Late in the legislative session and on the coattails of New York’s redefining marriage, the Rhode Island Senate passed civil union legislation this past Wednesday. Governor Chafee, who made “same-sex marriage” a priority in his inauguration speech, has promised to quickly sign the bill into law. Bishop Thomas Tobin has not been silent on the fight against “same-sex marriage” and was instrumental in rallying Rhode Island Catholics against its passage. Here is his statement issued after the passage of civil unions:
I am deeply disappointed that Rhode Island will establish civil unions in our state. The concept of civil unions is a social experiment that promotes an immoral lifestyle, is a mockery of the institution of marriage as designed by God, undermines the well-being of our families, and poses a threat to religious liberty.
In this context it is my obligation to remind Catholics of the teachings of the Church on this matter. First, the Church continues to have respect and love for persons with same-sex attraction; they are indeed children of God and our brothers and sisters in the human family. We pray for their well-being and offer them spiritual guidance and pastoral care. We also extend our love and support to families of homosexual persons who sometimes struggle with this difficult emotional issue.
At the same time, the Church reminds its members that homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law and the will of God and, therefore, is objectively sinful. Persons with same-sex attraction are required to live the Christian virtues of chastity and modesty, as all persons are. The importance of these virtues is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures and in the constant tradition of the Church.
Because civil unions promote an unacceptable lifestyle, undermine the faith of the Church on holy matrimony, and cause scandal and confusion, Catholics may not participate in civil unions. To do so is a very grave violation of the moral law and, thus, seriously sinful. A civil union can never be accepted as a legitimate alternative to matrimony.
Can there be any doubt that Almighty God will, in His own time and way, pass judgment upon our state, its leaders and citizens, for abandoning His commands and embracing public immorality? I encourage Catholics to pray for God’s patience, mercy and forgiveness in these distressing times.
An American bishop with a penchant for plain speech explains how—and why—he has become involved in public controversies.
Our newly elected governor, Lincoln Chafee, is an Independent. He made promotion of same-sex marriage one of his priorities, even mentioning it in his inaugural address. And the new Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox, is an openly gay man who has also made it one of his priorities.
The President’s Speech; Why I Wasn’t Impressed
Since that deadly day nearly two weeks ago, the story has dominated the news; we’ve learned many details about the deranged shooter and his innocent victims; we’ve debated the causes and consequences of the event; and we’ve prayed for all those who have suffered so much from the violence.
President Obama traveled to Tucson and did his level best to offer his sympathy and support, to encourage a city and a nation, and to invite us all to a better future marked especially by more civility in public discourse. In asking us to learn from and move beyond the terrible moment, the president appealed to Holy Scripture and to the better instincts of the human family. Noble sentiments all. As some have said, and I agree, it was his best moment as president.
As I watched Mr. Obama, though, and later reflected on his speech, I sensed there was something missing; there was something that left me cold, unimpressed and unmoved.
And suddenly it became clear. The problem, at least for me, is that President Obama’s persistent and willful promotion of abortion renders his compassionate gestures and soaring rhetoric completely disingenuous. “O come on, Bishop Tobin,” I hear you say. “Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world.” Correct, I respond. Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world but it is the most important. And, I confess, abortion policy is the prism through which I view everything this president says and does.
Is there any longer any doubt that Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion president we’ve ever had?
President Obama has enthusiastically supported the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade that has allowed virtually unrestricted access to abortion in our nation and has resulted in approximately 50 million deaths since 1973.
President Obama has consistently surrounded himself with pro-abortion advisors, and has appointed pro-abortion politicians to key positions in the federal government, including his two nominees for the Supreme Court.
President Obama has promulgated policies, including the overturn of the Mexico City Policy (within the first few hours of his presidency) that requires taxpayer monies to provide abortions around the world. Similarly he signed an executive order that forces taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research; he signed a bill that overturned the 13-year-long ban of abortion funding in the nation’s capital; and he directed the passage of health care legislation that opens the door to federal funding of abortions and could eventually limit the freedom of religion for individuals and institutions who find abortion morally repugnant.
