A Strange Sort of Logic – The Kennedy Case

There is news today the Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence RI, and the Bishop of Patrick Kennedy has advised him to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. This was announced by the Congressman himself. What is the reason that someone in Mr. Kennedy’s situation might be instructed to to refrain? As you may be aware, Holy Communion is not just communion with Jesus Christ in a personalised sense, it is communion with the Body of Christ the Church. A Catholic who receives communion is is not just saying in an abstract sort of way,  “I believe in Jesus.” They are also saying, I share communion with his mystical Body on earth, the Church. I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I believe that when  the Church speaks solemnly and authoritatively that it is Jesus Christ who speaks. For Scripture records that Jesus said to the apostles and their successors, “He who hears you hears me.” Hence, our communion with Christ is not just an abstract Christ, a Christ of our own making, it is communion with the Christ defined in the Scriptures who also has a Body, the Church which actually speaks in his name. Holy Communion is thus communion with Christ and his body the Church, which speaks in his name. In recent months Congressman Kennedy has made declarations that it is possible for him to vote for abortion rights and to vote to fund abortion and still be a Catholic in good standing. He has repeated this claim over the objections of his own Bishop and he has done this publicly. His Bishop has instructed that he cannot consider his communion with the Church to be intact by such actions. Hence Holy Communion cannot rightfully be celebrated when such a lack of communion on a serious matter is lacking. If communion means something, and it does: communion with Christ and communion ALSO with his Body the Church, then it is not possible to celebrate a communion that is severely lacking.

There can be a further reason for a Bishop, or any pastor for that matter,   to advise someone to refrain from communion and that is the matter of serious sin.  One of the first Pastors of the Church, St. Paul instructed the faithful to receive Communion worthily:

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor 11:27-32)

Notice therefore that since we recognize the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the Lord, to receive communion unworthily, that is in serious sin, is to sin against the Body and Blood of the Lord and to bring judgment upon oneself. Any good Pastor ought to warn the faithful who seem to be in objectively sinful situations to carefully examine themselves and confess lest they come under further judgment by unworthy reception. Notice too that St. Paul sees this being disciplined as a kind of medicine. Hence if we accept the judgement of the Church and the disciplining of the Lord we may well be saved when the world is condemned on Judgment Day. Discipline at the time it is administered seems obnoxious (cf Heb 12) but if it is accepted it can lead to a change of heart and ultimately to salvation on the Day of  Judgement. It is an objectively serious sin to promote abortion and even more serious to vote to fund it. It is to be hoped that Congressman Kennedy and others might think seriously about what they are doing and come to a whole hearted acceptance of the Lord’s teaching on Life.

Thus we have the background issues as to why a Bishop might instruct a member of his flock to refrain from Communion.

Patrick Kennedy unfortunately is not alone. He speaks for a lot of Catholics who think they can invent their own Church and establish communion with that Church. Further, that they can call the Church that they invent  the “Catholic Church” and claim that they are in union with a this fictional Catholic Church and ultimately with Christ,  who is supposedly the head of this fictional Church. Bishop Tobin has warned Mr. Kennedy and others like him that they cannot simply invent their own Church and call it Catholic. There is an actual Church, founded by Christ, that is defined by him. It is not a Church of our own invention. It is rooted in the teachings of Christ and cannot simply be refashioned according to the whim or recipe of anyone other than what Jesus Christ has given. Even the bishops and the Pope cannot recast the Church. We have clear tradition and the Scriptures which must serve as the basis of the of how we understand ourselves. The Church is the servant of the Word of God, not its master. We must interpret and understand the Word of God but we cannot and must not over ride it.

Bishop Tobin has asked Congressman Kennedy to be honest and understand that he is not in communion with the real Catholic Church. Communion with the real Church has real parameters. There are just some things not compatible with being a Catholic and in communion with the real Catholic Church. There is a “bridge too far” that cannot be crossed for me to claim I am still in my homeland. At some point I have left the motherland , at some point I no longer speak my mother-tongue, the language of faith.

In the video below Congressman Kennedy has indicated that the bishops and the Church are simply guilty of being divisive and “fanning the flames of dissent and discord.” But Mr, Kennedy you have it exactly backwards. In the Catholic Church the bishops in union with the Pope ARE  unity and accord! It is those who break union with the Bishop and Pope who are guilty of dissent and discord. If you claim to be Catholic you cannot also claim to be working for unity when you oppose the Pope and bishops in union with him. They ARE the source of our unity. This is not new idea. St Ignatius of Antioch stated it all pretty clearly when he said:

It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of God who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible….I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ,… As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters…. let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.  (Ignatius to the Church at Magnesia 3,6-7)

It is simply impossible to speak of unity in the Catholic Church apart from the Pope and the bishops in union with him.  Congressman Kennedy, you are the one guilty of disunity and discord if you walk away from the Pope and the Bishops in union with him on important moral issues of our day. It is a strange sort of logic to break union union with the Pope and bishops and then accuse them of breaking union and sowing disunity and discord.  The bishops in union with the pope are not the source of disunity, they are the STANDARD of unity and the source of union for every Catholic.


