Abortion, a Kennedy and a Catholic communion conundrum

November 25, 2009

pkennedyA new row has flared in the Catholic ranks of the U.S. abortion wars, this one involving a member of America’s most famous Catholic political family and a bishop.  Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin has slapped a communion ban on him for his support for abortion rights.

(PHOTO: Patrick Kennedy speaks at funeral of his father, Senator Edward Kennedy, 29 Aug 2009/Brian Snyder)

The bishop instructed me not to take communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me communion,” the Rhode Island Democrat was quoted as saying this week in the Providence Journal.

On the pages of the same paper the bishop fired back, asserting that it was a “request,” not an instruction.  “If he took it as an instruction, so be it, but it was really a request,”  the bishop was quoted as saying.

The request was apparently made back in 2007 but the trigger for the most recent twist in the saga seems to have been Kennedy’s comments to CNSNews.com in October that the Catholic Church was fanning “the flames of dissent and discord” by insisting that healthcare reform legislation include explicit bans on funding for abortion.

kerry-communionSuch a provision was included in the House version of the bill that narrowly passed but not in the one under consideration in the Senate. The stakes could hardly be higher as an overhaul of America’s healthcare system is President Barack Obama’s top domestic agenda.

(Photo: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry at the Charles Street AME Church in Boston, 4 April 2004/Jim Bourg)

The whole issue has highlighted divisions in the U.S. Democratic Party, which has regained control of Congress and expanded its majorities there in the last two election cycles by widening its tent to include moderates and conservatives. Some of these new Democrats oppose abortion rights, making them an awkward fit in a party that has long supported them.

This also seems to be a never-ending dilemma for the U.S. Catholic Church and one which haunted John Kerry when he ran for president in 2004 — should it distribute communion or not to public figures who support abortion rights, given the Church’s teaching that abortion is the taking of innocent life and therefore a grave evil.

Holy Communion is a sacrament of the Catholic Church and denying it to a Catholic is a rare and serious step. Even the U.S. bishops are divided over whether to do this. Those who favor denial say the Church has to take a public stand against politicians who ignore its teachings. Those opposed to it say denial involves them in political fights that have no place at Mass.

We asked back in August if Teddy Kennedy should have a Catholic funeral. Many who did not think he deserved one based their view on his support for abortion rights. Many who thought he deserved such a ceremony pointed to his advancement of causes championed by Catholic social thinking.

prolifeThis leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?

(Photo: Anti-abortion protesters outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 16 June 2004/Jeff Christensen)

How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?

Years ago in Britain, the Church of England used to be called “the Tory party at prayer.”  Does this apparent difference in treatment of liberal and conservative Catholics risk making the U.S. Church into one section of  “the Republican Party at prayer?”

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23 comments

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Islamic fundamentalism…Christian (Catholic) fundamentalism…I’m hard pressed to make a distinction. Perhaps this is why the US tries to firewall politics and religion. Once you introduce the “god” arguement, the debate is over. It’s why they call it “faith” and not “reason”.

Posted by David Lucier | Report as abusive

Atheists are total hypocrites because they insist on placing a firewall between the values held by religious believers, but they insist on imposing their values on religious people.It’s about time that secular people keep their values to themselves and stop using the state to impose them on everyone else. That’s fairness, but of course secularists are too arrogant to keep their values to themselves.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

Has any Catholic been “denied” communion? Suggesting to someone that their public statements have placed them outside the church is not denying anybody anything.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

Patrick Kennedy voluntarily associates himself with the Catholic Church as do all Catholics. It is not an ethnicity that you are born into. It is entirely appropriate for a Catholic bishop to give instructions or requests to members of their flock. Politicians are not somehow exempt. The constitution prohibits the government from getting involved in religion. It does not prohibit politicians from associating freely with whatever religion they please or none at all. When did the constitution become an excuse to disenfranchise anyone who belongs to a church?

Posted by Frank Russo | Report as abusive

Abortion, hmmmmmm Does the Catholic church give communion to priest pedophiles? I am not Catholic but if I were I would be ashamed to tell anyone.

Posted by Larry Powell | Report as abusive

As a person of goodwill, one must remember that all Catholics freely choose to be obedient to the Catholic Church and its teaching. This obedience is not forced on anyone. The choice carries with it the duty to respect all human life from conception to natural death. Public officials have been blessed with a higher level of service to their fellow man. Part of this service includes not being a source of scandal which confuses or misleads people of all faiths. Public officials supporting abortion is scandalous because their actions cooperate with evil and lead to the deaths of millions of innocent human beings each year. Such actions, if one purports to be a person of goodwill, can not be justified.

