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Bishop Tobin on "Separation of Church and State"

WITHOUT A DOUBT
Has Our State Lost Its Soul?
BY BISHOP THOMAS J. TOBIN
1/6/11
So, our new Governor, Lincoln Chafee, decided to break with recent history and begin his inauguration day without participating in a public prayer service. This has caused some discussion, even consternation, around the state.
Now personally, I’m neither surprised by nor disappointed by the Governor’s decision. After all, it was his inauguration, and he had every right to design a program with which he was comfortable. Whether to pray publicly with other leaders and citizens of the state on his big day was completely his prerogative.
I’m more concerned by the reason for the no-prayer decision given by his spokesman who said that the Governor’s “point of view is that his inaugural day needs to respect the separation of church and state. Separation of church and state is an important constitutional principle.”
The explanation is disappointing and confusing; it raises some rather significant questions.
First, if it’s imperative to maintain the alleged “separation of church and state” on inauguration day, why were prayers offered at the inauguration ceremony itself? And why did the Governor invite religious leaders to have a prominent presence at the event?
And is the appeal to the “separation of church and state” mentioned in this case an appropriate application of the principle?
By now you should be aware that the exact phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t found anywhere in our nation’s Constitution but rather was a principle that evolved later on. The Constitution simply says that the Congress cannot legislate the establishment of religion nor prohibit the exercise of religion. In other words, the “separation of church and state” is meant to protect religion from the interference of the state. It was never intended to remove every spiritual aspiration, prayerful utterance, or reference to God from public life.
Nor should the so-called “separation of church and state” be used as a weapon to silence the faith community, or restrict its robust participation in the debate of important public issues. I’ve found that whenever I’ve spoken out on public issues – e.g., abortion, gay marriage or immigration – some irritated souls, arguing the “separation of church and state” will insist that I’m out of line. In fact, religious leaders have every right, indeed the duty, to speak out on public issues. If we fail to do so, we’re neglecting our role as teachers, preachers and prophets. And if we don’t bring the spiritual dimension, the moral dimension to the discussion of these issues, who will?
The usefulness of religion and its importance in public life have been affirmed from the beginning. James Madison, recognized as the principal author of the Constitution, wrote, “Religion is the basis and foundation of government.” And George Washington, in his farewell address said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
The point is this: religion has an important, indeed a unique contribution to make to the governance of our society. Can we, once and for all then, put to rest the bogus interpretations of the “separation of church and state” so often cited these days?
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, in his outstanding book, “Render Unto Caesar,” makes this observation: “Americans have always believed in nonsectarian public institutions. But the founders never intended a nation that privatizes religion and excludes it from involvement in public affairs. Nor did they create any such nation. The secularism proposed today for our public life is not religion-neutral. It is antireligious.” (p. 29)
The Archbishop goes on: “A truly secularized United States would be a country without a soul; a nation with a hole in its heart . . . Secularism as a cult – the kind of rigid separationism where the state treats religion as a scary and unstable guest – hollows out the core of what it means to be human.” (p. 30)
A “country without a soul.” A “nation with a hole in its heart.” I wonder – is that the kind of nation we long for? Is that the kind of state we want Rhode Island to become?
Pope John Paul hit the nail on the head when he wrote about the “practical and existential atheism” of our age. He describes the individual who is “all bound up in himself.” For such an individual, “there is no longer the need to fight against God; he feels that he is simply able to do without him.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, #7)
The Pope’s insight leads me to wonder: Is our nation, and our state, in frequently appealing to “separation of church and state,” promoting an atheistic worldview? Are we creating a secular wasteland, bereft of any spiritual or religious influence? And is that how we want to live?
We have a ton of problems in our state – a depressed economy, a fragile social service network, a distressed public education system, the demise of the family, a wave of urban crime and domestic violence, and what promises to be an intense and divisive debate created by the ill-advised desire to redefine marriage. To deal successfully with these problems our leaders will need wisdom and courage. They will need a great deal of human cooperation, but also a generous measure of God’s grace. They shouldn’t be afraid to fall on their knees and ask for God’s help. A little spiritual humility would go a long way in restoring the confidence and the moral quality of our community.

Left’s double-standard on religion and abortion

The Left opposes the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion provisions in healthcare reform. So why doesn’t it oppose the YWCA, United Methodist Church, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis for favoring abortion?

Original post by William Donohue

Getting Nancy Pelosi to accept a health care bill that bans federal funds for abortion was the greatest victory scored by U.S. bishops in a generation. It also unleashed an unprecedented attempt to censor them. Their latest enemy is Geoffrey Stone writing in the Huffington Post.

