That seems to be one question surfacing as the Rep. Kennedy-Bishop Tobin discussion continues apace.
I find myself vaguely sympathetic to the bishop. As a fellow worker in the vineyard, I see many of my sister and brother believers emphasize their children’s schooling, sports, and activities above what our parishes provide. Financial support is atrocious in some quarters. And twenty to forty percent attendance is, to borrow a term minted by Catholic Right, a scandal. Not only do I think most Catholic families would be better catechized at my respective parishes, but I think they would find their lives more fulfilling and ultimately more fun. But I have to realize that not every Catholic parish or even diocese conducts evangelization as if eternal life depended on it.
Another point for Bishop Tobin: I read his whole letter earlier this morning, and I found it to be more balanced than it has been reported in the blogosphere and other media. It’s also not a bolt from the blue for Mr Kennedy–it seems to be part of a continuing exchange. So there’s some helpful context for all of us commentators to access, as well as other content we can’t.
Though troubling, I’d like to believe that this comment from Bishop Tobin has a better context than SGCS*:
If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things, you do certain things. If you cannot do all that in conscience, then you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else.
Joe McFaul at dotCommonweal offers a more Catholic response, if you will:
I didn’t freely choose the Church. I was blessed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit at Baptism to make that choice. The Church chose me. I have nowhere else to go.
Now let’s get to the Catholic Right, which may or may not include Bishop Tobin. I honestly don’t know. But I do know that the Catholic Right includes much of the blogosphere. So this one’s for you, if you’re still with me:
I do think there’s something not quite in tune with the modernist notion of just telling people to just leave Catholicism. Even politicians like Mr Kennedy. Sure, in the past, when the Church was confronted with people it believed were heretics, or worse, disobedient, it might have just executed them. Several times I’ve been invited by internet acquaintances to leave the Church. (They probably wish they could rack me.) When I bother to respond, it’s usually something along the lines of a theologically nuanced, “Nyah, nyah, you can’t get me.”
Mr Kennedy is somewhat in the same boat. It’s easy enough to disagree with his political position (which I do) and say he’s not a Catholic. (Which is wishful thinking–we’re stuck with him.) But is it true? Was he or wasn’t he chosen by God? And ultimately, he can move beyond this conversation and thumb his nose at political pro-lifers. And what will have been accomplished? Just more anger self-injected to the anti-abortion bloodstream.
At root, I think Bishop Tobin’s problem is that he’s shot the wad on persuasion when it comes to one of his high-profile sheep. He’s taken his campaign public. I think this is an error, even if Mr Kennedy did it first. This whole thing is unseemly, largely because the spectators of various ideologies are treating this as entertainment/a sales opportunity/the bishop leading a cheer at a pep rally. Personally, I would have liked some more bishops or a pope or two call out the last American president on Iraq and torture. But that would have been, admittedly, entertainment.
I think the occurence of Catholic politicians supporting a secular “right” to abortion is troubling and unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s a scandal. Unless, that is, you adopt the notion of “scandal” as a politically correct term for “doing stuff I disagree with.” We know some Catholic politicians support abortion rights. It’s not a surprise. That’s not the same thing as performing an abortion, consenting to the procedure for oneself and one’s unborn child, or otherwise being directly involved in the act. When the chit-chat gets ramped up with words like “scandal” then usually people have stopped talking with each other, and begun talking at the other.
I also have to comment that if the energy is being taken up polarizing a discussion that goes nowhere, I have to wonder if the participants to such a discussion are not enablers of the abortion industry to a similar extent as politicians might be. Lacking a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn, all the peripheral issues still leave nearly everybody in a situation to choose or not to choose. Parents can be notified and still choose abortion for their daughter. I wonder how many pro-life clinics notify parents only to have the young woman wisked away to PP. Poor people can still be supported by the donations of celebrity pro-choicers and other wealthy persons. A person can still view photos and information on human gestation and still respond, “Heh. I still want an abortion.” In turn, there’s nothing theoretically stopping today’s 3,000-some women from all saying, “I think I’ll keep the baby.” Even having a lack of acceptable pre-natal care, no family support, or worries about the future.
Do any readers here see something redeemable in the bishop’s comment? Or a suggestion as to where this dialogue should go next?
* Small Church, Getting Smaller