“Your position is unacceptable to the Church”

Bishop Tobin

Faithful readers of this blog will recall this post here  discussing the Bishop of Providence Thomas J. Tobin taking Patrick Kennedy, Teddy’s son, to task for attacking the Church over ObamaCare.  Now the Bishop has written the following letter to Congressman Kennedy:

Dear Congressman Kennedy:

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” (Congressman Patrick Kennedy)

Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership.

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.

For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)

Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)

There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a 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?

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.

Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic “profile in courage,” especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin

Bishop of Providence


Here is a Bishop!  He is speaking words that Catholic pro-abort pols have needed to hear for decades.  Bravo!  Father Z adds some timely comments of his own here.

28 Responses to “Your position is unacceptable to the Church”

  1. Tim Shipe says:

    Wow- what an excellent thing to have a bishop respond so completely, so intellectually, armed with both truth and compassion. Any public Catholic worth his or her salt would welcome a critique of their politics by the Church’s Hierarchy- the obedience of faith.

  2. Ditto, Tim! This is a great letter, in many ways.

  3. afl says:

    If only those Bishops with whom Pelosi, Kerry, Biden, etal are attached to would send each this type of letter and ask them the same questions or ask them to quit stating they are faithful and practicing Catholics.

  4. Karl says:

    While this certainly pleases me and is encouraging, I wish that all bishops would do such things, in private, when there are situations where those who publically claim to be Catholic are flaunting their situations that are, based upon the very definition of it, scandalous.

    These bishops seen to think that they will not be held to account when they are fully aware of what is going on and choose to do nothing.

    Bravo, to Bishop Tobin. A hopeful sign, indeed. May your public act encourage your fellow bishops to see the value in public admonishment, and private too….

  5. ron chandonia says:

    I wish this sort of response were more common. In fact, I wish it were the policy of all the bishops in the USCCB. I think we’d see a very different response from self-described Catholic politicians than was evident during the Stupak vote.

  6. Tito Edwards says:

    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.

    Incredibly eloquent and to the point.

    I pray many more bishops will follow his example.

    Imagine if Cardinal Mahoney or Cardinal George were to follow this exemplary example!

    Deo gratias!

  7. Andrew C. says:

    That was rather refreshing!

  8. c matt says:

    Wow…just wow!!!

    A 100 more like him, please.

  9. e. says:


    It is right that you should applaud this bishop; however, how about the USCCB, too, for what they apparently did just recently as regarding abortion in the Health Bill?

    Kindly note from The Wall Street Journal:

    “We did not want this legislation to be a vehicle for expanding abortion or for changing federal policy on abortion in the wrong direction,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the secretariat of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    The abortion issue was at the center of last-minute wrangling in the House. A bloc of Democrats, *backed by the Catholic bishops*, threatened to scuttle the House health bill if leaders didn’t take up the antiabortion measure. In an unusual show of influence, Mr. Doerflinger and other representatives of the bishops on Friday met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to broker an agreement. Ms. Pelosi, who favors abortion rights, reluctantly agreed to bring the measure to the floor, and it became part of the broader bill that passed in the House late Saturday.”

  10. A wonderful letter; as a Catholic seeking public office myself, this letter is like water in the desert.

    Is there a link to the original somewhere?

  11. John T says:

    That letter was incredible. Thank you Bishop Thomas Tobin for speaking out against the scandal that these so called Catholic politicians inflict upon the Catholic name.

  12. Donna V. says:

    Thank God for Bishop Tobin. I am so weary of politicians trying to convince me that 2 plus 2 equals 5, that one can be a good Catholic and pro-abortion, that Hasan’s religion had absolutely nothing to do with the Ft. Hood shooting, that we can spend our way to prosperity and so on, that when an honest man with common sense speaks up I want to cheer. And then I want to cry, because there are so few of them.

  13. American Knight says:

    Wonderful. We must keep praying for our bishops and the Holy Father. It is the pope’s leadership that strengthens the bishops and it is the sacrifice and prayers of all communicants that strenghten our leadership.

    The Holy Spirit is no cowardly spirit.

    This is one servant that is not lukewarm. We need more. Pray, pray, pray.

  14. Largebill says:

    A direct, honest and hopeful letter. I would suggest that we all read this letter as though it were written to us personally. No, I’m not saying any of us are as confused on core issues as some of our politicians, but we can all use some personal reaffirming of what our faith entails. I could not help but examine my own failings as the Bishop reminded the congressman (and the rest of us) of some of what makes us Catholics. The exchange could seem like a rebuke of the congressman (and it was), but it also was an invitation to return. The congressman (and millions of others) have to RSVP.

