Why Bishop Tobin is Truly Wrong

 |  NCR Today

Bishop Tobin and Congressman Kennedy are engaged in an unseemly public spat. We now know that in 2007, the bishop of Providence told Kennedy that he should refrain from presenting himself for communion because of his pro-choice position on abortion. That edict was not publicized until now and Tobin says that he did not even share the information with any other pastors.

I cannot bring myself to defend Congressman Kennedy. I think his explanations for maintaining a pro-choice stance are among the worst I have ever heard, a tired re-hashing of arguments put forth better, but unconvincingly, by Governor Mario Cuomo in 1984. Even if a congressman or a governor thinks that representative democracy demands that they exercise their vote and their veto in a manner that accords with the wishes of their constituents, they have an obligation to raise their voice on behalf of the unborn and try and convince their constituents, and their fellow Democrats, that we got the abortion issue wrong in the 1970s.

But, I do wish to defend our Church’s theology of the Eucharist. Just before we approach the altar, we say, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you…” (Actually, I usually attend Latin Mass so I say, “Domine, non sum dignus…”) None of us is worthy to receive the Eucharist which is why it and the other sacraments are called grace. The posture of those who wish to employ Canon 915 in the manner first suggested by Archbishop Burke in 2004 and now by Bishop Tobin suggests that receiving communion is a kind of reward for a good voting record. The argument that people are confused about the Church’s teaching because pro-choice politicians receive communion is lame: Everyone knows what the Church teaches about the immorality of abortion.

Continue on your Lenten journey with FREE seasonal formation and liturgical articles from our sister publication, Celebration Publications.
Visit the new online resource page here.

Tobin and others who seek to deny communion to politicians based on their voting records fail to appreciate the difference between procuring abortion and voting to keep it legal. Congressman Kennedy is not an abortionist. And while we may disagree with his position, certainly it is not difficult to think of a variety of reasons why, in a pluralistic culture such as ours, a member of Congress would think that there is no practical way to apply the Church’s teaching in civil law without violating other important principles.

The key issue here is not the role of bishops in politics, nor the relative role of abortion in the hierarchy of values Catholics should hold, nor the obligations of a Catholic legislator. The key issue is the Eucharist and whether or not it should be politicized. The bishops, quite rightly, refuse communion to those who approach communion wearing rainbow sashes because the sash-wearers are trying to turn the most sacred rite of the Church into a political statement. But, it is just as wrong to introduce politics from the other side of the altar rail.


NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at Disqus.com/verify.
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.



NCR Email Alerts


In This Issue

March 24-April 6, 2017