52 Replies to “A Strange Sort of Logic – The Kennedy Case”

  1. Sin leads to sin. May Jesus, who is the Light of the world, guide this poor soul to the truth and back to the bulwark of the truth, namely, God and the Church.

    1. Yes, your comment is the real purpose of such measures, that the person may come to realize the true serousness of their sin and also that you and I will pray for them. Thank you.

  2. On one hand we’ve supermarket religion.’look here God and you bishop. I’ll believe this and that. I’ll do this and that. But not believe what you’re telling me now neither will i do what you taught yesterday’
    On the other hand we’ve market religion. ‘What will you,God and bishop, give me if I believe this and that’.
    ‘Only God knows the truth who’re you.’ Such is our faith which we practise daily on earth. AHEM

    1. Interesting insights. particularly about market religion. I suppose most of us fall into the trap of thinking from time to time that “I’ll do something nice for God so that he will have to do something nice for me.” Oh well oremus pro invicem!

  3. I think Bishop Tobin has caused grave scandal and the end result will be both a loss to the success of evangelization and a loss of success for the pro-life movement.

    With all respect to him, I would not expect Congressman Kennedy to be a particularly articulate person on the theology present in this question. But Bishop Tobin is far from an ideal spokesperson as well. The claim is made about creating a fictional Church. But Bishop Tobin is known for his own fictional conversations with the President. When a man lowers his dignity and the dignity of the office of bishop by publishing a made-up, polemical and belligerent conversation he imagined he had with the President of the United States, the general public has a more difficult time accepting that even his more reasoned statements might be well-considered.

    Yes, members of the Catholic faith who do not fully witness the Church’s commitment to life (the life of the unborn, the sick, the convicted, and innocent civilians in war zones) present a challenge to the Church. I find it hard to understand how Congressman Kennedy is fully committed to this vision. In fact, I find few in public life who I can understand to be fully committed to this vision.

    Personally, I am a strong supporter of the Stupak Amendment. Others have argued that the Capps Amendment or the proposed Ellsworth Amendment disallow government abortion funding. I disagree with them. I cannot accept, however, that a person sincerely holding the theory that the Capps or Ellsworth language does bar federal funding of abortion places themselves outside of full communion with the Catholic Church.

    In fact, I don’t disallow that there could be some merit to the theory that these alternative measures are an authentic prohibition of federal funding. I have yet to hear of a public official that would take an oath that the criteria applied here will be applied by them to all future issues of the definition of federal funding when the issue is other than abortion.

    But I have not explored that issue in detail. The reason being is that if the Stupak Amendment does restrict abortion coverage in private and employer sponsored plans, all the better. I don’t put non-interference in the private market ahead of my pro-life beliefs.

    And on that issue, I must raise a question that has troubled me for years. I have heard many times of Catholic clergy raising the issue of communion for public officials that allow for abortion or abortion funding, these public officials generally being liberal Democrats. But I have never heard once — including from Bishop Tobin, Archbishop Wuerl, or from you, Father, one word against corporate CEOs (generally conservative free-market Republicans) who fund their employees’ abortions. Not only have none of these CEOs been the subject of public discussion of their communion status or appropriatness to be honored at a Catholic college, but there has been as far as I am aware forty years of silence from the Church on this behavior.

    For me, that is a scandal and that is why I follow my own counsel on the fine points of legislative strategy for the pro-life cause than the policy positions of the bishops.

    1. I understand your initial points. It seems that when we come to these disciplinary measures we’re into matter where reasonable men and women will differ on what to do. Should we punish at all, how much, when and so forth. Bishop Tobin has discerned what he thinks is right in the matter at hand and will certainly have to face the critique of others who think he should have decided differently. I guess that is disadvantage of being a leader who ultimately has to decide. Many other bishops who have decided on little or no disciplinary measures also face criticism.

      As to your point about the politics let me add that the Stupak ammendment was thanks to a very good number of pro-life democrats who fought hard to exclude abortion funding. Bravo for them all. It also helps to indicate that this issue is not purely partisan. There are pro-life democrates and not few in number. There are also republicans who are either pro-choice or skwishy on abortion. I am also not sure that CEO’s are largely Republicans. The democratic Party surely has large numbers of corporate contributors, perhaps even more than the Republican Party. Anyway, I would hardly describe CEOs as largely conservative free market republicans. Many of them are at the government trough and get alot of “corporate welfare” and are thus very deeply tied to philosophies other than free market. I don’t have surveys but I simply want to say that I don’t accept the observation. That said, I am also not sure how CEOs fund employee abortions. Perhaps you mean through insurance? Anyway, I think its a worthy conversation to have. But I might also add that what we’re probably dealing with there is what is called remote cooperation. Most large corporations just link to large insurance providers and buy packages or even allow employees to choose certain providers. I doubt most CEOs look to the details. I think though you have pointed out a worthy conversation to start with them. Politicians are sometimes in a much more serious serious situation that with remote material cooperation however. There are some large omnibus bills that have some abortion funding tucked in somewhere in a murky way. If a politiican votes for that it is a rather remote cooperation. However, in this case when the MR. Kennedy was given the opportunity to vote quite specifically to fund or not to fund abortion in the healthcare package. He rejected the ammendment AND indicated that this had no impact on his status as a Catholic. Such a vote is not remote cooperation with abortion and funding, it is very direct and material cooperation. He furthered his misguided journey by insisting that Catholics are free to do such things without any reduction in their status as “loyal Catholics.” Public leaders have to be very careful in what comes out of their mouths since they have a capacity to mislead people. In such cases it seems a bishop must act to set the record straight.