Posted by Kathleen | Report as abusive

I think Kathleen (above) said it perfectly well.If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.1 John 1:6

When a Catholic recieves ‘communion’ at the Mass, he is making a visible declaration that he believes in what the Catholic Church teaches. This appears that:1)Mr. Kennedy does not understand what he is stating by wanting to recieve communion and then publicly declare that he doesn’t want communion(by promoting practices contrary to The Church). 2) It appears that the Bishop approached him privately and in turn, Mr. Kennedy chose to make this a publicity stint for himself rather examine his conscience in light of his Church’s belief system.Mr. Kennedy, are you Catholic, or not?

Posted by wayne | Report as abusive

This is why my ancestors fought the Revolution against Britain–and all religion-inflicting empires. There is no middle ground where Catholicism is concerned, just Vatican Uber Alles (particularly in the era of a former Nazi pope inquisitor!).It was a mistake that we allowed Catholics into this nation without requiring them to name their allegiance to the Constitution rather than the Pope.

Posted by Tama Paine | Report as abusive

A law requiring Catholics to repudiate the pope would be in violation of the first amendment prohibiting any law regarding an establishment of religion. Besides, Henry VIII already tried that stunt resulting in religious persecutions of non-conformists, causing them to flee to the colonies in the first place.

Posted by Frank Russo | Report as abusive

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone… Sometimes I wonder if the good priests would direct me to vote for Hitler if he said he was against abortion…

Posted by joyce | Report as abusive

Ted, Catholic doctrine does not teach that capital punishment is “unjustified”. It just suggests that it is not always necessary. Check the Catechism before you pontificate.Imagine if a Catholic politician supported the Nazi holocaust of Jews and suggested that his faith need not impact his politics, that he must side with the antisemitic majority. Same diference with abortion. Murder is murder, even if approved by law and public sentiment.Tama, your ancestors fought for the right, preserved by the Constitution, of freedom of religious speech, even for Catholics. You are in the wrong country. Maybe you should try Red China where your xenophobic and totalitarin beliefs are forced on all?

Posted by Ron | Report as abusive

Abortion vs. Capital Punishment vs. War — the author of this article draws a general equasion, but clearly, one of these things is not like the others. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, laid out the answer in a succinct letter to the U.S. Bishops on this very matter of withholding communion — I invite Mr. Stoddard to read it:http://tinyurl.com/communiongeneralpr iciples

Sorry but the freedom of Religion portion of the CONSTITUTION provides for the freedom of religion for those wishing to worship as they please without Gov. interference. IT DOES NOT provide for those many religions to have the ability to shape original fundamental Christian laws of our founding documents non christian laws.

Posted by Cory | Report as abusive

Here we go again! The catholic church have serious issues going on in their own faith, that catholics never dare talk about. Why? FEAR! Now its time to deflect the issues and bring out the abortion card and point fingers at those that the catholics have already judged to be guilty. Kennedy is the whipping boy for the abortion issue that will never change no matter what the catholic church does. Abortions will be done legally or illegally. More smoke from the catholic church UNBELIEVABLE!

My father died of a heart attack while attending mass in Our Lady Of Grace Catholic Church in San Antonio,Texas on the Feast Of Immaculate Conception on December 8,1955 when I was five years old.I am the only person to have written about the Catholic Church’s involvement with the Aristotelian four or five elements and put the abortion issue in context with the pope’s excretion of a pound and a half of phosphates per earth orbit.Not counting soil erosion,etc.,the pope,as a statistical average,excreting one and half pounds of phosphate per earth orbit,(Galileo’s conflict),or year ,multiplied by six billion people on the planet equals 9 billion pounds of phosphate excreted from the collective body of humanity per earth orbit that must at present be replaced by strip mining phosphates in Florida, Idaho,Morocco,China,etc.!Below quote from Berkeley Daily Californian,September 22,1987Pope’s Misconceptions about conception and science historyby Tony RyalsWe now know that for every orbit of the Earth around the sun – one year – the pope, each member of the Catholic Church, and everyone else on the planet consumes in their food and excretes from their bodies approximately two pounds of phosphorus and various quantities of nitrogen, calcium, potassium, iron, and other trace elements. All these elements generally go unrecycled, often into rivers and oceans or even municipal dumps, further enriching fertilizer industries (who will sell the farmers more for a price) at the expense of the Earth’s non-renewable mineral nutrient resources….We should realize the need to conserve our dwindling reserves of phosphates for future generations. The United States not long ago was a net exporter of petroleum, but now we are importers. The same situation could occur with phosphates if we refuse to learn from the past. Some researchers have suggested that we may become dependent upon yet a new OPEC (or Organization of Phosphate Exporting Countries), such as Morocco, with its relatively large rock phosphate reserves….The pope’s apparent ignorance of science history and modern agricultural technology obscures from his vision the disastrous effects of his policy of unchecked population growth on future generations who will find “no food on the table” nor the resources with which to grow it. This ignorance also shows that the pope has no more expertise in the fields of agricultural science, population planning, or resoure management than the pope in Galileo’s time did in the area of astronomy.

