By James Tillman

WASHINGTON, DC, October 29, 2009 (—Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence has asked Senator Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) to discuss health care legislation and life issues with him.  The invitation follows a heated exchange in which Kennedy said the Catholic bishops were acting “against the biggest social justice issue of our time” by opposing abortion-funding health care legislation. Bishop Tobin in turn responded by calling Kennedy “a disappointment to the Church and to the citizens of Rhode Island.”

Bishop Tobin, in a letter to Kennedy dated Tuesday and released Wednesday, argues that “the Catholic Church has been clear and consistent in its support of comprehensive health care reform; support that continues to this day.”

He goes on to invite Kennedy to meet with him to discuss the Church's support of both “comprehensive health care legislation and measures that protect and defend life.” 

The reference both to comprehensive health care and to the support of life echoes Bishop Tobin's first letter, in which he said that “the Bishops of the United States are indeed in favor of comprehensive health care reform and have been for many years. But we are adamantly opposed to health care legislation that threatens the life of unborn children, requires taxpayers to pay for abortion, rations health care, or compromises the conscience of individuals.”

By this statement Bishop Tobin was responding to Senator Kennedy's statements against the Church in an interview with Cybercast News, in which Kennedy said that if “the Church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health care reform because it's going to provide health care that is going to keep people alive.”

Kennedy went on to accuse the Church of doing nothing but fanning “the flames of dissent and discord” by resisting the abortion-funding legislation, and called their position an “absolute red herring.”

Recently Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Diocese of New York also entered the fray, calling Kennedy's remarks “sad, uncalled-for, and inaccurate.”

He wrote: “The Catholic community in the United States hardly needs to be lectured to about just healthcare. We've been energetically into it for centuries. And we bishops have been advocating for universal healthcare for a long, long time.”   “All we ask is that it be just that—universal—meaning that it includes the helpless baby in the womb, the immigrant, and grandma in a hospice, and that it protects a healthcare provider's right to follow his/her own conscience.”

Kennedy spokeswoman Kerrie Bennett said that Kennedy has received Bishop Tobin's letter and is preparing a response.

See related coverage by

U.S. Bishops Will “Vigorously” Oppose Health Care if Abortion Concerns Not Addressed

Rep. Kennedy Questions Whether Bishops “Pro-Life” over Opposition to Health Care: Local Bishop Demands Apology

White House at Loggerheads with U.S. Bishops on Existence of Government-Funded Abortion in Health Bill


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