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. [...]
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?
Yes. Wow. Ouch. Go read the whole thing.
This isn't just an Episcopal Spine Alert. This calls for an Episcopal Body Slam Alert. (No disrespect to the good bishop intended.)
Imagine how absolutely unthinkable a letter like this, by a bishop to a Kennedy, would have been about 48 years ago. Heck, imagine how unthinkable it would have been even ten or fifteen years ago, while the magical shadow of that media paradise known as Camelot sent its protective penumbras in emanating waves over the remnants of the Kennedy clan, imbuing their public vices and quasi-criminal activities with a rosy glow which allowed no criticism and very few questions.
For a bishop of the immediate post-Conciliar era to have called a Kennedy to task in this way would have been gauche, unthinkable. At that time even many in the clergy hoped that Pope Paul VI would soon permit contraception, and as for abortion--well, it wasn't legal yet, and even when it did become legal the concern in so many Catholic circles seemed to involve crafting a way for good Catholics to keep on being good Democrats instead of calling to account those Catholic politicians who, in ways most unbecoming of Catholics, actually supported the thing.
For more than forty years the Kennedys have been held up as the quintessential political American Catholic family, and that little matter of their ravenous and slavish support for the poisoning, dismembering, and/or beheading of unborn human children in their mothers' wombs has been overlooked, as something too impolite to mention in mixed company. They've been welcomed and feted, dined and applauded, courted and approved of by Catholics up to and including members of the hierarchy, and they've dismissed the glaring inconsistency of their support for the wholesale slaughter of more than fifty million American children with that silly and patronizing phrase, "Well, I'm Catholic, but..."
It's about time--overdue, actually--that a Catholic Bishop in America would put the Kennedy family's "Catholic...buts..." on the line. What he has done here is to say, eloquently, brilliantly, lucidly, justly and charitably what pro-life Catholics have said in frustration for lo these many years to our so-called "pro-choice" Catholic politicians on both sides of the aisle: you can't be Catholic and "pro-choice."
Camelot--King Arthur's, that is--fell because of infidelity on the inside, remember. Catholics can't claim loyalty to the Church and infidelity to her teachings at the same time. The old polite coalition between "pro-choice" Catholic politicians and their bishops has now officially been put on notice, and is beginning to crumble. The times, they are (thank God!) a-changin'.