Patrick Kennedy, the Catholic Church, and de facto Protestantism

I have neglected¹ the hot topic of a week ago, Representative Patrick Kennedy’s (D-RI) complaint that the Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, had barred him from receiving communion due to Mr Kennedy’s support for abortion, a position completely contrary to that of the Catholic Church of which the congressman says he is part.

The story naturally had two sides, Mr Kennedy saying that he had been barred from receibing the Eucharist and that Bishop Tobin had instructed the priests of the Diocese of Providence not to allow Mr Kennedy to receive the host if he did present himself for communion.


Kennedy: Barred from Communion


12:05 PM EST on Monday, November 23, 2009
By John E. Mulligan, Journal Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has forbidden Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy to receive the Roman Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion because of his advocacy of abortion rights, the Rhode Island Democrat said Friday.

“The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion,” Kennedy said in a telephone interview.

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 Bishop Tobin told him not to take the sacrament. And he declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop’s injunction.

Bishop Tobin responded to Mr Kennedy’s claims by noting that he had sent the congressman a letter to this effect 2½ years ago, said that he had no intention of making a personal pastoral concern public — and the story became public only because Representative Kennedy brought it up — and the Bishop stated that while he had advised Mr Kennedy that he was not receiving the Eucharist validly as long as he was supporting abortion, that he did not instruct the priests of the diocese to refuse the congressman communion.

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.” My request came in light of the new statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that said, “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definite teachings on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”

Many of our friends on the left were totally incensed — pun intended. Pam Spaulding was upset, as were most of her commenters, though few seemed to understand much about Catholicism. Our good friends at the Delaware Liberal managed to get it wrong, too If a pro-abortion politician should be requested not to receibe communion due to that position, they asked — generally paraphrasing many commenters — why shouldn’t conservative Catholics who support capital punishment or who voted for the war in Iraq or who oppose the institution of some form of nationalized health care? Mr Kennedy raised a similar question himself:

In an October interview about the opposition of the nation’s bishops to any health-care overhaul that did not include a strict ban on federal subsidies for abortion, Kennedy called into question the “pro-life” credentials of the churchmen. Health care for millions of uninsured is at stake, he said. Bishop Tobin shot back with a sharply worded statement, noting that the bishops are staunch and longtime supporters of reforming the health-care system. He said, however, that the bishops will not support a health-care bill that fails to include a ban on taxpayer subsidy of the procedure.

There’s a great site called Get Religion that Sharon informed me about. Get Religion’s purpose isn’t to discuss religion and theology — though some of that happens there — but to discuss media coverage of religion. Whenever there’s a news story about religion, that’s the source I check first, because they know their subject and get it right.

This time, the reporter was Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, a Lutheran by faith, but she got the Catholic position right. Mrs Hemingway wrote:

Let’s go to no less an expert than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now better known as Pope Benedict XVI. Here’s what he wrote about the “consistency” question (H/T to First Things) in 2004:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

If there is a shortcoming with Mrs Hemingway’s article, it is that she didn’t quote enough from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s instructions. She explained the differences between abortion and euthanasia with capital punishment and war, but she left it there. The very next paragraph states:

When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

This paragraph tells us three things:

  1. The denial of the Eucharist to someone who knowingly persists in grave sin is not something unique to those who support abortion and euthanasia;
  2. The Eucharistic Minister may have an obligation to refuse communion to someone he knows is approaching to receive the Host invalidly; and
  3. Bishop Tobin, by not having instructed the priests of his diocese to take this action, was actually a bit easier on Representative Kennedy than he might have been.

The Church, of course, doesn’t like to put its priests in the awkward position of having to refuse, in public, the Host to someone who approaches for communion. How rude would people think that to be. More, in most, parishes, there are lay Eucharistic Ministers who help in the distribution of communion. In my own small parish, when we approach for communion, there are two lines, divided by the right and left aisles of the pews, and while our pastor distributes the Host at the head of one line, a lay Eucharistic Minister distributes at the head of the other. We then turn, right or left, depending upon the side in which we were seated, and meet the next Eucharistic Minister, who holds the cup. If Bishop Tobin didn’t want to put his priests in the uncomfortable position of telling Representative Kennedy no, go sit down, how much less would the individual parish priests want to put laymen in that position?