President Obama has made abortion a key foreign policy issue, pressuring nations to accept abortion policies; he’s supported several pro-abortion initiatives of the United Nations; and he’s appointed Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State. Secretary Clinton has had a consistent pro-abortion record and in her international travels has promoted abortion as a human right.
The full accounting of President Obama’s track record on abortion goes on for eight typed pages, a very sad and discouraging litany. The net effect, though, is that President Obama’s shameful record on abortion leaves his touching tribute and appeal to goodness in Tucson – and other expressions of compassion – sterile and meaningless. As he stood on the stage in Tucson, he was a prophet without credentials; his speech, a song without a soul.
Perhaps the president’s most moving rhetoric was that about Christina Taylor Green, the precious nine-year-old slain in the barrage of bullets. As a father of two beautiful daughters himself, the president’s words were surely personal and sincere. Of this child he said: “In Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic . . . So deserving of our love.”
But I can’t help but ask, respectfully, “Mr. President, why can’t you see our other children – so curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic, and so deserving of our love – in all of the unborn children who didn’t live because of our nation’s embrace of the abortion option?”
And in one of the most dramatic moments of his speech, Mr. Obama announced that the wounded congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, opened her eyes for the first time just after he’d completed his visit to her. “A miracle” some proclaimed, and certainly a welcome sign of recovery at which we all rejoice.
But I can’t help but wonder how many tiny eyes will never open, will never see the light of day, because of this president’s shortsighted and zealous promotion of abortion.
It’s truly tragic that our president – for whose safety and well-being we pray all the time and who has demonstrated an impressive ability to inspire other people – is unable to see the deadly consequences of his abortion agenda. Perhaps we need another miracle, to open his eyes, that he might see and understand how wrong abortion is, how sinful it is, how violent it is, and how it’s destroying the life of our nation.
BY BISHOP THOMAS J. TOBIN
I suppose it’s typical for human beings to sometimes take our finest gifts for granted – our health, our faith, our family and our friends, for example.
And even as Catholics we have the tendency to take for granted one of God’s most precious gifts – the Holy Eucharist, and all that it means for us. Although we typically pay lip service to the importance of the Eucharist, I wonder if we really appreciate its significance in our lives.
As the heart and soul of our Catholic Faith, the Eucharist a gift and mystery that includes several important dimensions. The Eucharist is a sacrifice – the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, made present again in a sacramental way. The Eucharist is a sacrament – the abiding presence of Christ among His people under the external forms of bread and wine. The Eucharist is a meal – established by Jesus at the Last Supper, and in which the action of eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ is essential to its meaning. And the Eucharist is a celebration – an affirmation of our faith in sign and symbol.
Each dimension of the Eucharist tells us something important about its meaning and all of them are included whenever we follow the Lord’s command: “Do this in memory of me.”
From the very beginning, even in the Apostolic era, the Church has recognized that reception of the Holy Eucharist demands a certain spiritual disposition. Here it’s helpful to recall that no one has an absolute right to receive the Eucharist, or any other sacrament for that matter. And while we routinely profess that “I am not worthy to receive you,” in recent years the requirements for receiving Holy Communion have become a hot topic, moving beyond the walls of internal Church discipline and crossing over into the political domain, even becoming the fodder of radio talk show debates.
Pope John Paul explained the criteria for receiving Holy Communion in these words: “The celebration of the Eucharist cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #35) The Pope goes on to explain that this necessary unity with the Church has both an invisible dimension (the spiritual disposition) and a visible dimension (the structural disposition.) In other, more traditional words, to properly receive Holy Communion, a communicant must be in the state of grace and be a member of the Catholic Church. These requirements apply not only to Catholic politicians – although they have particular obligations because of their role as public officials – but equally to all members of the Church.
There are other important dimensions of the Eucharist we should consider as well. And one is the fact that while the Eucharist effects union with Christ, “body and blood, soul and divinity,” it also has more horizontal, societal implications.
