Patrick Kennedy, a son of Ted Kennedy and a Democrat Congressman from Rhode Island, has been engaging in a very public conflict with the Bishop of Providence Thomas J. Tobin. Prior posts on this combative dialogue are here and here. Kennedy has now revealed that he is barred from receiving communion. The Bishop has responded by releasing this letter:
I am disappointed and really surprised that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has chosen to reopen the public discussion about his practice of the faith and his reception of Holy Communion. This comes almost two weeks after the Congressman indicated to local media that he would no longer comment publicly on his faith or his relationship with the Catholic Church. The Congressman’s public comments require me to reply.
On February 21, 2007, I wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating: “In light of the Church’s clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so.” My request came in light of the new statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that said, “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definite teachings on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.” (Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, December, 2006)
In the same letter I wrote to Congressman Kennedy, “I am writing to you personally and confidentially as a pastor addressing a member of his flock . . . At the present time I have no need or intention to make this a public issue.” I also indicated, “I am available to discuss this matter with you in person at any mutually convenient time and place. I would welcome the opportunity to do so.”
On February 28, 2007, the Congressman responded to me, “I have the utmost respect for the work you do on behalf of the Catholic community in Rhode Island. . . I understand your pastoral advice was confidential in nature and given with the best intentions for my personal spiritual welfare.”
I am disappointed that the Congressman would make public my pastoral and confidential request of nearly three years ago that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being.
I have no desire to continue the discussion of Congressman Kennedy’s spiritual life in public. At the same time, I will absolutely respond publicly and strongly whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the Church, or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry.
As I wrote to the Congressman in February of 2007, and repeated in my public letter earlier this month, I am willing and even anxious to meet with him, to discuss these matters. My door remains open. However, it should be absolutely clear the Congressman himself has once again chosen to make this discussion a matter of public record.
In the meantime, I will continue to pray – sincerely and fervently – for his conversion and repentance, and for his personal and spiritual well-being. I wish him well.
Bishop Thomas Tobin
Bishop Tobin has attempted to treat Patrick Kennedy with kindness and consideration by not making the communion ban public. Kennedy has decided to make this a public battle. So be it.