      So, Kurt, where do you think we can begin to begin a conversation with catholic CEOs as to their involvement in funding abortion? As I have stated it is a worthy conversation to have and a good addition to the movement. Politicians are often discussed because there “out there” but as point out, there’s a lto that also goes on behind the scenes that should be addressed.

    2. I agree wholeheartedly that with you when you say:
      “I cannot accept, however, that a person sincerely holding the theory that the Capps or Ellsworth language does bar federal funding of abortion places themselves outside of full communion with the Catholic Church.”

      However, that is not the issue here. Kennedy, if you watch the video, isn’t concerned with whether the Capps or Ellsworth language does enough to stop the “federal funding of abortions places”. Rather, he believes that there shouldn’t be any barring of funds whatsoever.

      Which leads to the question, ‘how does this necessitate barring him from communion?’ Certainly there are thousands of individuals in parishes across the U.S. who completely agree with Kennedy but are *not* being denied Holy Communion. The difference is that Kennedy, as a politician claiming to be a part of the Catholic Church, has voluntarily taken on the responsibility of representing the Catholic Church for the entire country. So when such an individual makes an incorrect claim about the Church, its principles, or what its principles should be, the Church has the responsibility to make it publicly known that the politician’s views are not in accord with the Church; that they’re not representative of the faith. However, to announce that someone is not in communion with the church, but then let them receive Holy Communion are two contrary actions. So both must be taken.

      Usually, those who are not politicians, such as CEOs are not barred from Communion. This is because the circumstances are when the individuals outright, publicly announce that the beliefs of the Catholic Church are different from what they are or should be different from what they are. If they do not do this, then they are not publicly making claims about “their” church and so cannot be publicly corrected.

      One instance of when someone other than a politician was disciplined in such a manner was when two female Catholic parishioners began a homosexual relationship. That alone is not enough to be denied communion, however, the two women became very public about their religion *and* their relationship and they encouraged other Catholics to believe that there was no moral error. Because of this publicity, they were informed that they were not in communion with the Church and they were denied Holy Communion.

      For all we know, the Catholic CEOs of America could be (although probably not that regularly) receiving letters from their respective bishops about their responsibility to hold fast to their faith and do whatever is in their power to stop abortion. However, these are not public representations of the faith and so cannot be publicly reprimanded. If they started to publicly proclaim that the Church should permit them to “fund their employees’ abortions”, *then* they would face the same discipline as Kennedy.

      It is worth note that those such as the Catholic CEOs who fund abortions are, as anyone else who participates intentionally in abortions, automatically excommunicated from the Church and so are denied Holy Communion in the private sense: their reception of it does only harm to them.

      1. Certainly there are thousands of individuals in parishes across the U.S. who completely agree with Kennedy but are *not* being denied Holy Communion.

        In addition to those who agree with Kennedy, there are countless others who have, in their own way, set themselves over and against the Church, like those who have divorced and remarried, those who are sexually active outside of marriage, those who are contracepting, those who deny the authority of the bishop, those who take an “I’ll do what I want” attitude toward the Faith. And then there are those who simply are in a state of grave sin and don’t bother to go to Confession.

        While all of these people may not be the subject of a specific and personal public admonishment, they are, in fact, instructed to voluntarily refrain from presenting themselves for reception of the Eucharist. The guidelines promulgated by the bishops states:
        As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession. . . .

        Devout reception and proper disposition mean more than, so long as you are not a mass murderer, it’s OK to go to Communion. The Eucharist is called “Communion” for a reason. It means a very profound unity, “being one with.” When one is not “one with” the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ, then communion is not present. For this reason, those Christians not in union with the Catholic Church are not to receive: Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion.

        This is far from a case of Patrick Kennedy being singled out. This is far from a case of pro-choice Catholic politicians being singled out. There are many, many more people who should not be presenting themselves for reception of the Eucharist, and the Church has made that teaching clear. This is not to punish them, this is not to deny them that which they really do need. Rather, it is to protect the sanctity of our Lord and to encourage people to return to Him and His Church fully and completely, not merely bodily or culturally, but mind and soul as well.

    3. “I think Bishop Tobin has caused grave scandal”

      Grave huh? For someone who writes as if they are theologically versed, you seem to be quite ignorant of what “grave” means.

