The National Catholic Review


From the Boston Globe: 

The war of words between the Catholic bishop of Rhode Island and US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy escalated yesterday when Bishop Thomas J. Tobin criticized him for disclosing a confidential request the prelate made in 2007 to stop receiving Holy Communion because of his stand on moral issues.

Tobin said he was disappointed the congressman had told a newspaper that he had been forbidden from receiving communion in Rhode Island because of Kennedy’s support of abortion rights. The bishop also accused the son of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of prolonging their public feud. On the other hand, a few weeks ago in the diocesan newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic, Bishop Tobin said this:

Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership. I'm genuinely confused here about something: the confidentiality question.  On the one hand, the bishop says (rightly) that these kinds of discussions should be kept private--between a bishop and a member of his diocese about his reception of the sacrament.  The Boston Herald said that Bishops Tobin "confirmed the order but fervently denied having discussed it with anyone other than Kennedy."  On the other, he wrote a public letter in his own newspaper discussing these same issues.   Clarifications welcome here.
James Martin, SJ


James Lindsay | 11/25/2009 - 9:38pm
The Bishop, and most of the commentators on this list, are sadly misinformed as to the impact of any legislator on the abortion question since ABORTION WAS NOT LEGALIZED LEGISLATIVELY. As long as they focus on overturning Roe and joining in the Federalist Society State's Rights agenda on abortion and other issues, they will have no success at all in protecting the unborn. Indeed, their current strategy is a hinderance to progress.

Rep. Kennedy has no reason to avoid Communion, since his personal opinion on the issue has no impact. Until there is a bill in Congress that is reasonably drafted to protect the unborn - taking into account the privacy of families who have recently had miscarriages and exempting doctors from malpractice filings for fetal death during the time when miscarriages are likely to occur, the Representative does not have an issue to support or not support.

You cannot tell someone to avoid Communion for not supporting a non-existent piece of legislation - whether they be legislator or voter. If told to do otherwise, I will rely on my conscience on the issue and go to Communion anyway. Indeed, any prelate who tells me differently needs to seek both better legal advice than he is getting currently and probably needs to visit Cardinal McCarrick in Washington for the purposes of his own Examination of Conscience and reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Marie Rehbein | 11/25/2009 - 1:21pm
Nancy D., I think we are talking about the "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  My understanding of it is that the government should not be interfering with people's right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. 
Focusing only on the pursuit of happiness, one might argue that the government is obligated to consider whether proposed laws are too intrusive before enacting them.  Some people would think that any law that might be able to prevent abortions would have to be a law that is seriously intrusive. 
Under the same principle, of course, the government is not able to insist that a woman not have the children she wishes.  In fact, on some occasions, the ACLU has argued that State governments have become too intrusive when they insisted that public assistance recipients be required to used contraception.
Marc Monmouth | 11/25/2009 - 11:16am
Marie, I said in an earlier post that Father Martin was an intelligent man. Father Martin said to me "You're giving Jesuits too much credit if you think that they can deduce something..." I certainly have great respect for the training and formation of of Jesuits. It sounds as if Father Martin thinks I give them too much credit. Let us be thankful for the blessings of liberty, faith, family and friends and let us move on. Happy Thanksgiving!
Claire Mathieu | 11/24/2009 - 7:02pm
- When you write: "Has there been a decline in the great Society of Jesus as to intellectual giants", you are accusing Father Martin of intellectual weakness. It's an ad hominem.
- When you write: "will you apologize to Bishop Tobin for questioning his motives?", you are implying that Father Martin's text is offensive. I see that the post was not well prepared, but I do not see it as offensive.
- When you write: "I have read many of Father Martin's columns. He is usually not too kind to conservatives.", you are reacting to an accusation by attacking back, as in "But he does it too!". It may be effective as a rhetorical means in an argument, but it is sidestepping the question.
The discussion would be more interesting if we stuck to the topic of the post.
Marc Monmouth | 11/24/2009 - 6:38pm
Carolyn, I only have two comments posted here (#13 & 26). I have read many of Father Martin's columns. He is usually not too kind to conservatives. Did you ever read any of his comments about George Bush?  Denins (#9) accused me of trying to impose my thinking on everyone else. I have no desires to do that.   Was that an ad hominem attack or do only conservatives make them?  You should read Michael Sean Winters and you will see that liberals are quite skillful in making ad hominem attacks.  But you will only see that if you are objective and honest.
Marc Monmouth | 11/24/2009 - 11:34am
Father Martin, Has there been a decline in the great Society of Jesus as to intellectual giants. The Jesuits that taught me in preparatory school and at the university level could all deduce things.  I always admired their intellect and am happy that I was trained by them. Of course, I am not saying that I have the same great intellectual gifts as these men had.  I did not think that inquiring about one's motives was an ad hominem attack. I apologize if you thought I was attacking you.  I was only attacking the statements, not the person.  I am curious. Now that the timeline has been explained to you, will you apologize to Bishop Tobin for questioning his motives?   My sincere best wishes to you for a Happy Thanksgiving. 
Anne Danielson | 11/23/2009 - 10:53pm
Can.750 of the Catholic Church states: "Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of Baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic Faith."

