Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Boundaries

Patrick Kennedy, Congressman and member of a very famous and very political Catholic family, initiated a public dispute with his bishop as he demonstrated a rather Protestant understanding of his obligations. From the First Things Blog:
Patrick Kennedy, the congressman from Rhode Island, wrote, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.”
And Thomas J. Tobin, the bishop of Providence, replies:
.... 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?

Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity”—as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.

Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category—it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church. .... [more]
Every group, religious or not, has boundaries that define it. If the group doesn't distinguish itself from the world around it, it ceases to exist as anything meaningful. For Catholics one of the most important distinctives is accepting the teaching authority of the Church. Lacking that, being Catholic does come down to "baptism as an infant," "family ties," or "cultural heritage." For most of the rest of us the boundaries are less well defined — certainly far less so than just a few decades ago. It is worth thinking about what they are — some walls may need shoring up.

Being a Catholic Has to Mean Something » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog