In a strong response to Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s public revelation that he has been banned from Communion for his stand on abortion, the Bishop of Rhode Island, Thomas Tobin, expressed his “disappointment” and “surprise” at Kennedy’s decision to make public a matter that was private and aimed at his spiritual well-being.
In an interview published on Sunday by the Providence Journal, Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island), son of the late Edward Kennedy, said that “the bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion.”
Kennedy also said that Bishop Tobin allegedly 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.”
The congressman declined to say whether he has obeyed the Bishop’s request.
Later in the day, Bishop Tobin issued a statement clarifying the terms of his decision.
“I am disappointed and really surprised that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has chosen to reopen the public discussion about his practice of the faith and his reception of Holy Communion. This comes almost two weeks after the Congressman indicated to local media that he would no longer comment publicly on his faith or his relationship with the Catholic Church,” Bishop Tobin wrote.
Bishop Tobin said that on February 21, 2007, he wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating that “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.’”
In the same letter, Bishop Tobin wrote to Congressman Kennedy: "I am writing to you personally and confidentially as a pastor addressing a member of his flock . . . At the present time I have no need or intention to make this a public issue.”
On February 28, 2007, the Congressman responded to the Bishop stating: “I have the utmost respect for the work you do on behalf of the Catholic community in Rhode Island… I understand your pastoral advice was confidential in nature and given with the best intentions for my personal spiritual welfare.”
“I am disappointed that the Congressman would make public my pastoral and confidential request of nearly three years ago that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being,” the bishop wrote in his Sunday statement.
Bishop Tobin explained that he has “no desire” to discuss 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. It should be absolutely clear the Congressman himself has once again chosen to make this discussion a matter of public record. In the meantime, I will continue to pray - sincerely and fervently - for his conversion and repentance, and for his personal and spiritual well-being. I wish him well.”