Marie Rehbein | 11/23/2009 - 9:51pm
The first I heard of it was the Bishop's response to Kennedy's comment that the bishops were undermining the health reform effort by insisting on making it be about abortion.  It seems to me that anyone should be able to make such an observation publicly without incurring the judgment of the Catholic bishop, even a politician.
Since Kennedy admits that Tobin wrote to him three years ago about his stand regarding the legality of abortion, it looks rather like Kennedy and Tobin, both, were a lot more reasonable than a number of bishops who made the abortion issue politically beneficial to the Republicans.  However, it does give the impression that the bishop had been trying to circumvent the usual channels of how we citizens get our elected officials to do our bidding, given that there are constituents who do not share the Catholic Church's perspective on the sanctity of embryonic life.
If we assume that there is some endangerment to one's soul when one does not seek to outlaw one or another sin, then the bishop is just doing his job.  However, if we understand that outlawing sins is not a good way to prevent them, then it is very difficult to grasp this concept that the bishop was protecting Kennedy and/or the Eucharist and/or other Catholics.
Claire Mathieu | 11/23/2009 - 9:11pm
There is one way in which both parties could be saying the truth: if Bishop Tobin told (or threatened) Congressman Kennedy that he would instruct priests to not give him communion; and if he then did not follow through with that instruction (or threat). Kennedy would report, correctly, what Tobin told him; Tobin would say, correctly, that he never gave priests any instruction.
It strikes me that Bp Tobin is more of a loose cannon when he speaks than when he writes. He could have written a measured letter to Kennedy, then been much more threatening when (if) he spoke to him about it.
Confidentiality: why should Kennedy be bound to confidentiality? Speaking up in public about this is in bad taste, but confidentiality is a necessity on Tobin's side  to protect Kennedy's privacy; not the other way round. There is nothing wrong with Kennedy disclosing private correspondence; (it would have been very wrong on Tobin's part to be the one disclosing it.)
JOSEPH CLEARY II | 11/23/2009 - 8:11pm
There is no evidence that the Bishop ever instructed priests to not give Congressman Kennedy communion.
The congressman reported this to be true. The Bishop denied this and various news reports from the clergy in Rhode island confirm that no such instruction was made.
Theodis Wright | 11/23/2009 - 7:42pm
Does anyone not care about why Catholics are looked upon the way we are.  Does anyone ever wonder why Catholics have such hard times and ridicule getting elected to public office?  Look at JFK.  Look at the John Kerry.  The first question that always seems to be asked is who will we take our orders from; the people or the Pope?  This should not happen.
The problem I seem to have with the Faith is that sometimes we sound hypocritical.  We are often taught that God gives us free will to make decisions for ourselves.  Yet, the Church also stress that we should vote for those that follow Church teachings.  That I cannot understand.  We are to evangelize to others in the hope that they will come into Communion with the Faith.  We are not to force or coerce.  This is one of the first question asked in Baptism.  Yet here we are trying to force upon the country the teachings of the Church.  That seems hypocritical to me.
I consider myself pro-life.  If my wife attempts an abortion, I would fight it tooth and nail to the furthest extent.  However, I cannot and will not force someone to believe what I believe, epsecially by pushing through legislation forcing someone to do so.  This country was found on the principle that everyone's faith and beliefs were different and should be respected.  These are creeds which we should all live by.
Jim McCrea | 11/23/2009 - 6:41pm
In this day and age, and in this church, being excommunicated is becoming a badge of honor.
6294802 | 11/23/2009 - 6:10pm
It might prove instructive to step back from this game of ''he said, he said'' for a moment and look at this story from a different angle: Put the focus on Communion. Bishop Tobin has not only requested that Patrick Kennedy refrain from taking communion, he has gone further and instructed his priests not to give Mr. Kennedy communion. Bishop Tobin has, in effect, taken the action of ''ex-communicating'' Kennedy. An archaic word: yes, but one that I'd argue is appropriate here. Defenders of Bishop Tobin's action will say that Kennedy has excommunicated himself by publically flouting Church teaching; however, when a bishop takes the step of instructing priests not to give someone the host he becomes the active party. Kennedy, at least in Rhode Island, cannot make the moral decision of whether he may or may not present himself for communion. If he chooses not to ''refrain,'' communion will be withheld. Clarity is important here.
Anonymous | 11/23/2009 - 5:18pm
I guess this is a little off topic if we're only discussing the public-ness of the Bishop/Kennedy argument, but I remembered a past discussion with Thomas Reese SJ and George Wiegel  on a similar subject - "The Body Politic and  the Body of Christ:  Candidates, Communion and the Catholic Church"
Fr. Reese seemed to say he was not for dis-communicating politicians for their political stance.  I agree with him.
Marc Monmouth | 11/23/2009 - 4:22pm
Dennis Chesterton, Father Martin is an intelligent man. Do you really believe that he could not deduce from logic the timeline so adequately explained by Matt Bowman and PS?  Father Martin states that the timeline was not provided by most of the major news organizations. We, pray, that a preist does not put much credence in the major news organizations to be objective when it comes to reporting about the Church.  I have no illusions that everyone thinks I like I do. I do not enjoy disingenous statements and questions when the questioner knows full well the true story but is trying to cast the Church in a poor light.  Yes, I am happy that we will be judged by God. It is our only hope of an objective judgment. I would shutter to think what would happen to me if you or Father Martin decided my fate.  Peace. 
Anonymous | 11/23/2009 - 4:15pm
Ironically,it was the Catholic Church who provided cover, an imprimatur, for endorsing abortion in the political sphere, in the person of Padre/Politician Drinan SJ. He instructed the first generation of politicians in this arena.

