I was present when Father Collins addressed the congregation a few weeks ago to acknowledge the public controversy between Bishop Tobin and Patrick Kennedy and I feel his remarks have been largely misinterpreted, and in some cases misrepresented. The purpose of his remarks was not to undermine the Church’s view on abortion. In fact Father Collins was perfectly clear that he fully supported the Church’s view on abortion, having stated so several times. Instead, I believe he offered his comments to contribute to the discussions he presumed (hoped?) Catholics would be having in reaction to the prominent media attention the Bishop Tobin and Patrick Kennedy exchange was receiving. As a professor and scholar, his experiences and perspective are certainly different than that of a parish priest, as is his style of communication. Regardless of where one ultimately comes out, his comments were relevant, honest, and rooted in Catholic teaching. In light of his many years of devotion and sacrifice, he was undeserving of the disrespect that was shown to him.
I appreciated Father Collins’ comments because they acknowledged, at least indirectly, that the issue of health care reform is not black and white for all of us. In my mind, the current debate involves competing moral principles. On the one hand, we have, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” On the other, “Thou shalt not kill.” If one truly believes that health care reform, even with an abortion provision, is critical for the least among us, is it necessarily inconsistent with Church teachings? Obviously, reform that excludes abortions would be preferable, but since that option is not presented, which principle prevails? More importantly, why?
In this year of evangelization, the reaction to Father Collins’ remarks causes me concern. Are questions welcome? Is there room for dialogue in search of the truth of Jesus’ teachings? Is the Church bigger than abortion, or any single issue for that matter?
Lynn Barry Dolan