      As for your CEO question, let me get this straight. An argument of yours against the bishop’s actions is to point to the absence of comments specifically aimed at CEOs?

      I’ll give you this, the 40+ years of silence by the priests and bishops on social issues has been a grave issue for the church – and yes I mean grave in the theological sense. But to question a bishop because of the silence of the past?….

      And to claim that the bishop committed a grave scandal against evangelization because the bishop merely did EXACTLY what Christ commanded of His apostles?

      Let me sum up for you what I see. I see grave ignorance of Catholicism. And I see… “I cannot accept,” … a man who is his own god.


      1. Yes, I think HCSK that the 40+ years of silence is a huge factor in these situations. I don’t know if the word silence is fair but there has surely been a muted and uncertain trumpet. I think the identification of abortion as a “conservative issue” made many clergy reticent to tackle it. As can be seen in this very issue, politics surely intersects with abortion and the devil loves it. But in the end we have to courageously speak even if some question our motives. In the end, the bishops and priests have to be clearer than we have been. SOme see this as a cahnging of the rules of the game but I see it as a return to what we should always have done. Much as you claim.

  4. Mr Kennedy speaks of the Catholic Church as “they”. It seems to me that he’s already left us on his own volition.

  5. I am a convert and now lead RCIA groups. I watched the video. I can clearly see that Mr. Kennedy does not spend much time in Mass. He doesn’t understand the Catholic faith. When I see cradle catholics who talk like that, they are creating their own religion. They are not of the Catholic faith that has been handed down and protected by the hierarchy for centuries.
    There are many Protestant denominations who do not want abortion in the Health Care Reform bill. But, as usual, the Catholic faith takes the lead and the hit.

  6. God bless Bishop Tobin. May all the other Bishops of wayward Catholic politicians take courage and instruct them in the same way as Bishop Tobin has Kennedy. This is the process of reclaiming the moral authority that our Bishops sold to politicians for 30 pieces of silver to fund welfare and social programs. We must pray for them that they succeed in taking back their authority.

    1. yes, please do pray! There is a kind of taking up of authority cast aside and the world reacts with as much shock as anger. Further, there are calims of inconsistency in applying that authority (see below). But in all this storm and scorn we still need to do what is right even if we don’t do it perfectly. Pray that we can have courage and balance to speak the truth in love and to insist on what is right and just.

  7. “That said, I am also not sure how CEOs fund employee abortions. Perhaps you mean through insurance?”

    I didn’t think most insurance plans did cover abortion, except maybe when the life of the mother was in peril. In my own experience, I was able to choose between coverage offered by my employer as well as my husband’s, and in planning a family at the time, I reviewed both maternity riders and don’t recall seeing any language regarding abortion. Maybe I missed it.

    Aside from insurance, CEOs do play a major role in abortion funding. Several years back, there was an economic boycott of companies that supported funding through their corporate giving programs. It had success. Planned Parenthood’s funding dropped significantly. I often wondered why there isn’t an ongoing effort to keep these corporate identities high in profile. Many people are clueless as to how they may be particpating in the funding of abortions.

    Years back, at my children’s Catholic school, I worked to change our hot lunch program, as we were regularly purchasing from companies that do still fund abortion. Many fellow parents were taken back at who the players are, and, sadly, several didn’t care. While one would hope you could appeal to the morality of the CEOs, appealing to their bottom line has been a tried and effective measure.

    1. Yes, thanks for this contribution. I had not thought of that but it is true that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers do receive corporate funding. This is an important area for bishops and pro-life leaders to focus on. In know that in this Archdiocese we follow carefully where our endowment monies are invested and insist that the list be first apporved by the Bishop’s conference to avoid commingling our money unwittingly with the likes of Planned Parenthood. It means we have a little lower return on the portfolio but at least the blood is not on the money to the extent we can possibly avoid it.

  8. Kennedy publically stated that he requested the Bishop Tobin stop talking publically about his (Kennedy’s) faith, but then Kennedy goes to the press to state that the bishop asked him to refrain from receiving the Eucharist. Kennedy publically attacked the Church and then told other Catholics it was okay to pick and choose. Don’t you think the fact that he is a public official as well as a member of one of our nation’s “most prominent Catholic families,” required clarification from Tobin on the Church’s stand there? Furthermore, if Kennedy wants the issue to be dropped, HE should drop it.

    1. Yes, in the end we have to remember that Mr Kennedy has largely insisted on conducting this dialogue publically. For instance it was he who disclosed the Bishop’s advisment that he refrain from communion. The bishop issued no communique to this effect either to the press or the priests. It was Mr. Kennedy who disclosed these facts and has insisted that he could advise Catholics as to what it means to be a good catholic instead of the bishop. Such cliams and charges cannot go unremarked by Bishop Tobin.

  9. My own personal observation, shared by many, is that the Stupak Amendment is a bait-and-switch scam, as evidenced by the many pro “abortion rights” votes that it got. Perhaps Mr. Stupak did not mean it to be so, but we have seen how Congress works for many years now. We are no longer fooled. We know that all too many in Congress “vote for it, before they vote against it.” For many, the plan was merely to go along with it for now so that the bill would move forward and the language would be removed in conference committee.

    Even now, the Stupak Amendment is dead in the Senate, where there is a requirement for an abortion insurance premium, among other things. But I am off on a tangent here.

    One of the major problems in all of this is the inclination to look at the Church and the Faith in terms of partisan politics, to drag political parties into the issue, as well as politico-economic ideology. This is a temptation that we all should guard against, especially those of us who are interested in public policy. Although the Church, meaning here the hierarchy and Magisterium, rightly engages the world, including the political world, we should not think that when a bishop or bishops or the Pope or a priest speaks or acts with respect to a public issue that it he or they have subjective political motives. We should not be like the Zealots, who tried to reduce the Messiah to some political revolutionary. The Church is neither Democrat nor Republican; she is neither conservative nor liberal; she is neither left nor right. The Church is simply Catholic. Period. One, Holy, Universal (Catholic), and Apostolic.

    To be sure, with the rise of state and national bishops’ conferences with public policy components, we might occasionally see some inappropriate politicization of the Faith, especially by the staff, but when a Successor of the Apostles speaks to the necessity for the unity of the faith and the faithful, especially in the matter of the Sacraments, and speaks to matters of truth on things such as the inherent dignity of human life, and on our obligation in truth and charity to work for the protection of innocent human life, he is not engaging in politics. He is preaching the Faith. Even when that speech is directed toward one who is a politician, it is a matter of defending the Faith.

    The politician may retort with “Quid est veritas?” Or the politician may try to drag politics into it, as if it were a matter of a mere earthly kingdom. Or the politician may try to weasel his way out of the problem by some compromise contrary to justice. Or the politician may lash out and seek to injure and mock the bishop. Or the politician may eventually seek to simply wash his hands of the matter. But it is not a matter of partisan politics. The bishop, an alter Christus, comes to testify to the truth. If we belong to the truth, we should listen to his voice.

  10. Excellent explanation.

    Yes, there are bishops that are criticized for their laissez faire style of management that has proven to be disastrous and have inevidently produced Catholics such as Patrick Kennedy.

    I applaud Bishop Tobin for his charitable response towards Mr. Kennedy. We should be so lucky that bishops are able to take the time and interest to our eternal welfare that we make it into heaven.

    God bless Bishop Tobin. He is receiving many, many prayers from many, many practicing Catholics that are tired of being ridiculed for standing up to their faith. We now have a shepherd who does their job and no longer leaves us out in the cold wondering if God left us incompetent prelates to lead us.

  11. I could only take Bishop Tobin’s letter seriously if he and other Bishops dealt with all disagreements with the Church’s teachings uniformly. What about for politicians who disagree on the death penatly? on authorizing the Iraq war? on torture? on immigration? on poverty? Did I miss the Gospel that spelled out that there was only one commandment: thou shallt not support abortion?

    1. I fully agree Dennis! Those who speak with authority for the church cannot pick and choose. Also, what about those priests who covered up the abuse of young children but are still in positions of leadership? I’ve never been to Mass where the priest didn’t take communion.

      1. Well, the problem with what you call “pick and choose” is that not all moral issues are created alike. Some moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia are clearly and intrisically wrong. In moral theology terms they are “malum in se ex toto genere suo” (evil in themsleves in the totality of their substance – i.e. they are always wrong in themselves with no exceptions). Abortion, pre-meditated murder of the innocent, etc are examples of such intrisically evil acts. Other moral issues are less certain. For example, how best should we care for the poor? One could not be a faithful Catholic and claim that the poor should be uncared for. However, reasonable Catholics differ as to the best way to do that: Large gov’t based programs or local and private efforts. Should such help contains conditions for self improvement or should they simply be gratis. etc. Another example is war. Clearly no one can be a faithful Catholic and suggest that the first recourse to threat is all out war. War is to be avoided and should be a last recourse to a very serious threat and the only remaining viable solution (Just war tradition). However, applying these principles calls for some discernment and reasonable people will differ. It is less possible for for Bishops or priests to render public assessments or canonical penalties when judgments are not so cut and dry and the moral question involved is not intrisically evil. War for example might be morally justified in some cases, say to protect the innocent or rescue people from grave harm, or to preserve the freedoms of others.

        Hence to some extent Church leaders have to pick and choose since not all moral issues are equal, or certain as to what is the “right” vs worng application of Christian doctrine. The bishops can only insist under pain of excommunication or other canonical penalty when the moral issue involved is clear and admitting of no exception or varying application.

    2. Because abortion is clearly and always wrong. We can and do have disagreements on what is the best way to help the poor, or over what is a justifiable war and what is not. No one can know for certain these issues, though the bishops can have a pastoral view on what is right and wrong in these matters. But we cannot have a disagreement over whether abortion is right or wrong. It is always wrong.