[...] Abortion, Capital Punishment and War – One of these things is not like the other … Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Isla…. [...]

[...] Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Isla…. [...]

Abortion is a sin regardless of your religion, race, gender, how was it made, or who created it. the main point here is ABORTION IS A DEATH PENALTY FOR INNOCENT SOULS.POLITICS is everywhere even inside the church. LAW’S are created not by a single person but on the decision of the majority.What ever the people in the politics or church decides. The question to the pregnant woman is “WILL YOU KEEP OR KILL THAT SOUL INSIDE YOUR WOMB?”. the church nor the politicians are not the one whose goin to make the decision, its the pregnant one.

Posted by rein | Report as abusive

The catholic church has changed so much. Do Bishops not allow people who have sex before marriage get communion? I really see no difference. You can be catholic and not agree with everything. You understand it but don’t agree with it. Not everything is black and white.

Posted by Elise Lundequam | Report as abusive

Ah, but it is black and white. You can indeed call yourself Catholic if you choose, but you cannot be a Catholic in good standing if you choose to follow some of the rules, and not others. A brief refresher on the Catechism of the Catholic Church may be in order, article 890. If you are in a state of sin according to the rules of the Church, you should not receive communion until you have received absolution for that sin through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

Americans enjoy the constitutional right to choose their religion or to decide not to have any. Patrick Kennedy views himself as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. The reception of communion, as its name indicates, expresses among other things a unity of faith between the communicant and the Church that grants it. It is a matter of fact that Kennedy no longer shares doctrines that are taught by the highest members of the Catholic hierarchy as being parts of the core beliefs of that Church. Of course, he is free to do so, but why doesn’t he have the honnesty to leave that Church and stop presenting himself as a Roman Catholic ? Kennedy wants to have the cake and eat it. NO WAY. He has got to choose. Either he is a Roman Catholic or he is not. If he is, he can only be Pro Life. If he is Pro Choice, he should stop receiving communion and leave that Church whose teachings he refuses. He will have no difficulty in finding a Church which will fit his convictions.

Posted by Jean-Luc Dalmasso | Report as abusive

“If you are in a state of sin according to the rules of the Church, you should not receive communion until you have received absolution for that sin through the sacrament of reconciliation.”The act of reconciliation is for one who has a problem with his brother, then before offering a sacrifice at the alter of the temple, that one should make things right with his brother/neighbor. Then after making things right he can offer his sacrifice.Didn’t Jesus come to this world for the sake of the sinner? Communion with God completes and perfects the hearts of men. Saying that a sinner does not deserve communion is like saying a sick person does not deserve a doctor.In any event. The communion of the Church is a symbolic ritual. True communion will never be denied. Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.Moses was a murderer, having killed an Egyptian overseer. Yet he is counted among the holiest of the prophets.

The bottom line is that this is politics and if a democrat has a prayer of their party’s backing, if he is pro-choice he has to dance around it saying “it is between the person and God”..”This is a person’s personal morals” I am a liberal democrat that is pro-life. I would never be elected. I believe in women’s rights who is pro-life. I wouldn’t be elected to anything. Patrick Kennedy did the bishop a diservice by stating something that was private and three years ago. That is not the perception. You have to give it to him! Politically getting people mad at the church to help discount their opposition to the health care program might get it passed. I believe everyone should be able to get health insurance. I believe in government helping out the poorest of our country. That you do for the least of your brother, that you do unto me. I also believe you can’t reconcile with the catholic church if you are pro-choice.
As a side bar…regular insurances allow abortion. This is about allowing people an affordable comparable plan. Lets not make this also about a political agenda.

Posted by Scrippy | Report as abusive

“Saying that a sinner does not deserve communion is like saying a sick person does not deserve a doctor.In any event. The communion of the Church is a symbolic ritual.” No one said a sinner does not deserve communion. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that communion forgives one’s venial sins and preserves him from grave sin (1416). The church also states that anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace or must not receive communion until he receives absolution. This is what we as Catholics believe… forgiveness of sins through the sacrament of reconciliation. (1415) With regard to communion being a symbolic ritual, Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ in a “true, real and substantial manner… with his soul and his divinity. (1413) In other words, once consecrated, the bread becomes the actual Body of Christ. For other Christian religions it may be a symbol, but to us Catholics it’s the real thing.

Posted by Frank312 | Report as abusive

[...] Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Isla…. [...]