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Bishop Tobin Is Un-American for Denouncing U.S. Rep. Kennedy

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Upright Americans should be concerned about the un-American behavior of Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Rhode Island who is trying to deny U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy his right to political free speech in the United States. In an open letter to Kennedy published at the website of the diocesan newspaper the Rhode Island Catholic, Tobin declares that Kennedy's "rejection of the Church's teaching on abortion [is] a deliberate and obstinate act of the will." Yes indeed it is. Good for Kennedy. He is exercising his political free speech as an American citizen. Tobin to the contrary notwithstanding, the Roman Catholic Church has no legal authority to deny American citizens their freedom of speech as American citizens, even if they happen to be Catholics.

Unlike communist countries that outlaw religion, the United States has a tradition of allowing freedom of religion. Within that tradition, the religious groups can establish their own rules for governing members, provided that the members freely choose to follow the established rules. But the rules that are established to govern the members of the group are not necessarily the rules of the nation. Moreover, the group authorities should not make rules that deny the political free speech of members, because it would be un-American for the group to attempt to do such a thing. But this is the kind of thing that Tobin is trying to do to Kennedy.

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States can make rules that apply to Roman Catholics as members of the church group. So if the Catholic Church wants to make a rule saying that Roman Catholics should not have abortions, then that rule would be an acceptable rule for Roman Catholics. But it would apply only to their own personal practices. It would not apply to their political freedom of speech as American citizens. In short, the Roman Catholic Church has no business trying to make rules for anybody else but its own members.

In addition, the ban on abortion has not been promulgated ex cathedra. As a result, it does not have the strongest binding force even with respect to the personal practice of Catholics. In other words, after deliberate consideration of the ban on a abortion, a Catholic woman would be well within her rights to have an abortion. Arguably even a moral teaching promulgated ex cathedra would not trump the freedom of conscience of the individual Catholic woman. A moral teaching that had been promulgated ex cathedra would carry the strongest binding force, but in the final analysis individual conscience trumps every other consideration.

As American citizens, Catholic bishops have been allowed to exercise their political free speech to voice their opposition to artificial contraception, to legalized abortion in the first trimester, to gay marriage, and to the death penalty, among other things. But the Roman Catholic Church does not have a monopoly on moral reasoning. Moreover, the moral reasoning presented by Catholic bishops is not infallible according to Catholic standards regarding supposed infallibility. According to Catholic beliefs, only the pope can speak infallibly, when he speaks ex cathedra. But no pope has spoken ex cathedra about abortion. As a result, the Catholic Church's teaching about abortion is not infallible. Therefore, American Catholics, including Kennedy, are free as American citizens to question and debate this teaching. Consequently, Tobin is un-American for trying to deny Kennedy his freedom of political speech. For if Tobin gets to have freedom of speech, then Kennedy should get to have freedom of speech.

Let us be clear here about the freedom of political speech that Tobin and other Catholic bishops in the United States enjoy in this country. By definition, Roman Catholic bishops are lackeys and yes-men to the pope. Bishops are appointed by the pope and report periodically to the pope, the head of a foreign state. In short, they are agents of a foreign power. They do not think for themselves, and as Tobin shows, they do not want American Catholics to think for themselves. Instead, they want the pope and the Vatican to do the thinking for American Catholics. Nevertheless, by virtue of being American citizens, Catholic bishops are themselves allowed to have political free speech. But by virtue of being American citizens, all American Catholics should have political free speech, including Rep. Kennedy. Religion should be a private matter. American Catholics should not be forced to choose between giving up their private religion and exercising their freedom of political speech.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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Seeing Rep. Patrick Kennedy on the House floor is ... by shirley reese on Saturday, Nov 14, 2009 at 1:11:49 PM
Let's avoid resurrecting McCarthyism. The un-Ameri... by Bill Samuel on Saturday, Nov 14, 2009 at 1:22:21 PM
Hello Prof. Farrell: I think you've misunderstood... by Brian Jenkins on Sunday, Nov 15, 2009 at 11:41:05 AM