- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2009

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. | The Roman Catholic bishop of Rhode Island said Sunday that he asked Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy in a 2007 letter to stop receiving Communion, the central sacrament of the church, because of the congressman’s public stance on moral issues.

Bishop Thomas Tobin divulged details of his confidential exchange with Mr. Kennedy after the Democratic lawmaker told the Providence Journal in a story published Sunday that Bishop Tobin had instructed him not to receive Communion. The two men have clashed repeatedly in the past few weeks over abortion.

Mr. Kennedy did not say where or how he received those instructions. He declined to say whether he has obeyed the bishop’s request.

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

Mr. 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.

Bishop Tobin said Sunday that he “has never addressed matters relative to public officials receiving Holy Communion with pastors of the diocese.”

The outspoken prelate and Mr. Kennedy, a son of one of the nation’s most famous Roman Catholic families, have feuded since Mr. Kennedy in an interview last month criticized Roman Catholic church leaders for threatening to oppose an overhaul of the nation’s health care system unless it included tighter restrictions on abortion.

Mr. Kennedy voted against an amendment tightening abortion restrictions that was sought by the bishops. But he voted in favor of a health care plan that included the amendment he opposed.

Bishop Tobin urged Mr. Kennedy not to receive Communion in a February 2007 letter, a portion of which was released publicly by Bishop Tobin’s office Sunday.

“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,” Bishop Tobin wrote.

It was not immediately clear whether Bishop Tobin and Mr. Kennedy spoke further about the request. Kennedy spokeswoman Kerrie Bennett did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the letter.

Bishop Tobin, the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics in Rhode Island, the nation’s most heavily Catholic state, demanded an apology from Mr. Kennedy after the congressman criticized church leaders who opposed universal health care unless the plans included more restrictions on abortions. He also requested a meeting with Mr. Kennedy.

“While I greatly respect the Catholic Church and its leaders, like many Rhode Islanders, the fact that I disagree with the hierarchy of the church on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic,” Mr. Kennedy wrote in a letter to Bishop Tobin, agreeing to a sit-down. “I embrace my faith, which acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.”

Their meeting fell apart. While Bishop Tobin called it a mutual decision, Mr. Kennedy accused Bishop Tobin of failing to abide by an agreement to stop discussing the congressman’s faith publicly.

Bishop Tobin followed up with a biting public letter published in a diocesan newspaper.

“Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an ‘imperfect humanity.’ Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your Communion with the Church,” Bishop Tobin wrote.

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