Adam Graham
November 26, 2009
The congressman and the bishop
By Adam Graham

Former Governor Howard Dean (D-VT) was raised Episcopalian, but the moment of truth came when he could no longer in good conscience call himself a member of that denomination. He had his road to Damascus moment.

Actually, it was more of a bike path. Dean abandoned the church of his birth because, as Dean eloquently recounted, he wanted a bike path, but the church filed a lawsuit to exercise their property rights to stop the bike path, so Dean shook the dust off.

At the time, it was hard to imagine a more flighty treatment of religion by a supposedly religious politician. That was until Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) made the news after stating that two years ago, he was barred from taking communion. The Bishop of Rhode Island, Thomas Tobin, didn't make a public statement at the time and was shocked that Kennedy had made a "pastoral and confidential" matter public.

What's behind the row? Tobin did two things. First, he told Congressman Kennedy there were rules. Second, he told him those rules applied to him. You don't tell a Congressman that, especially not a Kennedy. As evidenced by Kennedy disregarding the command.

What Tobin did was politically incorrect, thus some shout nonsense about the separation of church and state. The first amendment was written to stop the establishment of a state church, not to stop a church from disciplining its members. The concern is for Congressman Kennedy's soul. The Catholic Catechism teaches cooperation with abortion is a mortal sin leading to automatic excommunication. Catholics are not to receive communion if they haven't made good their last mortal sin. Congressman Kennedy can't make it good because it's ongoing. Bishop Tobin had the audacity to apply church law to a Congressman and a Kennedy.

I'm a Protestant and I have more respect for the Catholic Church than Congressman Kennedy. Even Congress' only Atheist, Rep. Pete Stark (D-I won't dignify my constituents by peeing on their leg) has more respect for the Catholic Church than Kennedy.

I can respect those who can "take religion or leave it." What I have trouble with is those who want to take religion and leave it at the same time. Congressman Kennedy expects the Catholic Church to overlook their 2000 year old position on the sanctity of human life as well as their beliefs on the requirements for receiving Communion. Kennedy has instead chosen to turn the politics of personal destruction on his bishop and set an example of public defiance.

Typical of Democrats who can't see how burning the American flag makes you less of an American, Kennedy declared, "The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic."

Tobin dared to respond, "Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn't choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents."

Kennedy ignored the measured words of Bishop Tobin and has grown this situation into an ever-expanding political controversy. Kennedy has become an ugly picture of a spoiled man-child who's been in Congress his entire adult life and is now throwing a tantrum because the Bishop told him there was a power greater than him.

There are two honorable ways to respond to this situation, if one is a Catholic member of Congress who believes abortion should be legal.

The first option would be to simply leave office. This would solve the problem from an ecclesiastic viewpoint. If Kennedy weren't in Congress, the Church would no longer believe Kennedy was compromising his immortal soul, and he'd no longer be committing a mortal sin. Kennedy could leave Congress and all pro-abortion activism to become a serious Catholic and he'd not be viewed as being in mortal peril, and he could take communion without changing his actual stance.

I faced an analogous decision my sophomore year of college. I could have easily won a Student Senate seat, but the position would require doing things I wasn't comfortable with, like planning events where alcohol would be served and many students would binge drink. I also didn't believe I had the right to get elected to the Student Senate and not plan these very popular events. So to avoid doing things that violated my conscience, I decided I wouldn't run.

The second option for Kennedy would be for him to leave the Catholic Church. The United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, are among many other sects that strongly support abortion. Indeed, there are some large churches that oppose abortion, but would still give Kennedy communion.

This would seem a reasonable step to take. Rather than demanding the Catholic Church change its traditions to fit Congressman Kennedy's political views, it'd be far more respectful and honest for Kennedy to change to a denomination that would be supportive of his political views. If the Catholic Church doesn't know what it's talking about on issues of mortal sin, if the Church's leaders aren't worth any more respect than Kennedy has shown Bishop Tobin, then Kennedy ought to do the classy thing and leave for a church that will tell him what he wants to hear.

Kennedy will do neither. Instead, he's the poster boy of a new class of politicians who view themselves as above everyone, including God.

© Adam Graham

 

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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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