Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bishop Tobin Educates Rep. Patrick Kennedy About Being A Real Catholic

Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island felt the need to make some points about what it means to be Catholic with Representative Patrick Kennedy

Representative Patrick Kennedy has given Rhode Island's Bishop Tobin the perfect excuse to define a real Catholic. It seems it has everything to do with obeying the Church and nothing to do with Jesus.

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

Dear Congressman Kennedy:
“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.”

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


In this entire piece of Bishop Tobin's there is no mention of Jesus, not one time, not at all. There is plenty of mention of the Church. The word Church is mentioned some 16 times. Church 16 - Jesus 0. Wow the Church in Tobin's view has just pitched a resounding shut out.

I love Bishop Tobin's last sentence: "And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so." Tobin has made it amply evident that the road of faith equals docile obedience to institutional authority. Someone should tell the good bishop that docile obedience to authority is not faith. It's childish.

Why does the bishop think a Catholic in good standing has to be childish? In the first place this insults him as a pastor. It says that his pastoral authority is deficient in that he can't allow himself to interact with Catholics who form independent adult opinions. He can allow no other relationship between himself and his flock other than that of parent/child. Tobin doesn't promote or encourage adult faith, he serves only to enable pathological childish dependency. He demands this as the sign of a good Catholic. It says so in the Catechism of the Church. It also says a great deal about him.

I don't know how much longer Catholics with an adult maturity are going to put up with this 'reform of the reform' because it doesn't seem to be just a call to reform. It's a call to return to a childish faith in which intellectually docile laity know nothing about what's good for them and parental clerics know everything. This reform seems to imply the catechism is the end all and be all of human wisdom and divine guidance.

I wish Bishop Tobin could tell me why God and the church felt they could develop the end all and be all of human wisdom and divine guidance with zero input from women. I have a tough time getting over that one. This is especially confusing to me since the whole shebang originated because of the input of a woman. Men claiming the feminine input by defining an all male Church as Holy Mother Church doesn't fly with me. Tobin's letter isn't the thinking of a nurturing loving mother, it's the thinking of an alpha male trapped in his own image and likeness.

In the real world, adult children disagree with their parents all the time on key issues. Most families can accept these disagreements with out lessening the 'famliness' of the children who disagree. This ability is what makes good families healthy cohesive units. When disagreement causes rupture it's because someone hasn't grown up, hasn't matured, hasn't developed the ability to move beyond stereotypical roles, is still threatened by differing opinions and beliefs and sees the differences as a personal attack. They will then resort to personal attacks to defend themselves.

I have some questions for Bishop Tobin. The Church you seem to want us to follow is a Church based on a childish notion of obedience. Not child like, just childish. It sees differing opinion as a personal attack on the Church, rather than a differing opinion. It is based in fear. It is sadly not Christ like. I don't understand why you fear letting us put Christ first, or why you fear letting us act with compassion and love before obedience to the catechism. Do you honestly think following all your rules is going to keep us safe from the devil, like leaving a light on in the bedroom allows small children to feel they are protected from things that go bump in the night?

I think so, because everything coming out of the Church regarding the culture is all future based catastrophic thinking that doesn't reflect the current reality. It also ignores the past which has many lessons concerning the danger of future based catastrophic thinking and the futility of desperately hanging on to idealized notions of some mythical past in order to maintain the illusion of an erroneously defined status quo. That's a very long sentence just to say you don't seem to be living and acting in the real world. Love and compassion are actions which happen in the present, in the real world. That's why they aren't sterile and are potent change makers in other people's lives. This letter comes across very sterile.

In the meantime the battle over health insurance for millions of the uninsured (people in the present) is still held hostage to future fetuses. Is it just possible that Representative Kennedy understands the needs of the present take precedence over the potential catastrophes of the future and that real live people deserve at least equal consideration and opportunity for life as potential humans? Or is this notion all too grey and complicated for the catechism?


  1. "You don't think agreeing with the hierarchy is essential? Let me quote some documents by the hierarchy that show how wrong you are!"

  2. The Bishops just keep making more of a mess the more they speak. They want to live by their man made laws and not through the love of Christ. The great evolution of Christianity was the Sermon on the Mount and the ideas of love and forgiveness. Bishop Tobin, himself, seems to present himself as omnipotent. This is indeed one of the key symptoms of a boarder line personality disorder. He presents himself as an emotionally sick child!

