Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin has banned Rep. Patrick Kennedy from receiving Communion, the central sacrament of the church, in Rhode Island because of the congressman’s support for abortion rights, Kennedy said in a newspaper interview published Sunday.
The decision by the outspoken prelate, reported on The Providence Journal’s Web site, significantly escalates a bitter dispute between Tobin, an ultra orthodox bishop, and Kennedy, a son of the nation’s most famous Roman Catholic family.
“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.
He declined to say when or how Tobin told him not to take the sacrament. And he declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop’s injunction.
The paper said the bishop’s spokesman declined to address the question of whether he had told Kennedy not to receive Communion. But the bishop’s office cast doubt on Kennedy’s related assertion about instructions to state priests.
“Bishop Tobin has never addressed matters relative to public officials receiving Holy Communion with pastors of the diocese,” spokesman Michael K. Guilfoyle told the paper in an e-mailed statement.
Kennedy did not return messages left on his cell phone by The Associated Press, and his staff refused to make the congressman available for comment. Tobin’s spokesman told the AP that the bishop would not comment on the issue.
Church law permits Tobin to ban Kennedy from receiving Communion within the Diocese of Providence, which covers Rhode Island, but he cannot stop Kennedy from receiving Communion elsewhere. It was unclear whether bishops overseeing Washington and Massachusetts, where Kennedy’s family has a seaside compound, would issue similar bans.
UPDATE: Bishop Tobin has issued a public response:
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. The Congressman’s public comments require me to reply.
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.
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.
As I wrote to the Congressman in February of 2007, and repeated in my public letter earlier this month, I am willing and even anxious to meet with him, to discuss these matters. My door remains open. However, 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.