    Bishop Tolan also showed a touch of humor by suggesting Patrick could be an authentic “profile in courage,” obviously a play on the title of Ted Sorenson’s book that Patrick’s uncle Jack got a Pulitzer for writing.

  15. Benedictus Quebecensis says:

    The current absolutist teaching of the Church on abortion is an innovation. The Roman Catholic hierarchy can try to paper over the Church’s history but they cannot succeed because the historical record is irrefutable.

    Under today’s rigid rules, they would have to refuse communion to some of the most imminent popes and doctors of the Chruch.

    The Church has always considered abortion to be inherently evil but has been divided on the degree of sin attached to it. It is always to be discouraged but punishment (if any) has, until the 20th century, depended on WHEN it is practiced.

    It is obvious that life (of some kind) begins at conception. The question for theologians has until very recently not been when life begins but when the embryo or fetus is endowed with HUMAN life, that is, with a human soul. And that question is difficult to answer.

    From the 5th to 16th Century AD, Christian philosophers took varying positions on abortion.

    St. Augustine wrote that an early abortion is not murder because the soul of a fetus at an early stage is not present.

    St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III, and Pope Gregory XIV believed that a fetus does not have a soul until “quickening” or when the fetus begins to kick and move. Abortion before quickening was, therefore, discouraged but tolerated.

    Since quickening occurs at some indeterminate time after conception and according to some doctors of the Church, after the first trimester, it was assumed that ensoulment occurs at some unknown moment during that period. After the first trimester, abortion was homicide because it was (according to the theological consensus) a certainty that the fetus was by then endowed with a human soul.

    Prior to that time, there was no consensus. It was therefore common over the centuries for abortions in the first trimester to be tolerated in varying degrees.

    Indeed, this position was reflected in British and U.S. criminal law until the beginning of the 20th century. Until then, it was uncommon for a woman or her doctor to be charged with a crime if the abortion was induced during the first trimester.

    While the Church has ALWAYS OPPOSED abortion, the modern absolutist position that equates it with culpable homicide with no exceptions and as of the moment of conception is at odds with the Church’s earlier practice.

    The Church is certainly within its rights to adapt and refine its teachings. However it is false to claim that the position taken today has always been held.

    Today’s teaching does not rise to the standard of the Vincentian canon of catholicity; it has not been held everywhere, at all times, by all (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est).

    If CIVIL and CANON laws allowed first trimester abortion (as did early Churchmen, the ancient Jews, the early Muslims and even Aristotle) and banned later abortions, there would be little or no conflict over this issue. That would be a lesser of evils solution that would spare many righteous-minded people from suffering.

    Tell me, do YOU know when a soul enters a human fetus or embryo? I don’t either, but I respect the opinions of the doctors of the Church and believe that greater good is achieved by following their teachings rather than the innovations of a very few modern theologians.

  16. e. says:


    Your Pelosi-styled argument (not to mention, stupidity) is as risible and demonstrably deficient as hers. A refutation to such a deficient (as well as to say, twistedly perverted) presentation of history was already submitted by those more superior in both thought and epistemology than you seem to be:

    St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, held that the process of conception required forty days for boys and eighty for girls before the conceptus was ready for the infusion of the rational soul (Commentary on the Fourth Book of Sentences, d. 31 exp. text.). And that was the common view through the eighteenth century. Abortion prior to said infusion was not held by the Church to be the killing of a human person; it was condemned only as a particularly nasty form of contraception. What changed that, of course, was the development of the modern disciplines of obstetrics, gynecology, and above all genetics.

    As soon as it became clear to the Church that even the blastocyst, under normal conditions, was a genetically unique individual member of homo sapiens—twinning being a separate, still controversial case—Pope Pius IX included abortion at any stage of gestation as a form of homicide in his renewed list of offenses incurring excommunication (Apostolicae Sedis [1869]). And so the teaching and discipline remain today.

  17. Donald R. McClarey says:

    You mistate Church teaching on abortion BQ. From the earliest days the Church condemned abortion as a terrible sin. There was never any tolerance for abortion at any stage of pregnancy. There was a debate as to the penance to be performed for an abortion and whether it should be equivalent to that for homicide, due to the lack of knowledge of fetal development. However, this debate had nothing to do with toleration for abortion.

    “The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as a grave evil. Christian writers from the first-century author of the Didache to Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) have maintained that the Bible forbids abortion, just as it forbids murder. This tract will provide some examples of this consistent witness from the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

    As the early Christian writer Tertullian pointed out, the law of Moses ordered strict penalties for causing an abortion. We read, “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [Hebrew: “so that her child comes out”], but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Ex. 21:22–24).

