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24 November 2009


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Col: I stopped watching Matthews years ago. Why do you continue?

You are wasted on the guy.


I disagree. As a Catholic I thought the bishop received the treatment he deserved. While CM may have gone a little overboard it was apparent the bishop was refusing to answer the question as to exactly what penalties he would give to a woman that had an abortion or a doctor that performed one. You can't weasel your way out of that question if you want a Catholic politician to enforce Catholic law on a secular society. If Mr. Kennedy's position is unacceptable to any portion of his fellow parishoners then the proper response would be to not vote for him in the next election.

CM was correct, the bishop avoided a response not on intellectual grounds but because he would lose about half of his parishioners - and the bishop himself knows it. It is not Mr. Kennedy's job to represent the Catholic Church or to enforce its edicts, it is his job to represent all of his district many of whom are not Catholic.

I find all this right wing religious fundamentalism disgusting. Even when it comes from my own church.

Al Spafford

Col Lang, As a frequent and appreciative reader of your blog, I have to take issue with your depiction of Matthews confrontation with Bishop Tobin. I heard no "screaming". Rather, Matthews pressed the Bishop in a confrontive manner throughout the "conversation". By the way, I am NOT particularly a fan of Matthews,only happened to tune in at the time of this broadcast, and have questioned often his "journalistic" approach. What was a very confrontive stance by Matthews should not be termed as "screaming". His repeated point centered on the needed separation of Church and State, as well as trying to get the Bishop to more clearly state a position on that.

Nancy K

I am not Catholic or Protestent and I would hope that it never comes to the point where I cannot vote for a politician because of his religion. However if a politician is unable to represent his constituents because a minister or priest is holding excommunication over his or her head if they don't obey the dictates of said church, then I feel I cannot vote for that politician.
I fear the US is becoming increasingly polarized and religion is just another facet of this polarization.

Willie Morrissey

Morality is not the basis of law in a successful society. Social utility is the basis of law. e.g., our tribe can't defend against other tribes if we are killing each other.

Morality screws things up.

Or, e.g., we have to feed our poor people because we may need them as troops.

I know this is simplistic so I expect an elegant refutation.

btw: I'm gay, pacifist, Jesuit educated. I view Roman Catholicism as equivalent to radical Islam.

Patrick Lang


"we have to feed our poor people because we may need them as troops."

You are too contemptible to argue with. pl


the Vatican decided they did not want any more father dinans - liberal leaning politically activist priests

they decided to have conservative leaning politically activist priests instead

actions have their consequences

the bishop from rhode island may need a political advisor if he went on matthews show expecting the deference a bishop gets in religous matters


Col., sir:

Talkin' 'bout "politically correct", I was readin' this post 'bout an hour ago & it featured some poster for a university but now it's some coffee advert. Apologies sir, but do you fear some particular church pals of yours?

Patrick Lang


That is the coat of arms of the bishop of Providence.

Aren't you needed somewhere else?

Call me a coward again and you are out. pl

Patrick Lang

jamzo old thing. I think he had a right to expect civility. he did not get it. pl

Patrick Lang

Nancy K

Following your reasoning you should vote for atheists who function on the basis of "social utility." I don't know how old you are but you should consider whether or not you want to live in a society ruled by people who would think that retired people of modest means are socially useless. What is the social utility of; "Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc."

Then there is the issue of whether or not from the point of view of men, the stronger, more aggressive and perhaps less considerate of the genders, it is really a good idea to allow women the franchise, property rights, etc.

What is the social utility of laws that forbid polygamy? pl

Medicine Man

The bishop can have his say and the Catholic politician can believe all or some of the church teachings as he sees fit. The important part is that Christianity as a whole has an established tradition of separating the public life from the spiritual, to one extent or another. It is possible for a devout man to make compromises in order represent a larger constituent, contrary to what some may argue.

Patrick Lang


"the Catholic politician can believe all or some of the church teachings as he sees fit"

That is not correct. As Bishop Tobin said, people are free to leave the church and there are other spiritual homes available.

