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Tobin Questions Patrick Kennedy's Catholicism

In an extraordinary escalation of their public feud over health care reform and abortion, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has penned an open letter to Patrick Kennedy in Rhode Island Catholic magazine questioning his Catholicism.

This comes with news that a meeting between the two to discuss the public war of words has been postponed.

Kennedy and Tobin have exchanged words, in recent weeks, after the Congressman blasted the church for its refusal to back health care reform unless the overhaul includes an explicit ban on federal funding for abortion (a provision that pro-lifers secured in the House version of reform passed this weekend).

In a letter to the church dated October 29, Kennedy wrote: “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Tobin responds with his piece in Rhode Island Catholic.

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?

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