    This applies the lex talionis or “law of retribution” to abortion. The lex talionis establishes the just punishment for an injury (eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, compared to the much greater retributions that had been common before, such as life for eye, life for tooth, lives of the offender’s family for one life).

    The lex talionis would already have been applied to a woman who was injured in a fight. The distinguishing point in this passage is that a pregnant woman is hurt “so that her child comes out”; the child is the focus of the lex talionis in this passage. Aborted babies must have justice, too.

    This is because they, like older children, have souls, even though marred by original sin. David tells us, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5, NIV). Since sinfulness is a spiritual rather than a physical condition, David must have had a spiritual nature from the time of conception.

    The same is shown in James 2:26, which tells us that “the body without the spirit is dead”: The soul is the life-principle of the human body. Since from the time of conception the child’s body is alive (as shown by the fact it is growing), the child’s body must already have its spirit.

    Thus, in 1995 Pope John Paul II declared that the Church’s teaching on abortion “is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors . . . I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church” (Evangelium Vitae 62).

    The early Church Fathers agreed. Fortunately, abortion, like all sins, is forgivable; and forgiveness is as close as the nearest confessional.

    The Didache

    “The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).

    The Letter of Barnabas

    “The way of light, then, is as follows. If anyone desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following. . . . Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born” (Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]).

    The Apocalypse of Peter

    “And near that place I saw another strait place . . . and there sat women. . . . And over against them many children who were born to them out of due time sat crying. And there came forth from them rays of fire and smote the women in the eyes. And these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion” (The Apocalypse of Peter 25 [A.D. 137]).


    “What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers?
    . . . [W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it” (A Plea for the Christians 35 [A.D. 177]).


    “In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).

    “Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.

    “There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. . . .

    “[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).

    “Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does” (ibid., 27).

    “The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex. 21:22–24]” (ibid., 37).

    Minucius Felix

    “There are some [pagan] women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your [false] gods. . . . To us [Christians] it is not lawful either to see or hear of homicide” (Octavius 30 [A.D. 226]).


    “Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to bind themselves tightly so as to expel what was being conceived, since they would not, on account of relatives and excess wealth, want to have a child by a slave or by any insignificant person. See, then, into what great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by teaching adultery and murder at the same time!” (Refutation of All Heresies [A.D. 228]).

    Council of Ancyra

    “Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees” (canon 21 [A.D. 314]).

    Basil the Great

    “Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not” (First Canonical Letter, canon 2 [A.D. 374]).

    “He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of willful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and unintentionally kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defense, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it dies upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees” (ibid., canon 8).

    John Chrysostom

    “Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication. . . . Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit?—where there are many efforts at abortion?—where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine” (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).


    “I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the Church, their mother. . . . Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when, as often happens, they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder” (Letters 22:13 [A.D. 396]).

    The Apostolic Constitutions

    “Thou shalt not use magic. Thou shalt not use witchcraft; for he says, ‘You shall not suffer a witch to live’ [Ex. 22:18]. Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. . . . [I]f it be slain, [it] shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed” (Apostolic Constitutions 7:3 [A.D. 400]).”

  18. American Knight says:


    That was great! Thank you so much.

    Did you really need to pull out the Howitzer to handle the little misguided relativist though? 😉

  19. Benedictus Quebecensis says:

    I appreciate the theological rebuttals to my original message (even if the gratuitous calumnies added by some are hardly Christ-like remarks).

    However, even the material adduced show that the question of when the product of conception, no doubt a living being, is a human being endowed with a soul. Some seem to confuse spiritus humana (ruach, psykhe) with anima humana (nephesh, pneuma).

    It is an incontrovertible fact that, despite the universally held view (among Catholics) that abortion was inherently evil and always to be condemned and opposed, the punishment to be applied varied. Furthermore the punishment depended on whether or not the product of conception was infantus inanimatus (soul-less enfant) or infantus animatus (ensouled enfant).

    Those today who pretend to call on science and argue that even a human blastocyte is endowed with a soul are perverting science (which does not deal with preternatural phenomena) and displaying arrogance by claiming in the absence of sure knowledge, to know something that only God knows for sure.