There will not be a "fatwa" condemning Kennedy for his "irtidad" if he leaves the Catholic church. pl

William R. Cumming

Very interesting post to me and discussion. Disclosure--not Catholic but have tried to understand at least on a rudimentary basis the history and doctrine of the Catholic Church. Here are tentative conclusions! First, the Catholic Church has least discussed and debated its doctrines at least since the Council of Niacea in early 4ht Century C.E! Second, it took 250 year including the brilliance of a ST. THOMAS ACQUINAS to reconcile Aristotlian philosophy with that of Christian beliefs, shorthand how do you reconcile "faith" and "reason"! Short answer is you don't but that get complicated. Third, the fundamental approach of the Catholic Church is that their is "natural law" and "manmade law" and the closer the latter to the former the better for all mankind. The TEN COMMANDMENTS seem to be largely based on what I believe is also the Catholic concept of natural law. THOU SHALL NOT KILL is certainly a key commandment. It does not have the words "A human being" attached so that makes problematic the discourse on abortion.
For an example of man-made law going tragically wrong look at the eugenics practices and holocaust created under NAZI law, to which all NAZI judges subscribed. Why I always though "Judgement at Nuremburg" one of the really great movies of all time!
AS to Chris Matthews is early promise as a possible companion to Tim Russert in forging and advancing knowledge about the world of Washington, politics, and American in general long since faded. Too bad but often ego and hubris destroy good people in Washington or as the saying goes "Whom the Gods would destroy they first make Crazy."

Patrick Lang

Nancy K

I forgot a couple of examples.

- What is the social utility of children born with sever disabilities?

- What is the social utility of laws against cruelty to animals?

- What is the social utility of the chronically homeless? pl

N. M. Salamon

As an RC, I appreciate your comments above.

Having had the experience of living under ATHEIST government [Communist] your analysis of social utility based laws, and the rules of the RC church with respect to dogma and major tenets are welcome.

It is Mr. Kennedy's right to make decisions on his political views, and it is the Bishop's right to exlude him from RC obserances if Mr. Kennedy elects to reject the teahing of his church.

Within the RC church there is no fruther penalty than being excommunicated. Mr. Kenedy can not have his pie and eat it too!

Duncan Kinder

Speaking as an Episcopalian, I have no dog in this fight, which gives me an excuse not to tackle this issue directly.

However, we should note that - for all the talk about transnationals nowadays - the biggest, baddest transnational of them all is the Roman Catholic Church.

And we should further note that - with all the deficits and filibusters and TARP bailouts and such - government's ability to deliver social services is declining every day. Nongovernmental institutions therefore must step up to the plate.

If the Church does not, others will. Much of the growth of Evangelicalism in Latin America results from the Church's failure to respond to new megacities and their surrounding slums. More disturbingly, the drug gang, La Familia, which espouses a religious doctrine, provides social services in the region it controls. The Col. can correct me if I'm wrong, but Hamas and Hezbollah likewise provide social services.

Political power flows from the ability to provide such services. Much of the Church's power during the Middle Ages flowed from its role as social service provider following the fall of Rome.

As to how special are the Kennedy's within this context, the question is whether the government, the Church, or some other organization will be the social service provider. If the government, then the bishop better accommodate the Kennedy's. If the Church, then the Kennedy's better accommodate the Church. And if some other, then a plague on both their houses.


Last night I was surfing the TV and found this screaming guy attacking a man that I thought was bishop, because he probably was carrying a crucifix under his jacket. It was an amazing hysterical performance by Matthews. The Kennedies are notorious and for many people their opinions seem to carry weight. That a Kennedy promotes a certain position may be a source of scandal in the church, others may be influenced by him and commit a grave sin. The bishop is absolutely right not only right but has the obligation to prescribe the necessary corrective for a wayward son.


Col. Lang,

I have a great respect for your thoughts generally, but have to say this isn't worth worrying about.

Matthews is a whimsical buffoon, and politics on tv dire stuff. One has to say that if a Bishop knowingly inserts himself in the political fray and goes on a horserace show, he's a big boy and can look after himself.

The Catholic Church is welcome to enter the policy/political debate, within the limits of their tax status.

But threatening hypocritical, selective use of excommunication over Catholic politicians, and usually only of one party, will bring them the scorn they deserve.

