Rep. Kennedy Battles Catholic Bishop Over Ban On Taking Communion

U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) says he has been banned from taking communion at Roman Catholic services by Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.

Kennedy told the Providence Journal that Tobin barred him from communion due to a dispute over abortion. Kennedy has voted to support legal abortion and says that’s the reason for the ban.

“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 newspaper.

Kennedy added that Tobin told him “that I am not a good practicing Catholic because of the positions that I’ve taken as a public official.”

Kennedy has served in the House of Representatives for eight years. His disclosure of the communion ban came during a time when new questions were being raised about political intervention by the nation’s Catholic bishops.

In November, the bishops lobbied successfully to have language restricting abortion inserted into the health-care reform bill. Critics said the provisions would go far beyond existing measures that ban taxpayer funding of abortion.

Kennedy was prominent in the debate over that language. At one point, he challenged the bishops’ view, asserting that it is not “pro-life” to allow millions of people to go without health care.

Tobin later insisted that Kennedy had misconstrued his position. He said the discussion he had with Kennedy about communion took place in 2007 and denied he had instructed priests not to permit Kennedy to receive it.

“If I had told 300 priests of the diocese in any format not to give communion to Kennedy or anybody else, you think that would have remained confidential?” Tobin asked.

Tobin released a Feb. 21, 2007, letter he sent to Kennedy that read in part, “In light of the Church’s clear teaching, and your consistent actions,…I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so.”

The bishop insisted this was not meant to be an absolute ban on Kennedy’s ability to receive communion, telling the Journal, “If he took it as an instruction, so be it – but it was really a request.”

Tobin cited a 2007 letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stating that any Catholic who “knowingly and obstinately” rejects the church’s “definite teachings on moral issues” should not take communion.

Communion is an important sacrament to practicing Catholics, and denial of it is rarely imposed. In 2003, U.S. Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin was denied communion by Bishop Raymond Burke. Like Kennedy, Obey supports abortion rights.

Kennedy told the Journal he has continued to receive communion but did not say where.