The Banality of the Separation of Church and State “Argument”, vis-à-vis Bishop Tobin and Congressman Kennedy

Four points, on the continuing discussion spurred by Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s statement that a true pro-life position requires the Catholic Church to support a healthcare plan that includes public funding for abortions:

  1. Cribbing a large dose of Robert George’s exposition on philosophy and theology (Backfill: By which I mean I’m doing some cribbing from Robert George, not that the Church is — the Church relies on sources more like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc.), the Catholic Church recognizes a distinction between its teachings which are rooted in natural law, i.e. those derived from the observation and rational consideration of God’s creation, and those which are rooted in divine revelation. The Church should never advocate writing matters of divine revelation into secular law, but in matters of natural law, such as the right of all persons to the equal protection of man-made law, the Church has as much right to speak out as anyone. And as the only power possessed by the Church is the persuasive power to speak out — a power that depends heavily on the clarity and consistency of the ideas being communicated — the Church has not only the right, but the duty to oppose the spread and the codification into law of ideas that it believes to be contrary to natural law and to be potential sources of harm.
  2. We know now that contentious relationship between Bishop Thomas Tobin and Congressman Patrick Kennedy on life-issues dates back to at least 2007. We also know that Bishop Tobin had nothing to say in public about this dispute, until last month, after Congressman Kennedy stated that the Catholic Church’s pro-life position required support for a healthcare plan that includes government-funded abortions. To this statement, Bishop Tobin was compelled to respond, to stop an earthly prince from using his power and position to spread a poorly-thought out and destructive idea: that denying the protection of law to innocent lives is not only acceptable, but can be required, when it furthers a certain political agenda. Allowed to spread unchallenged, this idea can have dire consequences for individuals and society.
  3. Congressman Kennedy obviously is not the first Catholic office holder to support abortion. In 1983, in a speech delivered at Notre Dame University, New York Governor Mario Cuomo offered what many consider to be the pinnacle of the “personally opposed but publicly in favor” position on abortion. Some of Cuomo’s arguments are severely lacking, for example, where he argues that abortion should remain legal because it offers people the opportunity to do the right thing of their own free will. Of course if you were to suggest repealing other laws consistent with Catholic social teaching, for example minimum-wage laws, I doubt there would be much support from Cuomo-thinking liberals to be found on the basis of the opportunity it would provide for people to choose a course of action without interference from the state. And he never seriously addresses the issue of the duty of government officials to guarantee that all persons are treated with an equal right to life under the law.
    But overall argument aside, Governor Cuomo was very clearly willing to state that the act of abortion was wrong…
    For me, life or fetal life in the womb should be protected, even if five of nine Justices of the Supreme Court and my neighbor disagree with me. A fetus is different from an appendix or a set of tonsils. At the very least, even if the argument is made by some scientists or some theologians that in the early stages of fetal development we can’t discern human life, the full potential of human life is indisputably there. That – to my less subtle mind – by itself should demand respect, caution, indeed…reverence.
    Congressman Kennedy’s stated position, whether he understands what he has said or not, tramples upon this idea. His statement that a true pro-life position requires supporting an expansion of the government’s role in providing abortions is an argument that everyone must disregard whatever personal respect, caution and reverence for life they believe in to help to advance the agenda that he supports. Declaring that people should ignore their personal beliefs on serious moral issues, in support of a particular political agenda, is a long distance away from the position that Governor Cuomo’s words were attempting to stake out.
  4. Finally, since when does “separation of church and state” mean that religious figures can express public opinions on matters of their religion only when they agree with secular governing authorities?!?!

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joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Check out Jerzyk on RIF calling out(his favorite activity and yet he’s so vulnerable himself)the Bishop as a hypocrite.When the Bishop was carrying water for illegal aliens and advising Catholic ICE agents to refuse to do their jobs,Jerzyk was kissing his….well,let’s say it wasn’t his ring.
Talk about hypocrisy.
I think the Bishop didn’t start this fight.Kennedy went off on another of his insane rants and this time,Tobin just couldn’t look the other way.I don’t much care what goes on in that church,because I am not Catholic,nor is anyone in my family,except my son in law.And he got married to my daughter in a Protestant church,so I guess he’s not up for canonization any time soon.Any more than some Rabbi is gonna give me the Jew of the Year award.
I thought the Bishop’s admonition to ICE agents was absolutely out of line because they are just enforcing existing law,it’s not like they’re serving the Nazis or Communists or something.
This whole dispute should’ve stayed in the religious sphere and Kennedy has himself to blame for making a very public and incendiary matter of it.

Chris
Chris
11 years ago

And yet, no matter how many stupid things that he says or does, past, present or future, Patches will be reelected, again and again, by the brain-dead voters in this state, because he’s “our” Kennedy.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

Why isn’t this horse decomposing yet?

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

4.Finally, since when does “separation of church and state” mean that religious figures can express public opinions on matters of their religion only when they agree with secular governing authorities?!?!
….writes an angry Andrew
Who cares? I don’t see anyone silencing the good bishop. Nor did anyone silence the Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

rhody
rhody
11 years ago

If Patrick had half a functioning brain, he wouldn’t allow himself to be goaded by the bishop into making one stupid mistake after another. As for Tobin, I’m sure many of his pastoral peers are wishing he’s just STFU and quit embarassing them.

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

“Finally, since when does “separation of church and state” mean that religious figures can express public opinions on matters of their religion only when they agree with secular governing authorities?!?!”
Indeed.
Phil, many people have called for the Bishop to stop speaking about these matters on the exact (invalid) basis that Andrew references.
His characterization of the Bishop aside, I wonder if perhaps Rhody has a point. How much more of substance can be said by either side in a productive manner? (though it does make interesting listening and reading.)

gakd33
gakd33
11 years ago

Whether or not if your not a Catholic or a Catholic in name only and dislike the Bishop, Kennedy is a hypocrite and dishonest with him self and to the voters of Rhode Island.He is arrogant because he is a Kennedy. How in the voters keep voting him in. He has the teachers and state unions as well the Latinos in his camp. And I thought teachers were smart???

George
George
11 years ago

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
This was designed to protect Religion(s) from the State, and not visa versa.
Bishop Tobin is exercising his right of religious freedom. There is no attempt at “establishment”. The bishop is acting in his capacity as a Catholic leader, offering guidance to a member of his flock. In the eyes of the church the bishop represents, if Kennedy wishes to boast his catholicicm; he needs to be a catholic in the full sense.
Neither Kennedy, nor any other catholic, should believe they can have it both ways.

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

Andrew
Phil,
The above equivalence is so dumb, I can only believe that one of your turkeys has gotten loose and taken control of your keyboard.
I have’nt stopped laughing since reading this. Thank you.

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