    The Universal Church did not begin rigorous Canon Law codification of what it considered to be “sexual sins” unitl the earth 7th century. At that time, abortion made the list, but in terms of punishment, abortion was well behind the sins of contraception, fellatio, and sodomy. In fact, the punishment for fellatio was at least 7 years of penance, while the punishment for abortion was a mere 120 days. At that time, the Church certainly did NOT consider all abortion to be culpable homicide.
    St. Augustine of Hippo argued that abortion before ensoulment was not infanticide. However, the time of ensoulment that he assumed was not the same as the time assumed by others.

    Pope Innocent III in the early 1200s, ruled that the fetus had no soul until it was “animated”, usually around the 24th week.

    At that time, in a salacious case of sexual disobedience, a monk was found NOT guilty of homicide for aborting his lover’s unborn child. In that case, it was ruled that at the time of the abortion, the fetus was an “infantus inanimatus” and thus it’s destruction was not culpable homicide.

    St. Jerome held a view not unlike the later view of Pope Innocent III. Jerome said, “The seed gradually takes shape in the uterus, and it [abortion] does not count as killing until the individual elements have acquired their external appearance and their limbs. (“Epistle” 121,4)

    Jerome certainly did not think the human blastocyte was an infantus animatus.

    In 1588, Pope Sixtus V in 1588 made all abortions illegal.

    In due course, Sixtus V was reversed by Pope Gregory XIV, who tolerated abortions up to 16 ½ weeks as not equivalent to the killing of a human being, as no soul was present.

    The toleration shown by Pope Gregory XIV remained the official teaching of the Church for the next three centuries, until 1869, when Pope Pius IX declared all abortion to be homicide.

    Furthermore, the declaration of Pope Pius IX (which is not explicitly claimed by theologians to be an ex cathedra pronouncement and thus is a papally imposed discipline not unlike the divergent opinions of some of his predecessors) was not the last word on the matter.

    It took more than a CENTURY after his pronouncement before all references to “foetus inanimatus” and “foetus animatus” were removed from Canon Law.

    A question that seldom is discussed is what the punishment for abortion should be today under secular criminal law. After all, many Catholics take a strong position on the secular illictness of abortion. They work tirelessly to suppport or oppose candidates of political office and office holders based on how those people view abortion as a matter of secular law. They favor state and federal laws against abortion.

    However, they seldom say what the civil punishment for abortion should be. Historically, the ecclesiastical punishment has generally been a period of penance, that has varied, in different eras, between 120 days and 10 years.

    However, if abortion is culpable murder then it must be punished just like any other culpable murder or least be considered a form of criminally negligent manslaughter. If a women is charged with procuring an abortion, what should her sentence be? To be consequent in their positions, Catholics who insist that abortion should be a crime under secular law must take a position on the sentence or range of sentences that would be appropriate for that crime.

    Since the Church discourages recourse to the death penalty, capital punishment would seem to be excluded. What then would the punishement be? Life in prison as for any other premeditated murder? A period of years (5, 10, 15), as is the case for most forms of non-premeditated murder or negligent homicide? Probation and a fine?

    I respect those who sincerely believe that all abortion is culpable homicide. They have serious grounds, historically speaking. However, those who decry abortion as evil, but would tolerate it in some circumstances during the first trimester are also in good company, historically speaking.

    What disturbs me is the distortion historical record by those who believe all abortion is culpable homicide. Stand up for the position that you sincerely believe is morally right but do not make the false claim that you are promoting a stance that has been taken always, everywhere and by all.

  20. Donald R. McClarey says:

    A good overview of the teaching of the Church on abortion:


    “However, those who decry abortion as evil, but would tolerate it in some circumstances during the first trimester are also in good company, historically speaking.”

    No, they are in atrocious company. The condemnation of abortion by the Church has been universal and unending, and there has never been any tolerance of abortion by the Catholic Church.

  21. stillhere4u says:

    In the escalating fight between Thomas Tobin and Patrick Kennedy, it strikes me that a conflict of interest is involved in one of the parties being the umpire or mediator. It also strikes me that both parties are in a position to abuse their position to further the fight…under the rubric of a higher purpose. I recommend the following post: http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/so-the-last-will-be-first-and-the-first-will-be-last/

  22. […] with the Bishop of Providence Thomas J. Tobin.  Prior posts on this combative dialogue are here and here.  Kennedy has now revealed that he is barred from receiving communion.  The Bishop has responded […]

  23. […] As Rhode Island is our most Catholic state, Kennedy went silent and got this parting shot from Tobin: “Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolu… […]

  24. […] conflict with his Bishop Thomas J. Tobin over the issue of abortion as detailed in posts here, here and here.  I suspect that Kennedy is not running for a number of reasons, perhaps the most […]

%d bloggers like this: