Less of a Catholic
By JOHN WILSON – New York Post – Nov. 28, 2009
News broke this week that Thomas Tobin, the Catholic bishop of Providence, RI, had in 2007 asked Rep. Patrick Kennedy to refrain from receiving Communion because of the congressman's support for legalized abortion. The ensuing howls of protest almost universally missed the point.
Some Catholic writers charged that Tobin was sowing division within the church and "politicizing" the sacrament. On the pro-choice left, Tobin was flayed for everything from "religious blackmail" to -- inexplicably -- violating the separation of church and state.
Perhaps the strangest comment came from former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who predicted that if pols like Kennedy started listening to the bishop, "nobody would vote for Catholics" because voters would fear they'd "be guided by [their] faith."
Yet Tobin's stand has practically nothing to do with wielding political power -- and everything to do with preserving a coherent definition of what being Catholic means in the first place.
And, if he succeeds, it might go a long way toward returning some thoughtfulness to America's public discourse.
It's a steep mountain to climb: Kennedy is heir -- literally as well as figuratively -- to a long line of pro-choice, self-professedly Catholic politicians who've managed to pretend to be in line with the Catholic position on abortion while in fact flatly ignoring it.
"The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic," Kennedy said earlier this month, criticizing the US bishops' opposition to any public funding of abortion as part of ObamaCare.
His statement tracks well with Cuomo's famous 1984 pronouncement that, while he's opposed to abortion in his "private observance" as a Catholic, he sees no need "to press the case that our morality should be everybody else's" -- i.e., to work for an end to abortion in law.
That's essentially been the line taken by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Gov. Paterson, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- and, of course, Kennedy's father, the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.
It's also, logically speaking, nonsense.
Kennedy, Cuomo & Co. are essentially saying, per the Catholic understanding, that they believe an unborn child to be an innocent human being possessing full human dignity -- yet the state is under no obligation to protect that child from intentional violent death.
This is why the church presents its opposition to abortion as a matter of social justice, not just personal morality: There's a necessary, logical link, it reasons, between the belief in a just and loving God and the responsibility of a political leader to strive for justice.
So, what's behind all the grief Tobin's been taking?
Part of it, undoubtedly, is cultural: For families like the Kennedys, Catholicism is often as much a marker of clan identity as of creed.
From that perspective, the bishop's insistence that the faith makes demands on one's actions would smack of coercion -- much like threatening to snatch a prized heirloom from the parlor.
But if, as Tobin insists, the church is a communion of believers, then it's entirely Kennedy's choice whether to sign on.
The broader critique -- that the mere expectation that politicians allow their faith to influence their public duties smacks of theocracy -- is just as vapid.
By that logic, the biggest violator of church-state separation in US history would have been the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- though it's doubtful Cuomo would say Americans would fear his being "guided by faith."
In reality, the Catholic Church is simply the strongest repository nowadays for a fully public and reasoned argument: that unborn children, possessing the attributes attendant human life, deserve the protection of law.
The faux pluralism that recoils from "imposing" a "religious" viewpoint merely allows Kennedy, Cuomo and Pelosi to duck that argument entirely -- all while pretending to remain faithful to Catholic doctrine.
Catholics, as a practical matter, may argue over precisely how far bishops should go in rebuking pro-choice pols -- though one should note that Tobin's dealing with Kennedy was fairly cool-headed.
He brought his concerns to the congressman in private -- and only spoke out publicly when Kennedy implied that a faithful Catholic can believe whatever he darn well pleases.
No surprise there: A bishop's job is to teach the faith.
The rest of the country should wish him well, too. Anyone who prompts our politicians to show more intellectual honesty can't be half bad.
It is, indeed, refreshing to read an article by a writer with the intestinal fortitude to speak in support of a Catholic Bishop who has done nothing more than explain the Church’s position on abortion and a Catholic layperson’s obligation to abide by that position if he or she chooses to remain in communion with their Church. As the writer so aptly states, he has done his job and done it well. Congratulations to John Wilson on a courageous and well written article!