By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Catholic, says his local Roman Catholic bishop instructed him to stop taking communion three years ago and ordered diocesan priests to deny him the Eucharist because of Kennedy's support for abortion rights. But Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin says that his message to Kennedy was merely a request and that he never ordered priests to enforce it.
The controversy has played out in recent days on the pages of the Providence Journal, which notes that Kennedy is the last public official from America's most prominent Catholic family. In an interview with the paper on Friday, Kennedy said that Tobin "instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion."
In this morning's Journal, Tobin said Kennedy's claim that he ordered priests to deny Kennedy Communion was "absolutely inaccurate." He also challenged Kennedy's description of the bishop's 2007 correspondence to Kennedy about foregoing Communion: "If he took it as an instruction, so be it, but it was really a request."
The episode is the latest in the escalating Eucharist wars, which saw Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley urge Catholic public officials who support abortion rights to forego Communion in 2003. The comments dogged John Kerry, a pro-abortion rights senator based in Boston, during his run for president the following year.
More recently, the Catholic Church has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to forego Communion because of her support for abortion rights.
The tiff between Kennedy and Tobin began last month when Kennedy questioned the U.S. bishops' commitment to healthcare reform because of their vocal objections to a healthcare bill that includes federal subsidies for abortion coverage.