By Kathleen Gilbert

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, November 25, 2009 ( – Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island clarified his reasons for denying pro-abortion politicians Communion on Tuesday, noting that such politicians are not forced to be Catholic – but if they choose to, they must then “understand what the Church teaches, accept those teachings, and live that faith.”

“The most important commitment we can make is our faith, because that defines our relationship with God. Nothing is more important than that. And if your job, your profession, your vocation gets in the way of that, you have to quit your job and save your soul,” said Tobin in an appearance on the FOX Network's “O'Reilly Factor” Tuesday night.

Bishop Tobin has been at the center of controversy after it was revealed that he told the Catholic pro-abortion Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) in 2007 to refrain from receiving Communion. Kennedy originally sparked the public feud by accusing the Catholic Church of fanning the “flames of dissent and discord” by opposing the pro-abortion House health care bill.

Tobin denied that his decision to ban Rep. Kennedy from Communion was a “punishment.”

“Every Catholic has certain obligations, it means something to say you are a Catholic.  No one is forced to be a Catholic,” said the bishop.  

“If you choose freely to be a Catholic it means you do certain things, and you believe certain things, and I think all I'm trying to say to Congressman Kennedy and others who might be involved, say: if you're a Catholic, live up to your faith.  Understand what the Church teaches, accept those teachings, and live that faith.”

Tobin also defended the Church's basic right to intercede in public debate on behalf of universal moral principles.

“If the church, not just the Catholic Church, but the religious community – if we don't bring these values, this spiritual vision to these discussions, who else will do that?”  said Tobin.

The tenor of the interview starkly contrasted with Tobin's appearance on MSNBC's “Hardball” with Chris Matthews Monday night, in which the Catholic Matthews lectured the bishop and accused Tobin of using public policy as leverage in getting Kennedy to heed his authority.

See related coverage:

Catholic League Rebukes MSNBC's Matthews for 'Insulting Lecture' in Bp. Tobin Interview