RI Bishop Asked Kennedy in 2007 to Avoid Communion

By: Ray Henry AP Email
By: Ray Henry AP Email

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Roman Catholic bishop of Rhode Island said Sunday that he asked Rep. Patrick Kennedy in a 2007 letter to stop receiving Communion, the central sacrament of the church, because of the congressman's public stance on moral issues.

Bishop Thomas Tobin divulged details of his confidential exchange with Kennedy after the Democratic lawmaker told The Providence Journal in a story published Sunday that Tobin had instructed him not to receive Communion. The two men have clashed repeatedly in the past few weeks over abortion.

Kennedy did not say where or how he received those instructions. He declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop's request.

"The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion," Kennedy told the paper in an interview conducted Friday.

Kennedy 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.

The outspoken prelate and Kennedy, a son of the nation's most famous Roman Catholic family, have feuded since Kennedy in an interview last month criticized Roman Catholic church leaders for threatening to oppose an overhaul of the nation's health care system unless it included tighter restrictions on abortion.

Kennedy voted against an amendment tightening abortion restrictions that was sought by the bishops. But he voted in favor of a health care plan that included the amendment he opposed.

Tobin urged Kennedy not to receive communion in a February 2007 letter, a portion of which was released publicly by Tobin's office Sunday.

"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," Tobin wrote.

It was not immediately clear whether Tobin and Kennedy spoke further about the request. Kennedy spokeswoman Kerrie Bennett did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the letter.

Tobin, the spiritual leader of the nation's most heavily Roman Catholic state, demanded an apology from Kennedy after the congressman criticized church leaders who opposed universal health care unless the plans included more restrictions on abortions. He also requested a meeting with Kennedy.

"While I greatly respect the Catholic Church and its leaders, like many Rhode Islanders, the fact that I disagree with the hierarchy of the church on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic," Kennedy wrote in a letter to Tobin, agreeing to a sitdown. "I embrace my faith which acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity."

Their meeting fell apart. While Tobin called it a mutual decision, Kennedy accused Tobin of failing to abide by an agreement to stop discussing the congressman's faith publicly.

Tobin followed up with a biting public letter published in a diocesan newspaper.

"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," Tobin wrote.

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for Washington Archbishop Donald W.
Wuerl said officials with the archdiocese didn't know whether Kennedy attends Mass in the nation's capital. Anyone who does not believe in core Catholic teachings would be asked not to come forward for Communion, she said. Church leaders continue teaching and counseling those individuals, Gibbs said.

As for Kennedy, Gibbs said "we have not barred anyone from receiving Communion.

"We don't know of his worship habits," she said. "Most legislators return home on the weekends."


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