The imprimatur has simply been handed down the line, as it were. This is understood, by some, as scandal. Now the Catholic Church must undo the scandal and provide education. To lead forth, we hope, into the Truth.
Vince Killoran | 11/23/2009 - 3:47pm
So half of Bishop Tobin's correspondence is confidential and the other half isn't?! Given his screed from earlier this month the confidential worry seems a distraction.
BTW, Kennedy's first public comments were not directed at Bishop Tobin specifically.
Think Catholic | 11/23/2009 - 12:46pm
"PS" you beat me to the timeline!
Think Catholic | 11/23/2009 - 12:45pm
Fr. Martin, thank you for raising this important issue.  I think the timeline of these events should clear up any confusion.  The 2007 letters between Tobin and Kennedy about communion were confidential, and both parties concurred with that confidentiality.  The 2009 statements actions by Kennedy were *first* done in public by Kennedy, not Tobin.  Those concerned abortion and health care, and then Kennedy expanded them to include what it means to be Catholic.  Tobin responded in public, but *not* about the confidential 2007 letters-only about what Kennedy had already made public.  Kennedy then continued that public discussion, which he had started, by publicly referencing the 2007 letters which he had previously maintained were confidential, and which Tobin had previously kept confidential.  And Kennedy's reference made it sound like Tobin issued the Communion letter recently, in the context of the recent public discussion.  Which wans't accurate.  So Tobin, to correct the public record Kennedy had created, and in response to Kennedy's own disclosure of previously confidential communications, responded in public.  So Tobin has been consistent all along, the 2007 correspondence and discussion of Kennedy and communion were always confidential according to him; but Kennedy's own public statements about abortion and what it means to be Catholic were public, and Tobin kept the 2007 issues confidential for his part, but not after Kennedy disclosed them in a fashion that led to innacuracies.  Please let us know if there are points you are still unclear on, becasue this timeline doesn't leave anything confused to me, but maybe I am missing something.
Pearce Shea | 11/23/2009 - 12:43pm
Fr. Martin, Bp. Tobin seems to be correct.
1. In 2007, after private conversation and correspondence, Bp. Tobin suggests that Sen. Kennedy not present himself for communion until he can better reconcile his actions and his professed beliefs. We don't know what else the letter said because (cynically, frankly), Kennedy released only the portion that seemed to best fit his argument about a pushy hierarchy.
2. Fast forward to the middle of last month, on top of the USCCB letters, Bp. Tobin sends personal letters to each state representative in the House, urging them to include pro-life language in the House health care reform bill.
3. Either in response to the USCCB letter alone or both letters, Kennedy tells cnsnews in a video-taped interview that if the Church opposes health care reform because it doesn't protect the unborn (not his words, obviously), then the Church isn't really pro-life. Also includes the old canard about abortion being a red-herring.
4. Bp. Tobin calls out Sen. Kennedy a day after the interview, saying he is "a disappointment" and that he owes the Catholics an apology. Pretty strident words, obviously, and most likely spoken out of ongoing frustration (we know that Kennedy has been an issue for Bp. Tobin for at least two years at this point). 
5. Sen. Kennedy responds publicly by saying, among other things (I paraphrase): "Just because I am pro-choice doesn't mean I'm not Catholic, just an imperfect human."
6. Nov 12, Bp. Tobin writes in the diocesan paper that Kennedy's persistent ignoring of Church teaching on abortion can't be "chalked up to an imperfect humanity:" it is clearly a choice and one part of his political platform (which, frankly, seems like a fair point).
7. Sen. Kennedy now reveals the portion of the 2007 letter which is being read as a communion "ban."
Ever since language from the 2007 letter was released by Sen. Kennedy, Bp. Tobin has bent over backwards to make it clear that he has spoken about the  letter to no one. Indeed, as an AP article from about 16 hours ago indicates, insofar as the Bp. says he might be inclined to give a talking to to any Priest in his diocese that would give communion to Sen. Kennedy, it seems clear that not even the clergy were alerted to the contents of the 2007 letter.
In my view, Bp. Tobin has been unnecessarily caustic and incautious in his language. But bad behavior isn't really all that damning when compared to what appears to be a cynical attempt on behalf of Sen. Kennedy at alienating and manipulating the diocese.
Anne Danielson | 11/23/2009 - 12:03pm
The question is, how do we respond to someone who professes to be Catholic but continues to misrepresent the Truth of our Catholic Faith in public? In this case, Bishop Tobin first corrected Rep.Kennedy in private. Perhaps he should have suggested to Rep.Kennedy from the beginning that those who profess to be Catholic are called to Witness to The Truth out of Charity for Christ and His Church both in private and in public. The truths that are self-evident because they are endowed to each one of us from our Creator, including the fundamental Right to Life, apply to all Mankind, and not just to Catholics.
Anne Danielson | 11/23/2009 - 2:42pm
The question is, why is there a timeline when the truth is, error begets error, to begin with? Out of Charity for Christ and His Church, the time to correct any misrepresentation of The Truth, The Word Of God, is as soon as possible.
Joseph Farrell | 11/23/2009 - 10:31am
Yes, I'm very disappointed by the coverage that this story has gotten here in America Magazine's site. I consider myself unaffiliated politically, but definitely pro-life as all Catholics are called to be. Here's why Bishop Tobin is right in this case:
The denial of communion to an individual who, in the most public way possible, has demonstrated he is for abortion on-demand is a private matter. It is a matter of conscience for the Bishop and for the Communicant.
However, Rep. Kennedy made this dispute with the bishop a public affair when he declared that he is no less of a Catholic when he publicly defies Church teachings. This is openly undermining Church Teaching in as much as:
a) The Church has definitively taught that Abortion is gravely evil.
b) On matters of faith and morals Catholics must bring themselves to an assent of Faith.
c) If one defiantly rejects a doctrine, one is to some measure choosing to separate himself from the Church.
One of the Bishop's primary callings is to be the principal teacher for his diocese. So when a public figure makes an erroneous statement that may lead the Faithful into error, he must publicly address it. Mr. Kennedy made this a public issue and forced the Bishop to respond lest he neglect his sacred duty.
Why Mr. Kennedy chose to reveal still more of the dispute he is having with the Catholic Church is between himself and God.
James Lindsay | 11/23/2009 - 10:18am
It is the Bishop who is wrong here, unless he has asked the congressman to submit legislation on his behalf to offer protection for the unborn, with the Congressman refusing.

