By Peter J. Smith

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, November 11, 2009 ( – After getting a public rebuke from his own bishop over abortion advocacy, Rep. Patrick Kennedy has refused to dialogue any further, calling it “very disconcerting” that his bishop would publicly declare he is not a Catholic in good standing.

The Providence Journal reports that Kennedy – the son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy – stated he was “not going to dignify with an answer” the public rebuke published by Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin that stated Kennedy could not consider himself a Catholic in good-standing and still support abortion.

Kennedy had earlier asserted in an Oct. 29 letter – the latest public back-and-forth between him and Bishop Tobin – that, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.”

Although the two men were scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss Kennedy's abortion support, Bishop Tobin viewed Kennedy's assertion as a bridge too far, saying it “deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it's true.”

In a public letter released in the diocesan newspaper on Monday – just two days after Kennedy voted in the House against adding the Pitts-Stupak amendment to the health-care bill – the Catholic prelate made clear that disagreeing with the bishops on a “grave matter” like abortion “certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church.”

f you don't accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you 'less of a Catholic,'” insisted Tobin, pointing to Church documents, Sacred Scripture, and Church Tradition to back him up.

Tobin also addressed the question of whether Kennedy could be considered a Catholic on a practical level.

“Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?”

The bishop continued, “In your letter you say that you 'embrace your faith.' Terrific. But if you don't fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?”

Tobin also rejected Kennedy's defense that his advocacy of abortion fell into the same “imperfect humanity” that has to wrestle with “sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty.”

“We all struggle with those things, and often fail,” Tobin said. However, rejecting the Church's teaching on abortion, the bishop said, “falls into a different category – it's a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you've re-affirmed on many occasions.”

“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.”

The Bishop of Providence, nonetheless, invited Kennedy “to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance” and offered his personal assistance if the Congressman requested it.

“It's not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic 'profile in courage,' especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children,” concluded Tobin. “And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so.”

Tobin's response looks like it may be the last word in the public debate between Kennedy and him. Kennedy brusquely told the Providence Journal that he was “not going to dignify with an answer” Tobin's public letter, adding, “I'm not going to engage [in] this anymore.”

Kennedy's meeting with Bishop Tobin has been postponed for now, although Kennedy indicated he was willing to resume provided that matters of faith remained “between us.”

The Providence Diocese told the Journal that the bishop was only responding to Kennedy's public comments, and that if the Congressman wanted to meet with Tobin on Thursday, the bishop would be available. 

Read Bishop Tobin's complete letter here. 

To Contact the Bishop of Providence

Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, D.D.
Diocese of Providence
One Cathedral Square
Providence, RI 02903-3695
Tel: (401) 278-4500
Fax: (401) 278-4654

Email: Contact the Bishop via the Office of Communications: [email protected]

See related coverage by

Bishop Tobin asks Rep. Kennedy to Talk after Abortion/Healthcare Remarks 

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


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