Stone finds it troubling that the bishops are so vocal. He yearns for a time when JFK was president, a time when separation of church and state met his approval. Perhaps the Chicago law professor forgot about Rev. Martin Luther King, the minister who took to the pulpit and lobbied for civil rights in the name of free speech and religious liberty. Should King have been muzzled as well? Or just today’s bishops?

As the following list discloses, Stone is hardly alone in trying to censor the bishops: Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Frances Kissling, Planned Parenthood, Feminist Majority, Catholics for Choice, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Organization for Women, and many others favor a gag rule. On Nov. 12, Nancy Snyderman of MSNBC spoke for many when she said that “This is going to be a Pollyannaish statement. The Catholic bishops appearing and having a political voice seems to be a most fundamental violation of church and state.” Brilliant.

The following is a partial list of religious groups that want abortion coverage in the health care bill: Rabbinical Assembly, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Episcopal Church, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, North American Federation of Temple Youth, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist, Presbyterian Church (USA), Women of Reform Judaism, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Church of the Brethren Women’s Caucus, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Lutheran Women’s Caucus, Christian Lesbians Out, YWCA.

So why don’t Stone and company want to gag these groups as well? Let’s face it: they don’t have a principled bone in their collective bodies.


Bishop Tobin Instructs the Faithful, "If you are a Catholic, darnit, it means something!"

Why am I giving the public ‘dialogue’ between Congressman Kennedy and his Bishop, Thomas Tobin, such attention?  This topic has everything to do with our Roman Catholic Identity.  More than the public rebuke of dissenting Catholic political figures, the dialogue serves to instruct all Catholics and shed some light on common misapprehensions.  There are some real gems here, and it is encouraging to hear a bishop speak with clarity and…spine.

Bishop Tobin appeared as a guest on the WPRO Dan Yorke show this past Wednesday and candidly discussed the public ongoing exchange between himself and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, falling short of calling him an outright liar.   But Dan Yorke connected the dots by quoting Kennedy himself in a recap. 

Says Rep. Kennedy:

Whenever I’d choose to discuss with him I would hope that it would remain between us, that’s what I’ve been most concerned with.

I’d initially agreed on a meeting with him and provided that we not debate this in public in terms of my personal faith or things of that sort and, unfortunately, he hasn’t kept to that agreement.  And that’s been very disconcerting to me.  I don’t think this is something that is open for public debate

As I said from the point of view of having him discuss things that I think are of a more personal nature, I think that that’s unfortunate.  But I’m, as I’ve said, I’m not going to engage that any more because, like I’ve said, I’m not.  That’s not something I brought up and I’d prefer to keep that between us.

What?  Bishop Tobin reiterated the fact that his hand was forced by the unwarranted attack by Kennedy and his continued public comments and letters.  There was no ‘agreement’ of confidentiality, especially whe the Congressman sent the Bishop an open letter and sent a copy to the Press.  The meeting between them which was subsequently ‘postponed’ was to be held at a busy Providence restaurant at Noon today–at the Congressman’s request.  How private could this have been?  The bishop noted that within ten minutes every satellite truck in Rhode Island would have been there.  The fact that any confidences were violated “is preposterous”.

Bishop Tobin fielded questions concerning broader issues of identity, the fallacy of pro-choice catholics, and denying Communion.

Bishop Tobin on being Catholic, “Darnit, it means something!”:

Nobody is forced to be a Catholic. If you freely choose to be a Catholic it means that  you believe certain things, you do certain things, you understand and accept the teachings of the church, you understand the disciplines of the Church, you lead a sacramental life.  if you cannot do all that in conscience than you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else.  But thats not what we’re trying to do.  We’re trying to invite people into the Church but at the same time saying, “if you are a Catholic, darnit, it means something”.

Bishop Tobin on what it means to be a Catholic:

That whole question “what does it mean to be a catholic?” it means something you cannot say you’re Catholic and be pro abortion, it’s false advertising you cannot have it both ways.

Should pro-choice catholics be taking communion, going to Church in good faith? What should they be doing?

They should be really examining their conscience, praying really hard and try to understand why the church so consistently and unanimously says abortion is a terrible evil.  There’s a reason we say those things because we think it is. 

But not telling them to stay out?

No, we’re inviting them in but inviting them in to a real, strong and purified union with the Church–and same thing with Congressman Kennedy.  Patrick, please, we’re not trying to drive you further away.  Patrick, come back.  The doors are open, our arms are open, think about what you’re doing.  Congressman this is about your spiritual well-being, your spiritual growth and I want to do everything I can to help that.