      1. Torturing people is intrinsically wrong.
        Denying services to people based on their immigrant status is intrinsically wrong.
        Going to war with insuffcient threat is intrinsically wrong.
        Knowingly allowing the molestation of children is intrinsically wrong.

        Shall I continue?

      2. Yes, you do need to go on Dennis. Your lists often lacks important distinctions. I will accept that torturing people is wrong but the definition of torture is very debated. Some argue that simply yelling or playing loud music is torture. I will grant that it is unpleasnt but torture is something that reasonable people differ on in terms of defining it. Denying services to immigrants can very well be wrong. But what services? Also is there no recourse as regards laws that are broken. I am generally an open border kind of guy when it comes to immigration but I will admit that there are real and significnat issues that set up if we have no laws and no consequence for breaking those laws. I have already talked about war. You say insufficient reason. I agree insufficient reason makes it wrong but define insufficient reason. Reason men differ in some regard. Knowingly allowing molestation of children is intrinsically wrong – no debate there.

        But your examples, save the last one, all illustrate my point which is that the Bishops have far less basis to punish non-compliance since “non-compliance is less well defined than in the case of abortion.

  12. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    I appreciate your response. Let me address one matter first. As a Catholic, I am most proud of the USCCB for the time, energy and resources they put in to winning adoption of the Stupak amendment. Its success was a great joy to me. I contributed in what small ways I could, but much good was done by the efforts of various bishops to communicate with members of Congress and in educating and mobilizing the Catholic faithful. While my legislative analysis of the Stupak amendment and the alternatives (Capps, Ellsworth, etc.) convinces me that the alternatives fell short and that Stupak was needed, I really cannot accept that every Catholic who comes to a different analysis of this piece of legislation has separated themselves from full communion with the Church. Will next policymakers be denied communion for how they vote on the adoption of the Rule? A motion to proceed? A cloture motion?

    Sadly, as someone who tries to win hearts and minds to the pro-life cause, I find actions like these hurt our efforts far more than help.

    I do suspect many, in fact most, opponents of Stupak do not fully embraced the Church’s teaching on life. Fortunately for them, no one is denied the Eucharist because of my suspicions. But frankly even if the Holy Father himself was suspicious as to the inner motivations of someone voting on a legislative proposal, I would find it a scandal to deny the Eucharist on that basis (on the other hand, I do believe that voters have every right to cast their vote on those running for elected office based on suspicions, gut feelings, etc).

    On the second matter, you ask “So, Kurt, where do you think we can begin to begin a conversation with catholic CEOs as to their involvement in funding abortion?” I don’t have a good suggestion on how the Church can enter this conversation following 36 years of silence (since Roe v. Wade) towards the leaders of business. I can tell you I have long been having that conversation to the degree my situation and place allows and I would welcome more voices on the pro-life side.

    In discerning how to approach both leaders of business and leaders of government, I use one test. I have seen first hand the tremedous compassion, sympathy, understanding, love, and care pro-life Catholics have shown women considering abortion. This has been among the most beautiful and saintly actions I’ve know people to engage in. And when these women make the wrong decision, none of that compassion, sympathy, or love become any the less. Their hearts were always open to the possibility that while these women may have made a terrible choice, they likely did not fully understand their actions.

    When we apply a harsher moral standard or harsher rhetoric to policymakers or businessmen a step or two removed from the actual deed we rightfully find so offensive, it creates scandal. We need to approach them with the same compassion we give to mothers in crisis pregnancies and at times accept disappointment with the same heavy but always hopeful hearts. Finally, looking to the Blessed Mother for support never hurts.

    1. Yeah I guess Kurt that the question of harsher punishments as being scandalous or causing more harm than good is the central point in question here. And it seems that reasonable people just differ on that conclusion. Some fear further alienating people who are “fence-sitters” on the issue. Others fear that saying and doing nothing punitive sends the wrong message and increases the ranks of those who like Mr. Kennedy misunderstand what it means to be a Catholic and allows them to continue to do damage and spread ignorance. As you can tell by my post I am in this category. I think we have to have some punitive measures. Without them no one really respects the Law. But I DO understand your concerns too and accept the fact that many good people are on both sides of this questions. The Bishops themselves are divided as to how to address this issue best and on the use of punitive measures. I also agree with you that we cannot simply use such measures but need to redouble our efforts to provide help to people in crisis over abortion.

  13. Well maybe Patrick got his catechesis from the media, as there was a great dirth of faithful teaching of Catholic truths over the past 30 years or so. And now maybe, he’s having a hard time coming to grips with these teachings. He needs our prayers so that he can accept the guidance of his Bishop and actually do a you-turn, and that in public! It’s not going to be easy for him or other public figures who have been “doing their own thing” for years. Let’s pray for him and all those in authority who will in the end have to give an account to God for their actions. Lord have mercy on us all. – Blessings – Rene

  14. The confusion left in the wake of Ted Kennedy’s funeral and Cardinal O’Malley’s superficial reasons for permitting it leaves the public bewildered as evidenced by some of the comments here. A public figure working for legislation that supports or promotes abortion MUST be denied Holy Communion. Archbishop Burke has written extensively on this issue. To give communion in these circumstances creates scandal and scandal promotes spiritual murder and suicide. Some Catholics choose the Caiaphas option when they ratify legislation that leads to bloodshed. End of story!