If they happened to apply the same criteria to the church's teachings on the death penalty, one might take them seriously. One would have thought the political whitewash of the execution of an innocent man in Texas this year was worth comment from a Bishop. I can't find a comment.

Personally, I'd give more credibility to church heirarchy had they not exposed themselves to hundreds of millions of dollars of liability for the sex abuse scandal, and not proved so worldly in the execution of obstruction of justice


Moral outrages like airlifting Cardinal Law from Boston with the feds on his back to the diplomatic immunity cover of a position of honor as archpriest at one of the Vatican churches AND participating in the 2005 Papal Conclave means that I don't really want to hear moralizing or political hardball from a Bishop on up in the CC.


Matthews: "If you said one minute in prison, you'd be laughed at."

I'm not laughing.

Matthews is a scold and a tool. The second half of the interview is just a lecture by Matthews using his Jesuitical whammy-jammy.

His argument would be pretty good in a barroom after 4 or 5 drinks.

I suppose he outwitted the Bishop by forcing him into an argument of false choices (It's either the murder penalty or unlimited license. What'll it be, Bishop!?), or maybe the Bishop was too Christian to hit back, but he didn't outwit me and, I'd hazard to say, most others who attempt to be faithful to the Church's teachings. We know why Tobin did what he did, and we're still rooting for him.

By the way, why does Matthews always look to be in such pain? Is he constipated? Same with Joan Walsh of Salon, one of his frequent guests. Their brows furrowed by all the weight they carry upon themselves. Is it the seriousness of all that they know that leaves them humorless?

JT Davis

The Catholic Church is not like a buffet. One does not choose what one likes from column A or column B. The teaching of the Catholic Church is a meal in which one partakes of all the courses. Those who say (as Matthews and Kennedy evidently do) that this is not true have already left the Church. pl

It does seem as though we've been here before. If I'm not mistaken, that's how the Church of England was established.

Col., have you ever read Herbert Packer's "The Limits of the Criminal Sanction"?

"The Limits of the Criminal Sanction"

Bill Wade, NH

I did click on the Matthews interview with the Bishop and it served to remind me why I rarely bother to watch TV except for the Food Network where the people are intelligent, affable, and willing to teach me something.

Years ago when my Mom told me she was going to vote for George Bush as he was against abortion I asked her how she could reconcile that with his record of executing criminals in Texas. She replied, "well, I can't but I'm still voting for him". I did some digging (googling) about how many voters were one issue voters (abortion) and it's quite high as I remember, above 20% I think. I think this one issue is why our Presidential elections are always so close, is that by design?


I would have a lot more respect for the Church if it pursued those who violate the Just War Doctrine with the same zeal that it condemns those who are pro choice. A human life is a human life, and it should never be terminated except under the most extreme of circumstances

As it is, I see little difference between the hypocrisy of politicians and those in the clergy who selectively sit in judgment of them.

Nancy K

Col Lang, I'm 62 years old and have worked for most of my adult life as a nurse working with the severly disabled, the poor and even the chronically homeless. I also have 5 children and hope Medicare is is solvent when I begin drawing it out.
I don't equate religion with social justice nor do I equate religion with the lack of this justice.
I believe there are many people who believe in a god and many who don't, that care about humanity and animals.
My issue is not with religion or anyone who practices such religion. My concern is a represenative of the people ie House or Senate of states and US who may be more concerned about what their minister or priest thinks about them than what their consituents want.
I don't believe an elected official has the right to push his or her beliefs on the rest of us.
I hope you do not think my feelings are any criticism of your beliefs or feelings because I can assure you I hold you in highest regard.


Col Lang: I'm having a hard time following your argument in responding to Nancy K.

Where did atheism come into it? For that matter where did this notion that all atheists are brutal social Darwinists come from?

And how do either of those ideas follow from Nancy Ks post, which I read as saying she prefers politicians to be representative of their communities and not of the church to which they belong?

For what it's worth, I agree with you that Bishop Tobin has the right ask that those who don't follow the teachings of the Catholic church refrain from taking communion, and to make a case informed by his position as a Bishop as to what the moral content of the laws should be.

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