The Bishop is badly advised, since until there is a bill with reasonable chance of passage, the Congressman's position on abortion generally and Roe v. Wade specifically is of no importance at all, since abortion was not legalized through legislative action and because the constitutional (not the moral) reasoning behind Roe is sound.
Helena Loflin | 11/23/2009 - 2:38pm
Milbo, if the America blog contradicts your idea of how everyone should think, then perhaps a different blog would suit you better.  Attacking Fr. Martin hardly seems like a productive (or Catholic) use of your time.  If you prefer to read something quite different from what you read here, then please permit me to suggest that you visit Inside Catholic where the same topic is being discussed today.  Maybe the IC view will be more satisfying to you, and you can channel your energy away from ad hominem attacks on a priest whose intentions are completely honorable.  Let's leave it to the bishops to question another Catholic's faith.  And, let's be grateful that we will all be ultimately judged by Him and not by one of us.
Michael Widner | 11/23/2009 - 9:16am
As one who supported the public funeral of Sen Edward Kennedy and all that Cardinals O'Malley and McCarrick did, I have to say that in this case, I support Bishop Tobin since he's not the one trying to publicize this.
He wrote to the Congresman almost 3 years ago... in private.  He is doing his duty as bishop and was doing it without fanfare or publicity.
Tobin is no Burke!
Anne Danielson | 11/24/2009 - 4:40pm
oops, a negative times a negative that does not equal a positive... that should read:

