Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s decision not to run for re-election creates an opportunity for a pro-life candidate to replace him, a Rhode Island pro-life group said on Friday. Kennedy had sparked a dispute with his bishop after he strongly criticized the Catholic bishops’ opposition to health care legislation that funded abortion.
Rep. Kennedy, a Democrat and son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), announced his decision in a video posted to YouTube on Thursday. He said his life is taking “a new direction.” He has held his seat for eight Congressional terms.
CNA spoke about Rep. Kennedy’s decision in a Friday interview with Barth E. Bracy, Executive Director of Rhode Island Right to Life (RIRTL).
“Our hope and goal politically is to have a pro-life Congressman in Rhode Island’s First Congressional district,” Bracy explained.
“Patrick Kennedy is certainly not a pro-life congressman… So we’re delighted at the opportunity his resignation presents,” he commented. “We’re happy. We’d be happier if he would have just become pro-life.”
Polls released last Friday showed Kennedy to be “incredibly vulnerable,” he reported, adding that RIRTL has seen an opportunity in the district “for some time.”
“We had been working on identifying pro-life candidates to run against him, not only on the Republican side but also, just as importantly, on the Democratic side to run in the primary.”
“In some ways this is a great blessing, in others it presents greater challenges,” he commented, explaining that the Congressman’s exit may assist the rise of a “more formidable” pro-abortion candidate.
Patrick Kennedy is no stranger to the contentious issue of abortion. Last year controversy erupted when he accused the Catholic Church of fanning “the flames of dissent and discord” in debate over the proposed health care reform. The Catholic bishops had declared that they would oppose the proposed legislation unless it explicitly prohibited funding of abortion.
Bishop of Providence Thomas J. Tobin asked the politician to apologize for his “irresponsible” comments and said he was a “disappointment to the Catholic Church.”
The dispute continued for several weeks, with Rep. Kennedy revealing that the bishop had previously asked him to refrain from receiving Holy Communion because of his support for abortion.
After hearing of Kennedy's latest announcement, Bishop Tobin told the Boston Herald on Friday:
“I am sure that the Congressman’s decision was a difficult one to make given his very long and strong commitment to public service… I wish him well and pray that God will bless all of his future endeavors.”
Asked about the dispute between Bishop Tobin and Rep. Kennedy, RIRTL’s Bracy told CNA he was “shocked” and “couldn’t believe” Kennedy’s initial comments.
In Bracy’s view, Kennedy’s attack against the Catholic bishops was “totally without basis” and “completely uninformed.”
“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been talking about heath care reform and universal coverage since Patrick’s father was in diapers. Indeed that’s hyperbole, but it’s pretty darn close.”
He thought Bishop Tobin’s response had been “very appropriate” and said it pointed out “the errors in Patrick Kennedy’s thinking.”
Bracy said RIRTL stood behind Bishop Tobin “completely.”
“He did a fantastic job in handling Congressman Kennedy with restraint, with perhaps ‘tough love’.”
He also noted Bishop Tobin’s personal letter to Kennedy before their public dispute.
“Bishop Tobin has fulfilled his role as a shepherd in a fantastic way. He apparently has contacted these legislators to call them back to their faith and to question their political activities that are not in harmony with Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life. But he has not done that in a public, political way.
“It was Kennedy who made that conversation and dialogue public,” Bracy noted.
According to Fox News, Kennedy’s departure will mean that for the first time since 1962 a member of the Kennedy family will not be serving in Congress.