Representative Kennedy declined to say whether he had obeyed the Bishop’s injunction; I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, for Monday publication, and by Monday we may have a story concerning whether Mr Kennedy went to Mass today, and if he approached for communion; certainly a smart editor could have assigned that duty to some reporter.

One thing that I think is misunderstood in mostly Protestant America is that the Catholic Church is hierarchical — that much is understood, of course — and that theology and doctrine and dogma come down from the top. To protest against those things is, well, Protestant, a word which springs from the root “protest.” To be Catholic is to subject yourself to a set of beliefs you might not have come to yourself.

The case of former Governor Jim McGreevey (D-NJ) is instructive. The bishops in New Jersey told Governor McGreevey that he should not attempt to receive communion, due to his support for abortion,² an order with which the Governor complied. After Mr McGreevey left office, and his personal issues arose, he decided that he wished to study for the priesthood, and entered the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, where he is studying to become an Episcopal priest. Whatever his reasons, whether his lifestyle, his status as a (twice) divorced man, or his support for abortion, Mr McGreevey did not believe that he could remain a Roman Catholic. It seems to me that, if Mr Kennedy finds his support for abortion something he believes he must maintain, and he has such a serious disagreement with the Bishop of his home diocese, if he protests, then maybe it’s time for him to acknowledge that he is, indeed, a Protestant.

After all, we have freedom of religion in the United States; the congressman is simply not required to remain in the church in which he was reared, is not required to be in a church at all. If he is bound by the restrictions of the Bishop of Providence, it is because he chooses to try to remain a Roman Catholic.

But such a choice is living a lie. If you wish to be Catholic, you are saying that you are willing to abide by the restrictions of the Catholic Church; if you are not so willing, then it’s time to move on.
________________________
¹ – Neglected in that I did start an article on the subject, but it was so poorly written that I decided not to publish it.
² – This occurred before the sex scandal and revelation that Mr McGreevey is homosexual, and thus had nothing to do with that.

18 Comments

  1. If you wish to be Catholic, you are saying that you are willing to abide by the restrictions of the Catholic Church; if you are not so willing, then it’s time to move on.

    Agreed! If you are a CINO who allows people to post entries that advocate capital punishment for people who haven’t even been sent to trial yet, and who willfully misreads or sin-of-omission glosses over the Church’s position on when capital punishment is necessary (i.e., in a world of Supermax prisons: almost never), and allows pro-death positions to be advanced in the world as if the Catholic Church were the Republican party’s God-approved mouthpiece, then you should probably bite the bullet and sign on with one of those Protestant megachurches who gloss over Matthew 22:21 as though the Living Word came into this world to help a political party gain strength.

    Agree with the general post from an ecclesiastical POV btw, if the Church says no communion, Church’s word is final, and that’s that. I wish “Catholics” who’re high on politics could get as excited about other Church teachings, but no sale on the social gospel (an absolute linchpin of Catholicism, without which there can be no Church), alms, etc. Oh well! What’s important is the ballot box, right, not the hungry – they’re probably just lazy.

  2. I look at it this way. The Catholic Church is lead by an actual head of state. It’s its own country. So… To which should our elected officials owe their allegiance? The United States of America? Or a foreign country?

  3. I love how non-Christians claim they know what Christianity is all about when it is very clear they do not. I wrote about what it takes to be a Christian on my site. It is very clear that anyone who thinks “social gospel” is “an absolute linchpin of Catholicism, without which there can be no Church” either doesn’t understand what a linchpin is or doesn’t understand Christianity, or both.

    And what of this “social gospel” that non-Christians love to point out? If you don’t support the taking of OPM to REDISTRIBUTE to even others, you’re not Christian? Can you be serious? Have you read the “parable of the talents” yet? Or how about “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat”? Beyond that, have you taken note of personal charity when broken down between liberals and conservatives? Or personal charity of Christian Conservatives? No? Thought not. And of course, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to Providence that which is Providence’s” comes up again, always from liberals who try to claim it’s everyone’s duty to pay even more taxes. What part of “it’s my money” do you liberals not get? My money does not belong to the government; it belongs to me.

