By Richard C. Dujardin
PROVIDENCE –– Even as they agreed to postpone a planned face-to-face meeting that had been set for Thursday, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin turned up the heat Monday on U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy over his “rejection” of church teaching on abortion, calling on him to enter into a process of conversion and repentance.
In a letter to Kennedy posted Monday on the Web site of the Diocese of Providence’s weekly newspaper, the bishop disputes Kennedy’s assertion that his disagreement with the hierarchy “on some issues” including abortion did not make him any less of a Catholic.
“Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does,” the bishop said in a letter issued just two days after Kennedy was among a group of minority lawmakers who attempted to block tough new restrictions on abortion that were added Saturday to the House’s health-care reform legislation.
“Although I wouldn’t chose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion,” the bishop declared.
Kennedy’s office did not respond yesterday to phone and e-mail requests for an interview on the bishop’s letter.
Bishop Tobin raised the question: What makes Kennedy think he’s Catholic? “Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?”
Being Catholic involves much more, he said, including acceptance of essential church teachings on matters of faith and morals, belonging to a parish community, weekly attendance at Mass and regular reception of the sacraments.
And support for abortion rights is not in the same category of those who struggle with sins of anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty and then fail, the bishop declared.
“Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category — it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will, a conscious decision that you’ve reaffirmed on many occasions. [wow]
“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….
“I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God.
“But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late 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.”
Michael Guilfoyle, director of communications for the diocese, said the planned meeting between the bishop and congressman, originally set for Thursday, was postponed by mutual agreement after their staffs agreed that the meeting was not as urgent now that the House voted on the abortion provision in the health-care legislation. He said Bishop Tobin still looks forward to a meeting with Kennedy in the near future.
The abortion provision, which prohibits women insured under the public option or who obtain federal health insurance tax credits from purchasing abortion insurance, passed the House Saturday on a 240 to 194 vote. Rhode Island’s other Democratic congressman, U.S. Rep. James Langevin, voted for the amendment and Kennedy voted against it.
The health-care bill passed on a 220-215 vote.