Bishop Tobin calls Rep. Kennedy to Repentance

File this in the “I can’t believe my eyes” category. It is encouraging to see a bishop lead and not mince words.  From the Rhode Island Catholic:

Dear Congressman Kennedy
BY BISHOP THOMAS J. TOBIN
11/12/09

Dear Congressman Kennedy:
“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” (Congressman Patrick Kennedy)
Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership.

For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “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. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when 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.

For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)

Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)

There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”

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?

Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in 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.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin

Bishop of Providence


Bishop Tobin Rep. Kennedy Meeting Postponed

It has been reported that the meeting between Bishop Tobin and Congressman Patrick Kennedy, which was scheduled to take place this Thursday, has been ‘mutually’ postponed.  No rescheduling has been announced, though Bishop Tobin has published a public letter in response to Rep. Kennedy’s October 29 letter.


The Chirothecœ Are Off–Bishop Tobin v. Lawmakers

“If someone is clearly and consistently and obstinately opposed to the church on something as serious as abortion — which again is a grave and intrinsic evil — then they really have to question their membership in the church and their participation in the life of the church.”  So says Bishop Tobin directed at Lawmakers.  Bam!…there it is! 

In an interview two weeks ago Rep. Kennedy attacked the church’s opposition to current health care legislation and accused the bishops of ‘fanning flames of dissent and discord’: “I can’t understand for the life of me how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time…You mean to tell me the Catholic Church is going to be denying those people life saving health care? 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 are [sic] going to keep people alive.”

Bishop Tobin responded: “Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s statement about the Catholic Church’s position on health care reform is irresponsible and ignorant of the facts. But the Congressman is correct in stating that “he can’t understand.” He got that part right.”Congressman Kennedy continues to be a disappointment to the Catholic Church and to the citizens of the State of Rhode Island. I believe the Congressman owes us an apology for his irresponsible comments. It is my fervent hope and prayer that he will find a way to provide more effective and morally responsible leadership for our state.”

After Bishop Tobin extended an invitation to meet and discuss the “Catholic Church’s longtime support of comprehensive health care legislation and measures that protect and defend life”, Rep. Kennedy responded in a letter, falling short of an apology: “[my remarks] were never intended to slight the church…“that the church has always stood for health-care reform.”

Kennedy said he hopes that “our Church will be true to its millennia-old mission of feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and caring for those less fortunate than ourselves. My Catholic faith is based on these foundation principles.” But his disagreement with “the hierarchy of the church on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” “We all have our own morals and religious views, but in the end women have to have their health protected. Back alley abortions and so forth will happen if there isn’t a safe, legal means to have that medical procedure.”

And the hits keep coming.  It seems Congressman Patrick Kennedy is feverishly digging himself a deeper hole as he spars with Bishop Tobin of Providence.  They plan to meet at 12:30 on November 12th at a yet to be disclosed location.

btw: Chirothecœ = episcopal gloves


Bishop Tobin Extends Invitation to Congressman Kennedy, Kennedy Accepts

In an admirable move, Bishop Tobin of the Diocese of Providence sent a letter to Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) extending an invitation to discuss the Catholic church’s longtime support of health care reform. This latest pastoral effort is in response to an interview with CNS in which Kennedy castigated the US bishops for withholding support of health care legislation, thus not being “pro-life”. Bishop Tobin responded to that interview with a sharp statement asking for an apology. Newly reported, Kennedy has accepted the invitation for a yet to be scheduled meeting. Bishop Tobin’s letter:

Congressman Patrick Kennedy
249 Roosevelt Ave
Pawtucket, RI 02860-2134

Dear Congressman Kennedy:

In the interview you gave last week with Cybercast News Service, you are quoted as stating: “I can’t understand for the life of me how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time where the very dignity of the human person is being respected by the fact that we’re caring and giving health care to the human person – that right now we have 50 million people who are uninsured.”

For many years, the Catholic Church has been clear and consistent in its support of comprehensive health care reform; support that continues to this day. As Congress nears agreement on a final bill, I believe it is important that you are provided with specific facts about the Catholic Church’s position on this critical issue.

In light of your comments, I would like to extend an invitation to you to discuss the Catholic Church’s longtime support of comprehensive health care legislation and measures that protect and defend life. Please contact my office at your earliest convenience so that we can schedule a meeting to discuss this important matter that affects all Rhode Islanders, regardless of their religious beliefs.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence