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.
Yesterday began the Diocese of Providence’s high profile and very professional media outreach program called “Catholics Come Home.” These television ads will appear 1113 times and reach 98% of Rhode Islanders an average of 26 times. The aim of the media campaign is to speak directly to inactive Catholics, inviting them to return to the Church. Considering 73% of self-identified Catholics are not regular participants at the Holy Mass, this is a large target audience. The experience of this program across the country has achieved great success, bringing thousands back into the fold. In October Bishop Tobin kicked off a “Year of Evangelization” with an Evangelization Congress at Providence College. The focus of the congress was outreach and preparing parishes for welcoming the anticipated great numbers of people targeted by the media campaign.
On the Second Sunday of Advent Bishop Tobin requested that his pastoral letter on The Year of Evangelization be read from the pulpit of every church in the diocese–first request of this kind in his five years in Providence. “The fact that I’m doing so today indicates the importance of a new initiative in the Diocese – namely, our Year of Evangelization.”
“There are moments in history that call for a renewed emphasis on evangelization, and I am convinced that we are currently living in one of those moments. Because of the internal challenges the Church has faced in recent years, and because we live in a very secular, even atheistic age – an age “without God” – the Church has both an urgent need and a special opportunity to strengthen our faith and to share it with others.”
In the letter the bishop indicated three purposes for the Year of Evangelization:
- Renew our personal enthusiasm about, and commitment to, our Catholic Faith.
- Reach out to those many, many Catholics who have drifted away and no longer practice the faith.
- Invite the “unchurched” to visit and learn more about the Catholic Faith.
and three recommended ways of participation:
- Participate in the many events planned throughout the Year of Evangelization, increase the diocese’s outreach and sincerely welcome those returning to or those drawn to the Catholic Faith.
- Become a “personal evangelist” by identifying at least one person, perhaps a family member or neighbor and invite them to return or come to church a first time.
- This work, like every work of the Church, is a combination of the human and the divine, therefore pray fervently for the success of our Year for Evangelization.
It is a great day for Providence. Today Bishop Robert C. Evans was ordained at the cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul by his North American College classmate, Bishop Thomas Tobin. The diocesan clergy was out in force, as were numerous prelates from New England and beyond (more than 25). Geographically small but numbering over one million Catholics, Providence has a lot of purple. Bishop Evans joins retired bishop and co-consecrator Gelineau, retired Bishops Mulvey, Boland OP, Roque, Abp. Pearce, SM–all residing in Providence, and will be one of seven living native sons of the Diocese of Providence to be named Successor to the Apostles: co-consecrator Bp. Matano (Burlington), Bp. McManus (Worcester), Boland (ret), Roque (ret), Riley (ret), Angel (ret). As usual, the Gregorian Concert Choir under the direction of Msgr. Anthony Mancini was outstanding.
62 year old Robert Evans was born in Moultri, Georgia but grew up in the Italian enclave of Federal Hill in Providence, where churches, fountains and fine Italian restaurants still define the neighborhood. From public elementary school he graduated from Our Lady of Providence Seminary High School, earned a B.A. in Philosophy from Our Lady of Providence College Seminary, was assigned to the Pontifical North American College in Rome, received an S.T.B. from the Pontifical Gregorian University, an S.T.M. from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas at the Angelicum, and later returned to the Greg for an S.T. L. in Canon Law.
Bishop Evans brings a broad depth of experience, from assistant pastorates, hospital chaplaincies, secretary to Bishop Gelineau, Vice-Chancellor, Chancellor, priest’s personnel director, director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education and faculty member at the North American College, Secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, and most recently pastor.
Final remarks included a public pledge of fidelity to the Holy Father by the newly ordained, and a few memorables from Bishop Tobin, (referring to Bp. Evans) “He is certainly a better dressed bishop…I can borrow things now”, “The kid from Federal Hill did well!”, and “This is my first episcopal ordination…I feel like a proud papa!”. We wish Bishop Evans God’s blessings on his new role as shepherd. Ad multos annos!
Here are some more pictures from the ordination…sorry for the poor quality as they are live feed shots.
Now that the dust has seemingly settled over the public debate between Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Bishop Thomas Tobin, several things have become quite clear.
- The cause and nature of the initial debate got lost in a sea of peripheral issues and spin.
- Congressman Kennedy irresponsibly throws bombs, distorts facts and retreats.
- Bishop Tobin is very articulate and goes where most bishops fear to tread.
- US bishops have failed to send a clear, consistent message to the faithful.
- The Church is reaping the fruits of forty years of catechesis devoid of substance.
1. Rep. Kennedy put the ball in motion when he chided the bishops’ “so-called” pro-life position for their insistence on health care reform without public funded abortion or an abortion mandate. The debate evolved when the congressman stated he was no less a Catholic for his pro-choice position or disagreement with the hierarchy. Bishop Tobin was compelled as a faithful pastor to stave off scandal by correcting this erroneous claim. This issue had nothing to do with the separation of Church and State or punishing a politician on his vote on a particular piece of legislation, but everything to do with who defines authentic Catholicism. Roman Catholic Identity.
