EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A month of harsh words between Rep. Patrick Kennedy and a strident critic, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, escalated Sunday when the bishop acknowledged asking Kennedy not to receive Holy Communion because of the Democratic lawmaker’s support for abortion rights.
Tobin said Sunday that he’s praying for Kennedy, and said Kennedy has been acting “erratically.”
“He attacked the church, he attacked the position of the church on health care, on abortion, on funding,” Tobin said. “And that required that I respond. I don’t go out looking for these guys. I don’t go out picking these fights.”
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 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, and said the bishop had told priests not to give him Communion.
Tobin said he wrote to Kennedy in February 2007 asking him not to receive Communion, but never formally banned him from receiving Communion or instructed any priest not to give it to him.