  3. Please submit your lobotomy papers to Mother Church! As proof of your Membership!

  4. Dennis, I found it so hard not to pull the personality disorder card, but, based some of his other stunts it's getting harder and harder not go there.

    PrickliestPear best of all those documents the hierarchy would quote to me about agreeing with the hierarchy were written by the hierarchy. It doesn't get any cleaner than that.

  5. Apparently infallibility is conferred along with the graces at ordination--the "new" crowd seems to feel the roman collar calls for absolute obedience. And when did the Catechism of the RC Church become the inspired Word of God? We have a friend who reads a few pages of the Catechism every night so he knows what to believe. He is really a kind man and this is causing him distress.

  6. I hope your post "takes wing". I have done my part to spread the "gospel".

  7. That's a very good point coolmom. There has been a very concentrated effort to keep listing the catechism and for that matter canon law, with scripture and tradition. Bishop Tobin certainly does it in this letter to Patrick Kennedy. I wonder it's because a lot of our bishops are all canon lawyers?

  8. The siting of Canon law and the Catechism, as the end all authority is part of many bishops ideas that they know it all. That they are omniscient. The idea that we must obey what they say because they are part of an omniscient magisterium, in fact is pathological. Bishops are very frail human beings just as everyone else. The idea that they are the authority over teaching and theology (also philosophy, science and medicine) in their diocese puts them in the category of acting omnipotent. This is a major sign of personality disorder. When you add that to not turning in child abusers to the authorities legal and ecclesiastical, the diagnosis is unescapable.

    When a person tries to lead a celibate life, that does not make him or her better than anyone else as it is a life of shitzoid avoidance of relationship. Many of them however, do not lead celibate lives some find their relief in the homosexual closet, others have their heterosexual affairs and almost all masturbate (which would be the most psychological healthy thing they could do, but in the case of some promotes disastrous guilt of loss of all grace- so if they have lost all grace, what keeps them from doing more awful things?) They then make elaborate laws for the laity to follow about marriage and sexuality. This really does point to personality problems. The Bishops who are healthier are not speaking out over the fear of loss of personal power. They are weak and cowardly.

    Remember except for a few paranoid schizophrenics, the most societal problems and crimes are cause by personality disordered people. The clergy but especially the Bishops are as a group, not meaning every one of them, ill and loosing creditability amongst the learned faithful, but the Bishops still have influence over political process and are causing damage to society.

    Unfortunately a prefrontal lobotomy is not a treatment although it might cause them to be a lot more mellow. The treatment is to call authoritarianism what it is and do it publicly no matter the supposed cost to a Church struggling because of little ethical leadership. dennis

  9. Got your message, colleen. Of course you may!

    You can find me in two places actually:


    The latter is a political site and while I've cross-posted some things of late, there's a lot there (say late 2008 and early 2009 which may pertain).

    For the record I am already closely following Michael Bayley's site. And I've gone back and read a lot of stuff that he's linked to.

    I came of age during Vatican II - in a DC women's college. We got all the reforms before they were ever passed in Rome. And as it became clear that sanity was never to really rule... I became discouraged (and dropped out for a while). Till I was "led" to Mt. Savior Monastery - and began to explore the depth and integrity of the monastic tradition of spirituality. Monasteries have preserved the church yet again! They gave me the church back.

    So I've "married" my early Vatican II formation with the monastic spiritual tradition. But also very familiar with other mystical paths.

    In some ways learning psychotherapy and practicing it analytically (within pretty much a relational model of psychodynamics) has equipped me to think in ways that are very productive for analyzing politics. And basically, I'd say that politics is at the core - sadly - of what's gone wrong in the church.

    I'm just pleased to see how many little shoots seem to be coming up from the soil of "The Church". Meaning "The People of God".

    It is WE the People (of God) who currently are most free to exercise the priesthood (of our baptism) - since we cannot be silenced. We cannot be made to "obey" while "the ordained" are not so free. (I have compassion for those priests who remain... having to make certain compromises which we will never have to make!)

    I love a worthy cause! And without knowing where I was being led, I've followed a path that equips me for this!

  10. “There are two types of obedience: obedience in relation to power and obedience in relation to love. When understood in the first way, obedience means submission or surrender, the sacrifice of one's own intellect and will. According to the second understanding, obedience does not mean submission, but response. Disobedience is not the putting forward of opinions different from those commanded by authority. To do so might well be a duty, not a sin.”

