Monday, November 23, 2009

You See Dimensions in Two

The New York Times reveals that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) claims that in 2007, the Catholic bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, told priests under his authority to not administer communion to Kennedy. Tobin doesn't remember barring priests from administering communion, but says that Kennedy shouldn't be taking it. Tobin claims that Kennedy's geographical quasi-excommunication is related to his support for abortion rights.

I used to be bothered by this sort of thing, but as of now, I have no opinion one way or another on whether it's right or wrong for a Catholic bishop or priest to deny communion to someone because of their political beliefs. I'm not Catholic, and I don't come from a religious tradition that values hierarchy, so the whole thing is just kinda weird to me. But just to make sure Tobin's acting in earnest here, let's check on a few facts. The diocese of Providence consists of the state of Rhode Island, which sends four people to national office - Kennedy, Rep. James Langevin, and Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse is Episcopalian, but Langevin and Reed are both Catholics, neither of which appear to have been denied communion or chewed out by Tobin. Langevin is legitimately pro-life, but Reed? The Wikioracle speaks:
He is strongly pro-choice, and he has rejected proposals to limit late-term abortion, such procedures from occurring on military installations, and the ability of minors to cross state lines to obtain abortions.
Tweeeeeet! Inconsistent application of principles, Bishop Tobin of the Church. Fifteen yard penalty, replay third mass. Whatever this fight is about, it's clear that there's one thing it's definitely not about - abortion.

The Times article has an interesting passage that might tell us why:
Their dispute began in October when Kennedy criticized the nation's Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose an overhaul of the nation's health care system unless lawmakers included tighter restrictions on abortion, which have since been added to the House version of the bill. Tobin said he felt Kennedy made an unprovoked attack on the church and demanded an apology.

Since then, their feud has played out in public. Tobin, who has said he might have gone into politics were he not ordained, has written sharp public letters questioning Kennedy's faith and saying his position is scandalous and unacceptable to the church. Kennedy has said his disagreement with the church hierarchy does not make him any less of a Catholic.

Two weeks ago, after a planned meeting between the two fell through, Kennedy said he wanted to stop discussing his faith in public. But then he told The Providence Journal in a story published Sunday that Tobin instructed him not to receive Communion. He also claimed the bishop had told diocesan priests not to give him Communion.
Ah. So Kennedy started a food fight with Tobin, and Tobin's escalating it. A lay Catholic is challenging the Church hierarchy, and the bishop feels the need to put him in his place. How quaint, in that 13th-century sort of way.

I don't know that I would completely rule out the ambition of Tobin here though. Tobin claims in the article that he would have run for political office if he hadn't gone into the clergy. Seems to me that Tobin is understandably distraught that Catholic clergymen have been left behind by the political Christianity that has been ascendant in the past few decades. By engaging in a highly public culture-war fight with a high-profile liberal, he's aspiring to a more powerful role for himself and his fellow clergymen in a culture war debate that has so far been dominated by Protestant clergy and lay Christians.

(I have no evidence for that assertion, of course, so it's kind of a Glenn Beck-style "isn't it interesting" conjecture. Take this theory with a grain of salt - or a whole shaker.)

Question for y'all, though - is there any inconsistency in kicking someone out for voting in favor of abortion rights but not for supporting other political positions that the Church opposes?

No comments: