Of Marshmallows and Militants

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. (Source)

Once again, we have an episcopal spine alert coming from the U.S. 

Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island seems to actually take the Gospel and his role as bishop seriously.  That’s a refreshing change from what we’re use to seeing, is it not?

So, just to ensure you’re all following here.  Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy’s father, was accorded a grandiose public funeral by the Marshmallow Wing of the Church.  He did far, far worse than Patrick Kennedy will ever do in his life.  In fact, Ted Kennedy arguably did more to support and spread abortion than any politician in history – certainly American history, at the very least.  And yet, Bishop Tobin has questioned Patrick Kennedy’s Catholicism because of the latter’s support for abortion.   I very much doubt that Patrick Kennedy would be given a public funeral or any Catholic honour by Bishop Tobin, the way it stands now.

It’s quite clear that we have two diametrically opposing views of how to live the Catholic faith.  One is accommodating towards the world – not in a healthy sense – but like a prostitute, spreading her most precious beliefs and gifts to be trodden over by the swine.  The other view is caricatured by “fundamentalism” and “militantism”.  That’s false, of course. But that’s the caricature just the same.

So we have two kinds of Catholics:  Militants and Marshmallows.   Militants actually believe in the Catholic faith and believe there should be consequences to not publicly adhering to it, especially when the departures from it are so grossly scandalous as in the case of abortion or gay “marriage”.  The Marshmallows believe everything the Church teaches too, but for them, they would prefer not to disturb the Catholic political class because that would mean the good reputations they have made in the world would suffer.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)


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