A non-Catholic political expert says Bishop Thomas Tobin’s request that U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy refrain from receiving Holy Communion is “eminently reasonable” and an “appropriate” encouragement of the Congressman to examine his commitment to his faith.
Rep. Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat and son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, was criticized by Bishop Tobin of Providence for his attacks on the Catholic bishops’ opposition to abortion funding in health care legislation. Recently, Kennedy revealed that Bishop Tobin had asked him to refrain from receiving communion because of his public contradiction of Catholic teaching.
Peter Roff, a senior fellow at the Institute for Liberty and a former senior political writer for United Press International, wrote at FoxNews.com that Americans look to “our institutions of faith” to define moral issues like abortion. Though not a Catholic, he said he understands the hierarchical nature of the Church and the role doctrine plays within it.
Speaking with “the greatest respect,” he said that the Catholic Church is not a place where “free thinking” about doctrinal issues is encouraged.
“There is such thing as absolute truth and not all things are relative or left to the discretion of the believer,” Roff continued. If Rep. Kennedy wishes to consider himself Catholic, he should “show appropriate deference to church teachings” about life beginning at conception and about abortion being a sin.
“By asking Kennedy to act of his own volition, rather than threaten to deny him the sacraments or ordering those subservient to him in the church to refuse to offer them, Bishop Tobin is encouraging the Congressman to consider his commitment to his faith -- something one should argue is the appropriate role for a member of the clergy,” Roff commented.
He said the issue is being “spun” as a case of a church trying to impose its will on politicians who represent a “cross-section of the world’s religions.”
While some critics of Bishop Tobin invoke Thomas Jefferson’s phrase about the “wall of separation between Church and State,” Roff said this line appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson was out of the country when the Constitution was written and the phrase is his own opinion as president in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut.
Nowhere does Jefferson suggest that the church should be “prohibited from enforcing its own disciplines within its own walls among its own members, even where matters of public policy are concerned.”
The purpose of the First Amendment, in Roff’s view, was to “protect the faithful from coercion by the state,” not to protect the state from “interference from the church.”
However, he said, it is hard to see how Bishop Tobin’s request is interference.
“If Congressman Kennedy wishes his church to consider him a Catholic in good standing, then he best pay attention to its concerns and act accordingly,” Roff’s essay at FoxNews.com concluded.