Thus it would also be obstinate to continue to deny the fact that it is the Government's responsibility to secure each individual's Right to Life, to begin with.
Anne Danielson | 11/24/2009 - 4:32pm
Thus it would also be obstinate to continue to deny that it is not the Government's responsibility to secure each individual's Right to Life, to begin with.
Anne Danielson | 11/24/2009 - 4:26pm
Marie, according to our Founding Fathers, in order to secure the self-evident, fundamental, unalienable, Right to Life that is endowed to each one of us from our Creator, "Governments are instituted among Men".
Gabriel Marcella | 11/24/2009 - 3:00pm
America is performing a great service by providing this intellectual space to discuss the great issues of out time, especially about the role of the Catholic faith in the public square. In the case of Bishop Tobin and Congressman Kennedy it seems that both can't be right. Therefore, we should welcome a commentary by the person who started the discussion: Fr. Martin. In brief, what should Bishop Tobin do to perform his pastoral duties effectively? The answer is important because this issue is not likely to go away. Some political leaders who call themselves Catholics will claim imperfection, go to Church, receive the sacraments, perhaps kiss the ring of the Bishop of Rome, and vote for abortion. I wish I had the answer. Fr. Martin, help!
Marie Rehbein | 11/24/2009 - 1:06pm
Nancy D., it would obstinate to deny that people have the right to life by actually having an abortion or doing an abortion, but is it obstinate to believe that the individual, not the elected government, has the responsibility to see to it that he or she lives according to that belief and does not perform or have an abortion?
Anne Danielson | 11/24/2009 - 10:21am
It is Canon 751, not 750, that states, "Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt after Baptism of a truth which must be believed by divine and Catholic faith."
Anne Danielson | 11/24/2009 - 10:06am

The truth about the self-evident, fundamental,unalienable Right to Life, that has been endowed to each one of us from our Creator is not a political issue to begin with.

Robert Burke | 11/24/2009 - 8:52am
That abortion is evil is a "truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic Faith." 
It doesn't follow that it is "heresy" for a Catholic politician not to follow his bishop's political strategy for dealing with abortion.