    I also pointed out that Jesus is not a pacifist on more than one occasion. And I gave proof of that. I also have issue with the Catholic position on capital punishment, and I am relieved to see it is a lesser issue than abortion and euthanasia. The Old Testament is very much for capital punishment. And, as I pointed out, the New Testament does not eliminate the Old Testament, but completes it. The Old Testament is like a mirror and the New Testament is like a comb. The Old Testament shows you what’s wrong with you and the New Testament gives you the tools to fix what’s wrong with you.

    Capital punishment and war are not antithetical to respect for life. Both can actually be used in the advancement of a respect for life. But abortion and euthanasia cannot. Of course, none of what I said, nor any of my documentation will sway the minds of the left who are willfully blind and deaf to the facts.

  4. “I look at it this way. The Catholic Church is lead by an actual head of state. It’s its own country. So… To which should our elected officials owe their allegiance? The United States of America? Or a foreign country?”

    Yeah, who should they ultimately serve in matters of faith and morals: God or Caesar?

    Oh, wait, yeah, to the lefty, Caesar, the visible representative of Comte’s “Great Being”, is the vicar of God, so there is no problem there anyway.

  5. cmbc proves that he didn’t actually read the article:

    Agreed! If you are a CINO who allows people to post entries that advocate capital punishment for people who haven’t even been sent to trial yet, and who willfully misreads or sin-of-omission glosses over the Church’s position on when capital punishment is necessary (i.e., in a world of Supermax prisons: almost never), and allows pro-death positions to be advanced in the world as if the Catholic Church were the Republican party’s God-approved mouthpiece, then you should probably bite the bullet and sign on with one of those Protestant megachurches who gloss over Matthew 22:21 as though the Living Word came into this world to help a political party gain strength.

    Now, had you actualkly read the article, you’d have seen this quote, from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI:

    Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    Now, as it happens, I agree with the Church’s position on capital punishment, but that does not mean that I would censor anyone who supports it.

    This is, of course, one of the problems with amateur “gotcha” posters: they read one thing — or worse, don’t read it, at least not carefully — and then they write something asinine based on only the most superficial understanding, if that, of a topic.

  6. the idiot priest/bishop/politician got his ass handed to him by Chris Matthews. All of a sudden he didn’t have an answer as to what he actually wanted Kennedy to do with regard to a law and what law he would do.

    Such a bullshit issue and a priest sticking his nose into politics. I used to think it was only the born again nut jobs that had a foothold in politics. Now’s it’s the nut job Catholics that are playing the game too. Wonderful, just wonderful.

    but war is just fine. Keep serving the Eucharist to War Supporters Padre..I’m sure Jesus is proud.

  7. and a priest sticking his nose into politics

    The fact life begins at conception and the fact all life is valuable are both the business of the Church. If you want to murder the unborn or the infirm, and you claim to be a member of a church, the Preacher/Priest and the deacons have every right to show you the door (and don’t come back until you get it right). That’s not politics, that’s Church teaching, (throw the immoral one out).

    Keep serving the Eucharist to War Supporters Padre..I’m sure Jesus is proud.

    I already covered this multiple times now, including in my comment above, which has a link. Do take your time to read things and learn.

  8. donviti, I find your pathological, almost racist hatred of Christians and your casual distain for the sanctity of innocent life offensive.

  9. That is an awesome piece of sleight-of-hand, Dana – take something a cardinal wrote and try to attach Papal infallibility to it. Care to cite precedent for that? Because I can scare up loads of things written by cardinals (one of whom, the man who went on to become John Paul II, was almost doubtless a thorn in your side for decades) that don’t really jibe with your lack of concern for the welfare of prisoners, your blind eye to the evil of capital punishment, et al.

  10. (And make no mistake. If morals and ethics are your thing, you hosting pro-death-penalty stuff is non-different from your hosting pro-abortion stuff. Stop kidding yourself about that. Or don’t, it’s no concern of mine, but I know these are issues that weigh on your heart – moral culpability; responsbility – and the bare fact is, giving forum to pro-death sentiments means you share in the harvest of those opinions.)

  11. Failed logic class in school, did you cbmc?
    This is your argument:

    Your support of putting criminals behind bars is no different than supporting putting innocents behind bars. Stop kidding yourself about that.

  12. cmbc once again demonstrates his knowledge of Catholicism:

    That is an awesome piece of sleight-of-hand, Dana – take something a cardinal wrote and try to attach Papal infallibility to it.

