By Peter J. Smith

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, October 23, 2009 ( – The Catholic Bishop of Providence has lambasted Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) for smearing the Catholic bishops over their opposition to the health-care reform bills going through Congress because they would fund abortion. Kennedy, the son of the late pro-abortion Catholic Sen. Ted Kennedy, said objections to abortion and conscience protections in the bills were just a “red herring” to cover the bishops' refusal to support health-care for 50 million uninsured Americans.

“I thought they were pro-life” Kennedy told a reporter from Cybercast News Service. “If the church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health care reform because it's going to provide health care that are going to keep people alive.”

Kennedy attacked the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for sending a letter to all 535 members of the House of Representatives that informed them the Catholic Church must oppose any legislation that would include funding for abortions and fail to include conscience-protections for health-care providers in health-care reform. (see coverage)

“Much-needed reform of our health care system must be pursued in ways that serve the life and dignity of all, never in ways that undermine or violate these fundamental values,” said the letter. The letter was signed by bishops William Murphy of Rockville-Centre, Justin Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia, and John Wester of Salt-Lake City, who chair the USCCB committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Pro-Life Activities, and Migration, respectively.

However the Rhode Island congressman said that for the Catholic Church not to support what he called “the biggest social justice issue of our time” called into question its pro-life credentials.

The Church's objections over abortion are an “absolute red herring” that only serve to “fan the flames of dissent and discord,” he said.

However, Kennedy's disparagement of the Catholic Church has not been taken lightly by his Church's prelates. The bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, Thomas Tobin, swiftly responded, excoriating Kennedy in a press release that stated that the congressman was a “disappointment to the Catholic Church and the citizens of Rhode Island.”

“Congressman Patrick Kennedy's statement about the Catholic Church's position on health care reform is irresponsible and ignorant of the facts. But the Congressman is correct in stating that 'he can't understand.' He got that part right,” said Tobin.
“As I wrote to Congressman Kennedy and other members of the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation recently, the Bishops of the United States are indeed in favor of comprehensive health care reform and have been for many years,” continued Tobin.

“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.”
Tobin concluded by saying that Kennedy “owes us an apology for his irresponsible comments” adding, “It is my fervent hope and prayer that he will find a way to provide more effective and morally responsible leadership for our state.”

See related coverage by

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

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

Vatican Cardinal: Health of Citizens “Belongs” to Central Government – Several US Bishops Disagree 


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