church “upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.”
From my perspective, Bishop Tobin isn’t seeking to influence Kennedy on public policy so much as he is defining what it means to be Catholic. Isn’t that the right of the Catholic Church or any church for that matter? Of what use is a church that’s uncommitted to its own doctrine? Jesus had something to say about it in the Sermon on the Mount.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. ~Matthew 5:13 KJV
That makes it rather clear that a church is obligated to teach and apply doctrine to the best of its understanding. Having been raised in the Catholic Church, Kennedy must have known what he was risking when he chose to support the pro-choice position. My Catholic friends tell me that any Catholic who publicly challenged church doctrine on the abortion issue could face the same restriction; Kennedy’s not been singled out for special treatment.
For someone who apparently has so little regard for church teaching, one has to wonder why he’s chosen to make a public issue out of what should have been a private matter, especially now, at least two years after the fact. The Boston Herald provides some insight.
“I thought they were pro-life. If the Church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health-care reform because it’s going to provide health care that (is) going to keep people alive,” Kennedy told the Catholic News Service in October, less than two months after the death of his father, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
It appears as though Chris Matthews may have it exactly backwards. Rather than Bishop Tobin trying to influence Kennedy, perhaps Kennedy is using Tobin’s genuine pastoral concern to try turn public opinion against those Bishops who are opposing the Democrats health care reform plans. Advice for the Congressman: Tread carefully; God will not be used.