On a fateful anniversary, a Kennedy tussles publicly with his bishop

If we’re used to hearing only about one Kennedy on Nov. 22nd, who could blame us. But several sources (such as CNN) reported today that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D – R.I.) has been effectively barred from Communion by Thomas Tobin, Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Providence, owing to the representative’s stance on abortion rights.

In an article in Sunday’s Providence Journal, Kennedy said,

“The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion…”

[He] said the bishop had explained the penalty by telling him “that I am not a good practicing Catholic because of the positions that I’ve taken as a public official,” particularly on abortion. He declined to say when or how Bishop Tobin told him not to take the sacrament. And he declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop’s injunction.

When the health care bill was being debated in the House of Representatives earlier this month, Kennedy stood firm against a proposed requirement to restrict federal money for abortions. In the end, he voted for final passage of that bill, even though such funding restrictions were retained within it. (His voting history with respect to abortion is open to public scrutiny.)

In a statement released today, Bishop Tobin wrote,

I am disappointed and really surprised that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has chosen to re-open the public discussion about his practice of the faith and his reception of Holy Communion.

On February 21, 2007, I wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating: “In light of the Church’s clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so.” My request came in light of the new statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that said, “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definite teachings on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.” (Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, December, 2006)


I have no desire to continue the discussion of Congressman Kennedy’s spiritual life in public. At the same time, I will absolutely respond publicly and strongly whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the Church, or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry.

Tobin ended by expressing his prayers for Rep. Kennedy’s reconciliation with the Church.

As noted, this is but the latest installment in a long and public dust-up between Tobin and Kennedy going back to 2007. Earlier this month, for example, Tobin wrote to Kennedy that his stance was “unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members…. [and] absolutely diminishes [his] communion with the Church.”

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