    1. Yes, indeed, many Catholic are rightfully confused as to the very different messages they seem to get from our clerical leaders. I blogged a lot on the Kennedy funeral in this regard at that time. There was a lot of puzzling “teaching” in that whole funeral moment and, like now, very strong opinions on both sides.

  15. We have a representative form of government in America.
    The majority rules. Representatives are required under oath to take the majority
    opinion to Washington, regardless of party affiliations.
    Polls show that 69% or better are in favor of NO PUBLIC funding of abortions
    or ANY procedures that distinguish life.
    If Rep Kennedy is disregarding his elected duty and not bringing the voice
    of the people to lawmaking halls, and dreaming up his own will, then he isn’t
    doing a proper job and should be removed from office.

    The problem that we have lately is this:
    the silent majority is becoming vocal and fed up with the minority opinion
    tromping on the voice of the masses. So, people like Rep Kennedy will
    purposely try to discredit the majority voice and make the majority resistance
    seem wrong and twist it all out of proportion.

    I heard that Bishop Tobin asked Rep Kennedy to examine himself and
    consider excluded himself way back in February 2007. It was not a recent request.
    It is only now that this is rising into the news; and according to Rep Kennedy, this story is rising
    because the Bishop desired this —which is not the case at all.

    Jesus is for ALL. Humankind can reject God’s gift or accept it. However, the terms are not
    negotiable. God sets the terms. The Bishop is just reminding the Representative this
    AND anyone else who believes that humankind can have dominion over life and death.
    God forbids humankind grasping at what is for God and God alone.

    The Bishop is just reminding the Representative and anyone else that the catholic Christian
    faith firmly professes God’s dominion over life and death. If a person cannot firmly profess
    this basic fundamental, then they should exam why not, and follow the path that their examination
    leads them. If they need assistance with their examination, then the catholic Christian Church
    will be right there to help.

  16. Fr. Pope:

    This issue is not decided by the opinions of those on various side of of the issue. The teaching is clear. The application less so. Which in effect means: why is the hierarchy in support of the opining of individuals- be they bishops instead of following clear teaching in canon law.
    We now live in a time when law means nothing and the opinions of men mean everything. Dare I say apostasy?

    Fr. Clark

  17. The Holy Father and the bishops and priests united with him remain the touchstone of communion and unity and among them there is no confusion however small the group happens to be. Those who disagree with those charged to speak for Christ have, in effect,”opted out” of that communion which has its source in Jesus Christ. In effect they have chosen darkness and death as St. John reminds us in the Gospel and are on their own. Freedom exercised apart from truth always culminates in slavery to sin and other forms of human servitudes.

  18. Okay, Monsegneuir. I will go on. How about the denial of the existance of the genocide of European Jews (the holocaust)? Does that not go against Church teaching, or can reasonable minds differ about that? If I am not mistaken, holding those views gets you welcomed back to communion with the Church, not told to stay away.

    1. Denying the Holocaust would in fact be a serious sin. But I am not aware of any Catholics who have publically done so. Bishop Williamson is not in communion with the Church now or when he did seem to deny it or at least its magnitude. He has since apologized and recanted. Hence your example is somewhat theoretical. I suppose if he did contiune to publicly deny it he could not be welcomed back. But again lets be clear, he is still not in union with Rome, the excommunication for ordaining bishops has been set aside but he is still in schism. If he renews his cahrges I am sure it will be an obstacle to any further movement toward communion with him.

  19. Yes, Msgr. Pope makes a valid point about Williamson.

    Probably a better example would be Justice Scalia. The Justice is, from what I know, a devout and practicing Catholic. I find his faith very sincere.

    On the matter of the death penalty, he doesn’t wiggle around like some do and insist that the Church allows for permissive use of capital punishment. Justice Scalia describes himself as a dissenter from the church’s teaching on this matter. He freely admits he dissents from the Church.

    On the issue of abortion, the Justice claims that while he personally believes what the Church teaches on abortion, that has nothing to do with his legal views. The Justice has stated that he believes in the legal theory of strict constructionism. By that he believes Roe was wrongly decided because the authors of the Constitution never meant abortion to be a constitutional right. On the other hand, he does not believe a fetus is a person under the Constitution, because historically, this was not the understanding of the writers.

    Scalia comes to a conclusion that I find satisfactory and one that I think has the practical effect of advancing the protection of human life. But it really doesn’t intellectually match up with the Church’s teaching, however much it aids our political goal of protecting the unborn.

