Matt C. Abbott
November 25, 2009
Priest-canonist supports Bishop Tobin in Kennedy flap
By Matt C. Abbott

First, a background of the story, courtesy of (excerpt; click here for the full article):

    'U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) said in an interview Sunday that Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has instructed him to refrain from Communion because of his pro-abortion political position. In response to Kennedy's statement, Bishop Tobin has clarified that his request was issued in 2007 and was not the result of the recent highly public exchange between Kennedy and himself.

    ''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 Providence Journal.

    'The admission comes after a verbal fight between Kennedy and Bishop Tobin, sparked by Kennedy's saying that the Church was fanning the 'flames of dissent and discord' by opposing the health care bill then in the House, which would have brought about federally-funded abortions. Kennedy also questioned whether or not the bishops were really 'pro-life' based upon their opposition to the health bill.

    'Bishop Tobin responded by calling Kennedy a 'disappointment to the Catholic Church and the citizens of Rhode Island.'

    'The most recent exchange between the two is the first since Kennedy said that he wanted to cease discussing his faith in public, after a projected meeting between Kennedy and Tobin fell through about two weeks ago.

    'In a response to Kennedy's latest statement, Bishop Tobin said he was 'disappointed and really surprised that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has chosen to re-open the public discussion about his practice of the faith and his reception of Holy Communion.'

    'He continued by pointing out that he had in fact asked Kennedy to refrain from Communion approximately three years ago, in light of Kennedy's consistent opposition to Church teaching. 'On February 21, 2007, I wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating: 'In light of the Church's clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so,'' said Tobin.

    'Kennedy had declined to say when or how Bishop Tobin had told him not to receive Communion. He has also said that he has since received Communion....'

I asked canon lawyer Father Vincent E. Bertrand to comment on the controversy. Father Bertrand was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in 1987, received his licentiate in canon law in 1996 and is currently director of Marian Advocates for Life.

Father Bertrand's slightly edited response is as follows:

    'Many thanks for the invitation to share thoughts on the decision of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, ordinary of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, to restrict U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy's reception of Holy Communion due to his long-standing and very public promotion of abortion rights and other issues which are clearly contrary to the fundamental moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

    'As a priest and canon lawyer who has been active in the pro-life movement for over 30 years, I want to first express my deep gratitude to Bishop Tobin and all bishops, priests, deacons, and lay Catholics who have had the courage to publicly support the clear teaching of Rome and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that all God's people must respect the God-given right to life of every human being, from conception through natural death.

    'Although Rome and the USCCB have recently indicated that various bishops may have different approaches to Catholic politicians who reject the official Church teaching on life issues especially the primary and fundamental life issue of abortion with some bishops approaching such situations pastorally and others canonically, pro-abortion Catholic politicians must understand that the pope and all the bishops are unanimous in their position that abortion is gravely immoral, and that it is unacceptable for a Catholic to publicly promote abortion-rights or engage in any actions which bring about the procurement of an abortion.

    'Certainly Bishop Tobin and a number of other bishops in the U.S. and around the world who have taken similar canonical action have the canonical right under canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law to deny Holy Communion to Catholics who intentionally and directly persist in promoting abortion-rights in a very public manner. For a Catholic to engage in such behavior is clearly contrary to the laws and moral teaching of the Church and is a source of grave scandal to the faithful. It is the serious responsibility of a bishop to address such behavior for the personal well-being of the individual as well as the common good of the Church.

    'I am certain it is painful and challenging for Bishop Tobin and many other bishops to have to address such difficult issues as abortion with the faithful in their dioceses who reject the Church's unambiguous teaching on such issues. The bishops are aware that many Catholic politicians have done enormous good in supporting important social and life issues. The bishops are also aware that Catholic politicians have to listen to different constituencies in their work. But the pope, the Vatican, and the bishops have made it totally clear that it is unacceptable for any Catholic, including politicians, to intentionally and directly publicly promote or engage in behavior which leads to abortions; and that such rejection of the Church's official teaching on abortion must end, for the personal well-being of these Catholics as well as the common good of our Church and society.

    'Let us together pray that Rep. Kennedy and all Catholic politicians will respect the teaching of the Church that the God-given right to life from conception through natural death must be upheld for all God's people, especially in relation to the fundamental and primary right to life of the unborn. Let us give thanks for Bishop Tobin, all the bishops, the pope and the Vatican, and all Catholics who so beautifully and courageously promote love and respect for all life, most especially our dear unborn children.'

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at

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