2. Congressman Kennedy fanned the flames, escalated and perpetuated this controversy. Let’s see…from his incendiary remarks which prompted this public debate, his erroneous claim to authentic Catholicism despite his contradictory convictions, his accusation that Bishop Tobin betrayed confidences, his ‘private’ meeting with the bishop at a busy ‘public’ restaurant at Noon, his interview indicating he would no longer discuss his private faith in a public forum, to his public disclosure of a two and a half year old letter from the bishop requesting him to refrain from presenting himself for reception of Holy Communion–all prompted Bishop Tobin to respond. Where is he now? It is evident that Rep. Kennedy’s handlers failed him on this latest controversy.
3. On the few occasions I have heard Bishop Tobin speak I have been very impressed and I would even say “inspired”. “Now THAT was a bishop.” The sad fact is that the majority of bishops would have let Congressman Kennedy’s remarks slide without any comment, or perhaps no public comment. Bishop Tobin said he felt an obligation to address the public statements and misinformation for the sake of Kennedy himself, and to prevent others from being led astray. Bishop Tobin’s press releases, public statements, radio interviews, Chris Matthews and Bill O’Reilly appearances all demonstrated his intelligence, poise (even during Matthews’ disrespectful, condescending, lecturing filibuster) and measured approach in articulating the Church’s teachings. There is a small list of the ‘usual suspects’–bishops who respond publicly (Abps. Burke, Dolan, Chaput, Nienstedt) . It was encouraging to see Bishop Tobin join the ranks of bishops not afraid to defend the Faith and use such public scandal as a moment of instruction.
4. Reaction to Bishop Tobin’s response ran the gamut from those who thought he never should have interfered or went too far, to those who shook fists in the air demanding he excommunicate the congressman. There is no episcopal handbook on how to deal with such issues, therefore it is up to the discretion and devices of each individual bishop who has the authority over his diocese. Confusion arises when there are different responses or even public infighting seen among the bishops on how to handle such issues. There are numerous recent public scandals to cite as examples: President Obama at Notre Dame, Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s funeral, and now Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s scuffle with Bishop Tobin. Is a Catholic politician’s public voting record on abortion cause for public scandal? Remember that scandal is defined as “conduct causing or encouraging a lapse of Faith or religious obedience in another”. Public scandal requires a public correction and a public repentance. The inability of US bishops to reach a consensus on dealing with public scandal is divisive and the inconsistency or lack of response can itself become scandalous.
5. Why do people have the erroneous impression that they can be proponents of abortion and still remain faithful, devout Catholics? Or how is it possible that people don’t see a fundamental flaw in their reasoning when they espouse the “I’m personally against abortion but would not impose my belief on another” argument? Why is the belief so widespread that it is acceptable to compartmentalize one’s religious beliefs from public conduct, or hold Faith as not only personal but also private. And why is that not seen as contrary to the very heart of Catholicism? Why do people mistakenly cite their consciences to justify dissent from central teachings of the Church, and just about everything for that matter? Why wouldn’t faithful Catholics approach personal disagreements with Church teachings from a disposition of humility and a fundamental assumption that “if I find myself at odds with the Church, I must not have a clear understanding of what the Church is teaching”? There is genius and centuries of wisdom in the Church. As Abp. Fulton Sheen once said, “There are only about 100 people that truly hate the Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Church is”. The answer to all these questions is simple: lack of education (catechesis). Where is the substance in catechetical education for children and young adults? Where is the adult education? Where is the continuing formation for the clergy? Where is the reinforcement from the pulpit?
So, thank you Congressman Kennedy for unwittingly bringing much needed discussions to a national audience. Thank you Bishop Tobin for having the courage and taking this opportunity to instruct the faithful and challenge the unfaithful. Public scandal requires a public response, lest complacent inaction creates scandal itself.
The Providence Journal Bulletin carried a story today which quoted Congressman Patrick Kennedy saying he was “not going to dignify with an answer” Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s public comments that he could not be a good Catholic and still support abortion rights. Kennedy called those comments “unfortunate,” and said, “I’m not going to engage [in] this anymore.”
For deciding “not to engage anymore” he certainly continued to keep “engaging”. Rep. Kennedy finds it “very disconcerting” that Bishop Tobin will not agree to keep private the discussion of his faith, and that is why his scheduled meeting with the bishop Thursday has been postponed. Bishop Tobin’s public letter covered that one, “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…your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged.”
Responding to Bp. Tobin’s question, “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?“ Kennedy said yesterday that he has a pastor, and “I have my sacraments through that pastor. I have sought the sacraments of reconciliation and Communion and all the rest.” He said he preferred to keep his pastor’s name private.
About the ‘postponed meeting’, the Congressman said “I had initially agreed to a meeting with him [Thursday], provided we would not debate this in public in terms of my personal faith, but unfortunately, he hasn’t kept to that agreement, and that’s very disconcerting to me.” But he also said he expects to meet with the bishop, if matters of faith will be kept “between us.”
Michael Guilfoyle, spokesman for the diocese, said the meeting was postponed “by mutual agreement,” but noted, “The bishop’s schedule is still free on Thursday if the congressman would like to have that personal and pastoral meeting. The contents between any personal conversation between the bishop and the congressman could certainly remain private. However, the congressman has made this a very public debate, and the bishop is responding to his public comments.”
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
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.
Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence
“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