    1. Ok but the Scalia case also needs some distinctions. Justice Scalia isn’t dissenting on the matter of Capital Punishment since the Church does not teach that CP cannot ever be used. I have blogged on this elsewhere: http://blog.adw.org/2009/11/the-death-penalty-in-our-times/ The Church teaches that the State does have this power and can exercise it. However, it is the pastoral judgement of the Church that such punishments are best not used and would ask that they practically if never be used. I concur with this and would wish that every Catholic did so as well. That was the point of the blog I referenced just above. But the Pope and Bishops cannot start excommunicating people or advising against receiving communion because they disagree over pastoral judgements or strategies. Justice Scalia may have (erroneously) described himself as a dissenter in this matter but, if he did, he is not technically correct. I think Justice Scalia is smarter than that however and suspect that something got lost in the translation of what he actually said.

      As far as his statements on Abortion, I understand a judge insisting that his views are based only in Law and have nothing to do with his faith. Here too I suspect that the Judge may not be saying excatly what is reported here. But let’s just presume he said it exactly as you say and that Church teaching has NOTHING to do with his position. Perhaps, though I doubt him a bit on that. I think we all like to say our views are based on only one thing or another but the fact is that we are all more complicated than that. We have many things that influence us, not just one thing. On the other hand I fully understand that Justice Scalia must make legal ARGUMENTS based solely on a legal basis. It would be inappropriate, generally speaking for a justice of the Supreme Court to base a legal decision on a bible quote or a Church dogma. The discipline of law limits itself to the jurisprudence of law and precedent. I too think that a very convincing case can be made on the basis of legal principles alone that Roe is bad law and radically oversteps the bounds of constitutional rights or law. BUT I will also admit that my personal views on this are NOT merely legal, they are influenced by my faith. I am human and I have many things that influence my thinking. To say that my thinking is 100% pure legal would be false. But I make no apologies for admitting many influences. For more on this see my blog post on http://blog.adw.org/2009/11/pondering-the-hermeneutic-of-suspicion/ If I were a lawyer however I would have to limit my arguments to the stated principles of law. If Justice Scalia is saying what you claim, that church teaching “has NOTHING to do with” his personal views on abortion, I’ll just say I doubt it. But I also admit that he IS able to argue against ROE without citing Church teaching, that is true.

  20. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    When you say the Church does not teach that CP cannot ever be used, are you saying that any use of CP is not contrary to Church teaching but simply a pastoral strategy? My understanding is that while there are a range of situatons that fit that description, there are also circumstance that are clearly outside of it. It is very kind of you to assume when Justice Scalia says (as he did at Georgetown) that he dissents from Chuch teachings, he is mistaken. That is a level of charity we should all try to apply widely.

    As to abortion, while I appreciate the practical results of Justice Scalia’s stated views, intellectually he denies the legal personhood of the unborn — claming Roe is wrongly decided but the unborn are not “persons” under law. Can a Catholic deny the personhood of the unborn?

  21. As I understand Justice Scalia’s position: the abortion matter should have been decided at the level of the
    State subject to the legislative process that exists in a democracy. If the States opted for abortion rights his view of the Constitution clearly permits this. I think he is mistaken because his jurisprudence depends more on a positivist view of law rather than the natural law. I believe his son who is a priest disagrees with him on this.
    While communicants a duty, perhaps primary duty, to examine their conscience before receiving communion it is beyond any intelligible reason as why the Bishops, who also have duties, have yet to enforce Canon 915. That Canon was promulgated over 25 years ago but the bishop’s antinomian tendencies have them opting for what has been called the “pastoral approach”. Cardinal McCarrick was in direct conflict with the CDF on this issue a few years ago claiming, in effect, that implementation of C-915 was left to the prudence of the bishops.
    So much for unity. The choice has been made: it is better for one man to die than a nation to perish. It is interesting that Casey v PlannedParenthood actually uses the rationale in the opinion that Roe v Wade, though decided wrongly, would cause too much social disturbance in lives of people who had structure their lives around that opinion.
    There is no doctor who doubts the medical fact that life begins at conception and no facile reasoning about privacy rights and “emmanations from penumbras” that justify the taking of life. How long did Jerusalem survive after abandoning a human person in favor of the carnage of politics? One generation! The question for Americans: is Titus on his way or is he already here?

  22. Kurt: As you know a distinction is made between moral absolutes which admit of no exception i.e. abortion, and moral acts which are qualified by intention and circumstances. Although I don’t think it is normally a good idea to disagree with prudential decisions of the Church: capital punishment. It can be done with sufficient reason. The deference the Church gives through subsidiarity allows for this. Canon 915 does not seem applicable to matters of prudence where men of good will can reasonably disagree. Church teaching still allows for CP and calls it a “right” in the CCC. JPII convince me personally in Evangelium Vitae that CP is not necessary in the modern world. But one parishioner held in good will that as long as liberal parole boards continued to release dangerous criminals back into society a State had the right to protect itself against this threat. In my judgement that is a sufficient reason for a Catholic to disagree with an ecclesial prudential decision.

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