Pope Benedict said this: “The Eucharist brings about a fundamental transformation. God no longer simply stands before us as totally other. He enters into us and then seeks to spread outward to others until He fills the world, so that His love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.” (World Youth Day, Cologne, 2005)
The Eucharist, then, is all about “transformation” the Pope says. It begins with the transformation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. (Note this is a very special kind of transformation that Catholics call “transubstantiation,” meaning the very substance of the bread and wine is changed into the very substance of the Body and Blood of Christ.) This transformation continues as the person receiving Holy Communion grows spiritually and is transformed into the image and likeness of Christ in their daily lives. And that transformation reaches its conclusion as the faithful enter into the world and, by living the vision and values of Christ, transform it, the secular world, into the Kingdom of God.
Blessed Mother of Teresa of Calcutta put it this way: “If we truly understand the Eucharist; if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives; if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love Him, and to serve Him in the poor.”
And finally, in reflecting upon the value of the Eucharist, we should also recall the importance of Eucharistic adoration, a wonderful devotion in the history and spiritual tradition of the Church. Pope John Paul wrote that “it is pleasant to spend time with Him, to lie close to His breast like the beloved disciple, and to feel the infinite love present in His heart.” He also points to the example of many saints, specifically St. Alphonsus Liguori who wrote, “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #25)
So, dear reader, as we consider the Holy Eucharist, let’s try to resist our normal tendency to take our gifts for granted. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ; it is the Bread of Life; it is spiritual food for our journey on earth; and it contains all the power we need to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
The Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, has not shied away from defending Catholic beliefs in calling out Catholic politicians or weighing in on controversial issues such as immigration and “homosexual marriage”. His strong response to Congressman Kennedy’s misguided attack on the Church’s moral authority landed him in the national spotlight, making news headlines and television appearances. He has frequently stated that professing to be Catholic means something and requires something from those who call themselves Catholic.
On March 4th supporters of same-sex marriage held a rally at the Rhode Island statehouse. Present on the podium were four of the five current candidates for governor, two of whom profess to be Catholic (and pro-choice as well). First to take the mic was State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio who said, “As governor I will sign the marriage-equality bill. I also will work with the legislature to see that it gets through the legislature.” Next, Patrick Lynch, RI Attorney General, said he “would quickly put pen to paper” and sign a marriage-equality bill, and would veto a bill that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Bishop Tobin responded in a statement, “It is extremely disappointing to see Catholic politicians abandon their faith for the sake of political expediency. I would hope that as candidates and office holders, they would be able to support traditional, moral values such as the recognition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. I am hopeful that they will reconsider their position.”
The Rhode Island Catholic has links to copies of the letters Bishop Tobin sent to both Catholic candidates. The text is below [my emphasis]:
I am writing to express my profound disappointment that you participated in the recent rally at the State House and there publicly pledged to sign a bill allowing “homosexual marriage” in the State of Rhode Island should you be elected Governor.
From a practical point of view, your pledge to sign such legislation -without even knowing any of the details of the eventual legislation -is very puzzling. You’ve now put yourself in a box – pledged to sign legislation, even if the legislation that eventually emerges is seriously flawed or unacceptable for practical reasons. I wonder if you would make a similar pledge for any other piece of hypothetical legislation.
The greater concern for me, of course, is that your willingness to support -even promote- “homosexual marriage” is contrary to the obligations of the Catholic Faith you profess. The teachings of the Church on this matter have been clear and consistent.
While the Church strongly affirms and defends the human dignity and human rights of homosexual persons as beloved children of God and our brothers and sisters, the Church also teaches that homosexual activity is unnatural and immoral, a sin against human dignity and a grave offense to Almighty God. This teaching is based on the natural moral law, the Holy Scriptures and the constant tradition of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.
The concept of so-called “gay marriage” is offensive because it amounts to public acceptance of and endorsement of immoral homosexual activity and is a blatant attempt to redefine the sacred institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. This traditional definition of marriage is not of human origin. It was designed by God and has been unquestioned in every culture and society from the very beginning of the human family.
