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By James Tillman

PROVIDENCE, RI, December 7, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com)—Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri and former senator Rick Santorum are now among Bishop Thomas Tobin's defenders in the public battle between the bishop and Rep. Patrick Kennedy.

“Simply put, the church has membership requirements,” wrote Rick Santorum recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  “Kennedy is free to reject them. What he is not free to do is redefine them for himself and condemn the church for not accepting his definition.”

The exchange between Bishop Tobin and Rep. Kennedy started when the pro-abortion Kennedy questioned whether the Church was “pro-life” because it opposed the abortion-funding health care bill in the House, saying it was fanning “the flames of dissent and discord” by its position.  He nevertheless maintained in an October 24 letter that “the fact that I disagree with the hierarchy of the church on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.”

Bishop Tobin responded by saying that such a position did in fact make someone “less of a Catholic” and that Kennedy's position was “unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes [Kennedy's] communion with the Church.”

Besides Sen. Santorum, Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri has now weighed in on the issue, saying that Kennedy had made “pretty outrageous statements about the Catholic Church” and on the Church's position on “protecting the sanctity of innocent human beings.”

Such statements left Bishop Tobin, Carcieri continued, with “no choice except to come back and defend the Church, which I think he did very well.”

Governor Carcieri declined to comment on whether or not Kennedy should receive Communion, and clarified that he only means to address Kennedy's attacks on the Church.  He also lamented the “rudeness” with which Bishop Tobin was met on MSNBC's “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

When Carcieri, who is Catholic, was asked if an elected Catholic's first allegiance was to the Church, Carcieri responded that “if there are conflicts between positions that I am advocating as governor and my Church and my faith, then that is something I have to sort out.”

“It may be [were this to be true] that I can't be a member of the Church that I am part of,” he said.  “Everybody has to sort those issues out personally.”

Rick Santorum spoke similarly of how politicians should not sever the connection between their religious and political lives: “Kennedy and other politicians have an obligation to review any conflict with the church's core moral teachings with their bishop and determine if it's so grave as to require their leaving either public office or the church.”

Santorum responded in part to a recent statement by Catholic Democratic Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Murphy.  Murphy had said that “we don't legislate at the orders of the Vatican, we legislate what is in our conscience and what we think is good for our country.”

“I agree,” wrote Santorum.  “But in 16 years as a Catholic in public office, I never received an order from the Vatican or any clergyman.”

He continued: “I also agree with Murphy – as does the catechism – that Catholics must be true to their consciences. But that is not a free-floating guide that we can define ourselves.”

“A Catholic is required to form his conscience in accordance with the church's teachings on faith and reason, and to act in a morally coherent and consistent way, both privately and publicly.”

He concluded by saying that discussions regarding the morality of abortion do not simply depend on the Church, but may also be based in reason; there is “a natural law that forms the basic moral foundation of society and that can be known through the exercise of reason. Thus, a Catholic public official with a well-formed conscience can arrive at correct moral conclusions not by faith, but by reason.”

See related stories on LifeSiteNews.com:

Bishop Tobin Asked Rep. Kennedy Not to Receive Communion 

Bishop Tobin's Public Letter to Rep. Kennedy 

Catholic Bishop Publishes Extraordinary Letter Re: “Obstinate” Kennedy's Abortion Support 

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

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