There has been a controversy in the last few weeks between Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Rhode Island and Congressman Patrick Kennedy who represents the same state in the U.S. Congress.
The controversy at issue has escalated because of the Congressman’s public and harsh criticism of the Catholic Church for not supporting abortion in the Health Care bill initiative initially in the U.S. House of Representatives and now in the U.S. Senate.
In view of Patrick Kennedy’s public criticisms and responses, Bishop Tobin has answered the accusations publicly, even when the initial request from the bishop from the congressman to refrain from communion was originally issued privately in 2007. Kennedy chose last week to divulge this request from the bishop publicly.
The basic issue is that Bishop Tobin has asked Representative Kennedy to refrain from taking communion because of his support for abortion in general and in particular his push to have it inserted into the healthcare reform and funded with taxpayer’s money. In addition Representative Kennedy supports other legal initiatives in favor of homosexual marriage, embryonic stem cell research, cloning and other stances that in direct opposition to the doctrine and beliefs of the Catholic Church.
The issue here is not weather Rep. Kennedy or any other elected politician should obey any religious leader’s order to vote one way or another; the issue is that if the congressman chooses to vote for abortion or any other issue at odds with his Catholic faith he in all effects breaks communion with his Church and commits a grave sin in accordance with Catholic doctrine and law. Patrick Kennedy is free to vote his conscience, but he is not free to do so and still consider himself a Catholic in good standing and partake of the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Catholic doctrine teaches that a mortal sin precludes one from the privilege (and communion is always a privilege and not a right) of communion. In order for the person to come back for communion he or she needs to repent, that is change their course, make a confession (which is the external expression of penance and contrition for the sins made and the lawful authority of the Church to forgive). Procuring an abortion, helping someone get an abortion, cooperating in the sinful structure of power that has legalized and supported abortion are all mortal sins that automatically set the person apart from communion.
In the end the person alone is responsible to make the decision to abide or not by the commandments and instructions of his or her faith. No power in the United States is going to make Mr. Kennedy or any other politician vote against his or her own conscience. Yet at the same time they should not expect to have the cake and eat it too. If you choose to vote against the teachings of your Church, do not expect this same Church and indeed Christ, to take you back without condition.