I need to remind you that Catholic political leaders are not exempt from the obligations of their faith, any more than members of any other profession are exempt from their faith. Your Catholic Faith is not a private matter -to be authentic it must inform every aspect of your personal and public life. You cannot profess to be a Catholic on Sunday and then set out to promote immoral activities the rest of the week. To consider your faith a private matter without any impact on your professional life is clearly inconsistent with the teachings of Christ who taught His disciples to be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” (Mt. 5: 13-14)
As your bishop I am concerned primarily for your spiritual well-being and for that reason I am obliged to remind you that your public support of “homosexual marriage” creates a grave spiritual danger for you. Someday you will stand face-to-face before the judgment seat of God and have to explain why you publicly promoted immoral sexual activity, scandalized the community and contributed to the erosion of Holy Matrimony and family life.
Lent is a time of spiritual renewal, repentance and reconciliation. In the spirit of this holy season, therefore, I plead with you to reflect upon and reconsider your stance on “homosexual marriage.” As always, I am available to discuss this matter with you personally, and I take this opportunity to extend to you and your family my prayers and blessings.
Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence
In the latest installment of his Without a Doubt column entitled The Death of a Priest, Bishop Tobin of Providence talks about the recent passing of four priests in his diocese and offers a reflection on the lasting legacy of faithful priests. It is worth a read. He aptly points out that “when a priest dies, he doesn’t leave a lot behind, at least not in earthly terms. He leaves no children or grandchildren, often not a lot of material possessions, and not even a large hole in the fabric of the Church. The mission of the Church continues beyond the life of any one individual; other priests went before him, and others will come after him to carry on the work of the Lord.” In the eyes of the world a priest leaves no lasting legacy on the world. What the priest of God does leave behind however, “is far more valuable than the passing things of this world. He leaves behind the witness of a good life that was informed and directed by the love of God. He leaves behind an example of generous sacrifice and commitment that made a positive difference for others. And he leaves behind a legacy of faith, hope and love in the people he served, planting in them the very seeds of eternal life.”
This post mortem analysis (pun intended) is well articulated, but it does not mention the penultimate stage of life…the dying. Perhaps the greatest sacrifice of priestly celibacy is not the mastery of the lower virtues but the privation of children-and in particular the blessing of children and family at one’s bedside while dying. But just think about it. What a blessing it is to have family and especially your children at your bedside, sitting with you, praying for you and on your behalf. Religious priests (by this I mean those priests who are members of a religious order or congregation) have the blessing of community life. When they approach the end of their journey, they are comforted by their brothers and have their community to pray with them and for them. But what about the diocesan priest? He most likely would have served alone as pastor, retired alone, and would have been predeceased by his parents. I have witnessed this first hand and have a friend who is presently experiencing this with his uncle, who is a priest. Each night he visits to pray a rosary and read Compline aloud. The discomfort and restlessness subsides, only to resume after the Nunc dimittis. Wouldn’t it be a blessing, a corporal work of mercy, fraternal charity for his brother priests to pray at his bedside for just an hour a day. In a diocese with some 400 priests, it would require just one hour–once a year–to pray beside a dying brother with the knowledge that this would be reciprocated when it is your time.
Bishop Tobin writes: “In his sacramental ministry a priest has welcomed individuals into the Church and touched them with the grace of God in the Sacrament of Baptism. He has celebrated Holy Mass a thousand times, offering thanksgiving to the Lord on behalf of God’s People and making God present among them in the Eucharist. He has forgiven the sins of God’s people, freeing them from guilt, and giving them the blessed opportunity to make a new beginning. He has prepared couples for Holy Matrimony, witnessing their vows on behalf of the Church and bestowing God’s blessings as they begin their journey together. He has accompanied frightened, vulnerable people during times of illness, anointing them with oil, assuring them of the presence and compassion of Christ. He has celebrated many funerals, sending holy souls to eternal life with the prayers of the Church and giving comfort and hope to those who mourn the loss of their loved ones.” They deserve a better send off.
In this Year for Priests: Pray for all living priests that they renew their commitment to Christ’s Sacred Heart; pray for priests who approach the end of their life that they may know the comfort of fraternal love; and pray for those priests who have died that their lasting legacy may gain them eternal reward.