    Even were I trying to do that, I’d have had another step through which to go: only ex cathedra statements are supposed to be infallible, which you should know. But the statement is the current position of the Catholic Church.

    The tactic you are using — if I let others write in support of capital punishment, I must, therefore, support capital punishment — is at least sophisticated enough to fool a fourth grader. Once you get above that level, not so much.

  13. The idea that not all theological issues are created equal is a fair one. But I don’t think that lets Bishop Tobin off the hook. Why? Because he’s clearly being selective with how he applies his principles. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) is a Catholic and one of the most stridently pro-choice members of the Senate. He’s probably more public about his pro-choice positions than Rep. Kennedy is, and as a Catholic Rhode Islander, he’s under Tobin’s authority. Why, then, has Tobin not asked Reed to refrain from accepting communion?

    The whole thing smacks of a political food fight rather than a bishop taking a principled pro-life stance. Kennedy had the audacity to challenge Tobin in public on Church teaching, and Tobin struck back using his authority in the Church to punish Kennedy.

  14. Jeff: Maybe he has, and we just don’t know it. Bishop Tobin’s letter to Representative Kennedy was a private one, dated 2½ years ago, and it has only become public because Mr Kennedy made it public.

    That said, if Bishop Tobin hasn’t sent such a letter to Senator Reed, now’s the time to get going on it. The Bishop should be consistent about these things.

  15. “the idiot priest/bishop/politician got his ass handed to him by Chris Matthews. All of a sudden he didn’t have an answer as to what he actually wanted Kennedy to do with regard to a law and what law he would do.

    Such a bullshit issue and a priest sticking his nose into politics. I used to think it was only the born again nut jobs that had a foothold in politics. Now’s it’s the nut job Catholics that are playing the game too. Wonderful, just wonderful.

    but war is just fine. Keep serving the Eucharist to War Supporters Padre..I’m sure Jesus is proud.”

    You have a disciple’s interest in what Jesus thinks? Self-identified believer in, and servant of, the God-man Christ are you?

    There was this guy posting here under the name of Perry. He was kinda against abortion as a matter of some principle or another. So, he and the Pope were “like this” on moral beliefs regarding abortion he said.

    Except for the fact that Perry wasn’t a Christian and a supernaturalist like the Pope is; and that he didn’t really have the same beliefs about the nature of the human person and the consequences of abortion as the Pope does; and that their beliefs about reality and the significance of moral principles, were therefore not really alike at all.

    But then, why let a few facts halt the delivery of a satisfying bit of rhetoric …

  16. “Jeff: Maybe he has, and we just don’t know it. Bishop Tobin’s letter to Representative Kennedy was a private one, dated 2½ years ago, and it has only become public because Mr Kennedy made it public …”

    Possibly a genetic trait …

  17. “Kennedy had the audacity to challenge Tobin in public on Church teaching, and Tobin struck back using his authority in the Church to punish Kennedy.”

    That seems to be pretty much part of the traditional duty, or job description of an R.C. bishop …

    “The bishop possesses, as already stated, the powers of order and jurisdiction. The power of order comes to him through episcopal consecration, but the exercise of this right depends on his power of jurisdiction.”


    The right to punish is a necessary consequence if the right to judge. Formerly the bishop could and did inflict even corporal punishments and fines. These are no longer customary even for ecclesiastics. The usual penalties for the laity are censures …”

    Excommunication being a form of censure …

    “Excommunication is an act of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the rules of which it follows. Hence the general principle: whoever has jurisdiction in the forum externum, properly so called, can excommunicate, but only his own subjects. Therefore, whether excommunications be a jure (by the law) or ab homine (under form of sentence or precept), they may come from the pope alone or a general council for the entire Church; from the provincial council for an ecclesiastical province; from the bishop for his diocese …”

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05678a.htm
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02581b.htm

  18. Instead of abortion lets just build a huge chemical and lime pit like the nuns and priest did and we’ll throw the new borns in after their born.
    I can’t believe that an institution as immoral and corrupt as this one is still dictating moral judgement to the people. Who in their right minds would remain a loyalist to such an evil empire?
    I got news for you people…no old fart in a pointy hat sitting in Italy is going to save you from hell. You have to go through hell before you get to heaven. It’s a direct route. These hypocrites have been lying to the world since the beginning of their God-forsaken organization………..

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