Monday, November 30, 2009

Respectful Dialogue on Complex Moral Issues -- Nov 30, 2009

Some weeks I have to search for things to ponder about. This week there is so much to write about in the ongoing public debate between Bishop Tobin and Congressman Kennedy. Two weeks ago the Barrington Times had an editorial cartoon on the issue. Bishop Tobin is pictured saying if you do not follow Church laws refrain from coming to church. In each frame there are less and less people in church. Finally with one person remaining the Bishop says, “That’s better.” On Friday, November 20, I wrote this letter to the editor:

“Your editorial cartoon entitled “And on the Bishop Tobin/Patrick Kennedy War” raised deep emotions in me. It is not Bishop Tobin’s intent to drive people away from the church. As a matter of fact the Diocese has started a Year of Evangelization to reach out and invite Catholics back to the faith. Granted the Catholic message is a challenging one; respect for life from conception to natural death, the proclamation that marriage is a covenant between man and a woman, etc. It is the Church’s mission here at St. Luke’s and elsewhere to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, protect the stranger, educate the young. St. Luke’s parish is willing to work to make our town, state and world a just and peaceful place.”
This week I finished helping with communion at the 11:30 Mass and I go to the side door and begin a quiet discussion with a cross country runner from Barrington High School. When the conversation is over I hear Father Collins talking about “ensoulment” and Thomas Aquinas. Then he continues to comment on the Tobin-Kennedy issue. The main point revolves around the issue of who is worthy to receive Holy Communion. Fr. Collins’ remarks provoke strong opinions; pro and con. Now it’s my turn to weigh in as pastor to this ongoing debate. First of all, Bishop Tobin’s letter of three years ago was a private, confidential letter. He asked, not told, the Congressman to refrain from communion. Bishop Tobin has said many times he did not instruct the 300 priests of the Diocese to refuse Congressman Kennedy communion. I support Bishop Tobin’s many efforts to promote health care legislation that will not directly fund abortions. I hate abortion with my whole heart and soul. It is respect for life from conception that is indeed the engine that propels us as a Church to promote the dignity of human life. It is our respect for life that sends missionaries to the disabled, forgotten children of Jamaica. It propels us to work at the soup kitchen at St. Charles, send donations to the Little Flower Home, bring communion to the residents of Orchard View Manor and engage in many other outreach efforts. If the Church does not speak for the voiceless who will? I find it providential that right after the Mass I drive to Holy Apostles Church in Cranston to concelebrate a Mass with Monsignor Gregory, the founder of Mustard Seed. Our Catholic Church continues to speak for the voiceless and the least of our brothers and sisters.

Father Ray Collins is a friend who taught me in seminary about applying the word of God to the events of the day. However, his remarks Sunday should have been presented in a letter to the editor of the Rhode Island Catholic or in an OP-Ed piece. Remarks after communion was not the proper forum. He is open to hear from you with your thoughts. His e-mail is:; his phone is 401/783-4301.

The Church seeks to promote forums where people can engage in a respectful dialogue about complex moral issues. In this pondering I have attempted to shed light, not heat, on this controversial topic. A year ago I initiated “A View from the Pew” in our bulletin. About five people have offered reflections. Perhaps now more people will offer their opinions. Let us listen to each other and come up with constructive solutions to the moral questions of the day.

Fr. Robert Hawkins


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Father Bob,

Bishop Tobin in his open war with Representative Patrick Kennedy has made a tactical and undiplomatic error. He has every right to his moral judgment on the thorny issue of abortion. But by jumping into the political arena as he did he hurts his cause and tries to be more Catholic than the Pope. In fact, he could learn a lesson from the Vatican with its centuries of diplomatic know-how.

The Vatican does not operate in the world of diplomacy like Bishop Tobin. Consider the Vatican’s reception and treatment of President Obama, albeit a non-Catholic, and its glowing tribute to him in Observatore Romano. Even more to the point consider the pope’s granting a knighthood to French President Sarkozy, a Catholic who is a committed supporter of abortion rights unlike Kennedy and is living in a marriage hardly approved by the church.

Much of the fulmination by the likes of Tobin may simply be a case of sour grapes: Obama won an election that some bishops fought hard to thwart. They are angry and vindictive. Fortunately there are more level heads in the hierarchy. Using the Eucharist as a weapon of punishment is not the way to win hearts and minds.

Bishops like Tobin should also be wary of jeopardizing their tax-exempt status by meddling in politics and telling people how to vote. It is best to resist the temptation to judge others and let the Lord determine who’s a good Catholic and who isn't.


Anonymous said...

Dear Richard-
I have found this very helpful to read, number 7 in particular:

The fact of the matter is, we are all called in different ways to serve as examples of faith. For politicians and those in the public eye, there is a greater call to not misrepresent the Church. Bishop Tobin has done what any Bishop should do, hold his flock accountable for his actions. To not have spoken out on this issue would have been to turn his back on his people, who look to him to guide and teach. The Pope himself has also spoken outwardly on abortion. Leading the Diocese of RI in the Truth is not being more Catholic than the Pope. It is just being Catholic.
I think you may be confusing judging others with holding our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable for their actions. Here Jesus reminds us to be kind to one another but that we are obligated to hold our neighbors accountable. Pointing out wrongdoing charitably is not judging, it is being a Christian.

I have also found this to be extremely helpful, written by Pope John Paul II

Thank you, Fr. Bob, for your response to this issue. You are an example for our parish. Thank you for all that you do.


Anonymous said...

pardon me, I mean hold his flock accountable for 'its' actions!

Anonymous said...

Both Bishop Tobin and Father Hawkins are right on!! My thanks to both!! Abortion is the taking of innocent life. Simple as that. I expect nothing less from The Church. RKM

Anonymous said...

There is nothing kind or charitable about using the Eucharist as a weapon.

Some bishops have been very selective in their indignation. But one example: there were no threats or warnings from the pulpit, were there, for those Catholics who supported an illegal and immoral war that was condemned by two popes.

Furthermore no mention has been made here about the very real risk that the REAL enemies of the Church (not Mr. Kennedy) will go after the tax-exempt status of our church because of those leaders who tell their flock how to vote.

In this last election many bishops stepped over the line in the matter around the country. The fact that intelligent Caholics found no credibilty in their pretestations in either the election or at Notre Dame should have taught them a bitter lessor. Its doesn't seem to have done so.
Playing politics is playing risky.

As Shakespeare wisely said: "Who choses me will get as much as he deserves"

Anonymous said...

If you are catholic-- YOU ARE PRO- LIFE. End of discussion.If you are an intelligent catholic- pick up the catechism of the catholic church, available at many book stores, read it, and support your bishop. I will continue to pray for my lost and confused brothers and sisters. God bless you Bishop Tobin and thank you Father Bob and Father Luke for teaching the Faith!