    Charles Davis on why it was not enough to ignore the church, NCR, February 7, 1992.

    Jim McCrea

  11. Jim, I mean old geezer, I wish I would have thought of that. What a brilliant understanding of real obedience.

    What really pisses me off is that's exacty what I taught in management but for some reason didn't transfer the notion quite this succinctly to the church.

  12. TheraP, I was led into Native American spirituality precisely to find the monastic tradition in Catholicism--mostly Franciscan.

    I too saw the handwriting on the wall very early. I was accepted for a doctorate program in theology in '75 at Aquinas Institute and turned it down because I could see that eventually I would come to rue that decision. Funny thing is I didn't apply for the doctorate. A well meaning priest theologian applied for me. He told me he did it because the Church was in desperate need of feminine input. I guess he was wrong. LOL

  13. Tobin is the same bishop that just allowed the Legionaries of Christ into his diocese because he needed people to work for him. Unfortunately, this also happened to coincide with more scandalous revelations about the two different children Marcial Maciel fathered with women in the Legionary movement.

  14. I like the docility "bit".

    It's a relief to know that, after having to think, reflect, choose and act righteously in the secular world, I can go to Church and be docile, humbly following like a sheep the wise directives of a bishop who hasn't had to be in that awful messy,secular world.

  15. Bishop Tobin’s letter, its tone and the closing invitation to Representative Patrick Kennedy to help him be a good Catholic, reminds me of the story Jesus told about the teacher who said: "Here, friend, let me help you get that spec out of your eye." Didn’t Jesus in another place call these kinds of people “blind guides”?

    I thought the measure of being a good Catholic was whether you were trying to live by the beatitudes or responding to the least among us as Matthew 25 suggests.

    I miss the stories about bishops who were peacemakers. I miss the stories about bishops who lived simply, grew their own food, and did not live in mansions. I miss the stories about bishops who were engaged in the daily life and death struggles of the people they served. I prefer bishops who lead by example.

    Today there are too many stories like this one about Bishop Tobin and letters they write to politicians. Maybe that is why people are not nourished by the church and leave.

  16. Wildhair, I too miss those bishops. It's hard to find those stories amongst our current American crop, but there are quite a number amongst auxiliary bishops in South America.

    I just recently read an article in which it was noted that the largest exodus of people ever in teh Milwaukee diocese happened in the fifth year of Dolan's watch. Makes one wonder what will happen in New York.

  17. You obviously have no understanding of the Catholic Church and what "authority" means. This is just another attack the Catholic Church blog, that's all. Why don't you try to understand the only church started by Jesus Christ (the Catholic Church) instead of just attacking it?

  18. The bishops right. If a Catholic doesn't want to follow the Teaching of Jesus Christ through His Church...........then you're not Catholic. One can disagree with discipline and still remain Catholic (disagreeing with celibate priests, for example). But if you disagree with doctrine (abortion being intrinsically evil, for example), how can you say that you are Catholic? Religion minus magisterium/authority equals chaos. Just ask the Anglican/Episcopalean church.

  19. I use SSPX for my example. They never stopped considering themselves Catholic, they did not obey the Pope or even recognize his authority, and gee whiz, weren't their bishops just readmitted to the Church after having been formally excommunicated?

  20. Pray for bishop Tobin's soul.

    His self-destruction is no more breath-taking than his delusional self-believe he understands what it means to be a Christian.

    He would like to redefine the definition of being a catholic, I guess he has a pulpit from which to attempt.

    But, if he believes an educated, thoughtful flock will follow his leadership, he over-estimates his powers of persuasions.

    I am sure talking of the gravest of sins is a nice distraction from all the other moral failings of catholic bishops and priests.

    Unfortunately, the catholic bishops lost their moral authority many years ago. They understand they are talking to empty churches and empty minds.

    That is why he Tobin chooses to make a private conversation, public.

    Tobin is a catholic in name only. He is not a Christian.

  21. The Catholic church is nothing more than another political body - rich and corrupt beyond imagination.

    His only Church? Wow, their is enlightened insight. I guess you drink the kool aid, too.

    I suspect if the Church said killing heretics is ok, you would go out and kill another human being because the catholic church says its ok?

    I guess they don't call it a flock for nothing.