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Posts Tagged ‘abortion’

This week, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, rebuked Mr. Patrick Kennedy.  Specifically, he essentially excommunicated Kennedy from the Church for his convictions about abortion rights, or a woman’s right to choose.

It strikes me that the Bishop was well within the prerogatives of his office to speak on the matter for a Church that has been consistently vocal in condemning abortion.

When we join a religious community, we sign on to its established codes of conduct and beliefs. If we oppose those beliefs and rules and choose to ignore them, we justifiably face expulsion from the group. Alternatively, upon realizing that membership brings us face to face with ideological and/or moral conflicts that we can no longer abide, we have the freedom to withdraw: something I have done now four times over several decades from different communities.

Mr. Kennedy is emblematic of the many so-called cafeteria Catholics who decide what they intend to honor in the teachings of the church and what they will ignore. It is living in bad faith to profess fidelity to a church, on the one hand, and then cavalierly disregard one of the major tenets of the magisterium on the other.

By the same token, the Roman Catholic Church also lives in bad faith. In this instance, the Bishop has publically chastised Mr. Kennedy because of his celebrity and the place he holds in crafting legislation. This is an example of the Church mirroring the self-same cafeteria-like Catholic agenda. Apparently, the Church has not felt a great deal of distress in offering the Eucharist in the past to many Italian politicians who hold similarly anti-Catholic views. The last Pope himself acted with averted gaze in the case of others about whom a public rebuke would have embarrassed, created turmoil, or simply been politically inconvenient.

So, the good Bishop takes selective umbrage to Patrick Kennedy’s positions, and argues openly that he does so because of Kennedy’s visibility: a gross exercise in unabashed unfairness and moralistic inconsistency.

Either the Church should expel ALL who defend a woman’s right to choose, or be mute on the subject. While I disagree with it, the theology on the matter, as presented by the Church, is at least intellectually coherent and consistent. To selectively apply that theology in practice based on other extra-theological criteria, such as celebrity, renders the theology itself suspect and disingenuous. The Church speaks out of both sides of its moralistic mouth on this issue in this situation.

At the end of the day, religious communities have the right to publish a moral theology. We have the right to join them on that basis or not. To join and dissent is just adolescent rebelliousness. For the Church to selectively apply moral outrage is political gamesmanship, grand-standing, and moral relativism in its own right, not righteousness. It is capricious autocracy.

Either the church of Rome should apply the law equally, or conserve its leadership energies and focus on what really matters as demonstrated through its consistent,  programmatic assertion and action.

Along our spiritual path, the journey invariably engages our convictions and we take a stand within the body politic. Doing so  sharpens the saw of our own reflections on the relationship of social issues and spiritual convictions, and affords us the chance to look at ourselves, our own assumptions, and our own consistencies and inconsistencies.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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