Monday, November 30, 2009

Jesus Certainly Had It All Right But The Catholic Church Seems To Have Turned It All On Its Head

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- by Mary Jean Collins

Watch out Catholic Bishops, it looks like the younger generation of Catholic elected officials are not going to continue the careful reverence or fear of the hierarchy the last generation displayed. In an act to courage, leadership and defiance, in October, Rep Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI), called out the hierarchy for their lack of support for the health care reform bill. In an interview with Cybercast News Service on October 21, Kennedy said he could not understand “how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time” adding that its stance was fanning “flames of dissent and discord.” Representative Kennedy may feel a unique responsibility for passage of this bill since the death of his father, Senator Kennedy this last summer.

The day after Kennedy’s statements, Bishop Thomas J Tobin, the Bishop of the Providence Rhode Island Diocese called the comments “irresponsible and ignorant of the facts” and also called Kennedy “a disappointment” to the church.

Kennedy did not back down. On November 7, he voted against the amendment sponsored by Bart Stupak- (D-MI 1) and Joe Pitts (R-PA 16) that would prohibit federal funds from paying for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion. He was not the only Catholic Democrat to do so. In fact, only 36 Catholic Democrats voted for the amendment while 50 including Kennedy voted against it. Kennedy then voted to pass the Health Care legislation. Six Catholic Democrats voted for Stupak-Pitts and against health care reform. I wonder if they have heard from their Bishops about that vote.
 
After the House vote, Bishop Tobin issued an open letter to Representative Kennedy criticizing his vote and questioning his faith. Bishop Tobin called Kennedy’s support of abortion rights “a deliberate and obstinate act of the will” that was “unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members.”

Kennedy then revealed that Bishop Tobin had instructed him not to receive Communion (a central religious practice) and told priests in the diocese not to give Kennedy communion. Tobin admitted that he had written a letter in 2007 asking Kennedy to refrain from communion by denied it was an outright ban. A planned meeting between the Bishop and Representative Kennedy has been put on hold.

On Monday, another Catholic Representative took the initiative to speak out in defense of Representative Kennedy. Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8). Murphy stated: “We don’t legislate at the orders of the Vatican, we legislate what is in our conscience and what we think is good for our country." Ironically Murphy was at Harvard to receive a John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award from Caroline Kennedy, President Kennedy’s daughter. 

Murphy also discussed the punishment he had received at the hands of his parish priest when he married his wife Jenni in 2006. The priest refused to bless the marriage because of Murphy’s stand on abortion rights.

Murphy ran for Congress in 2006 as a returning Iraq vet against an incumbent Republican Thomas Fitzgerald. It was a very close race and in the end Murphy won by 1500 votes. I was impressed at the time at the courage of this candidate because he was unfailing in his support of reproductive right and LGBT rights. 

I’ve worked in various prochoice advocacy organizations for over 30 years. Having outspoken Catholic public officials is one excellent way of breaking the Bishop’s hold on Congress. It is long overdue to question whether a handful of Bishops actually speak for the Catholic people. When they go to the Hill it is time to make clear, the people are not following, not in policy and not in elections. The Bishops have hidden behind their support of social legislation to blunt criticism of their holding every issue hostage to the abortion issue. 

Winning health care reform without giving in to the Bishops demands will embolden Catholics, office holders and people to expect a Church that pretends to support social justice to put up or shut up.

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5 Comments:

At 7:54 PM, Anonymous J Reilly said...

Collins is right on regarding the Church and their oppressive and wrong-headed lobbying efforts. Thank God for courageous leaders like Kennedy who follow a well-formed conscience instead of the lobbying hierarchy. When will we realize the bishops speak simply for themselves and not for "their flock", no longer following a tired and very out of touch clergy?

 
At 9:02 PM, Blogger Pats said...

I have never understood why the Catholic church feels the need to impose their moral views on abortion (and other reproductive issues) on the rest of us. If believers follow the dictates of their church, there is no need to legislate on the abortion issue. Next thing you know, they'll be trying to outlaw birth control.

 
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