The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Kennedy and Tobin: “Why now?”

John Allen has a few interesting thoughts about the Patrick Kennedy-Bishop Thomas Tobin communion clash:

I have no insider scoop to offer, but I can summarize here what I’ve been saying on-air: the most interesting question about the story isn’t so much “why,” but “why now”?

That is, there’s no mystery about why Tobin took this step. It’s the same logic that has led a handful of other bishops to issue similar edicts to other pro-choice Catholic politicians: communion implies unity with the church, and if you can’t accept a core principle of Catholic morality such as the right to life, then taking communion is a sham. One can, of course, debate the theology of that conclusion, or the pastoral wisdom of policing it. The majority of American bishops have not gone this far, mostly because they don’t want to turn the Eucharist into a political weapon. But in any event, the terms of debate are reasonably clear, and have been for a long time.


The meaningful question thus becomes, why is a step taken almost three years ago just coming to light now? The answer would appear to have everything to do with the current national debate over health care reform, a debate in which so far the bishops have been fairly important players.

The revelation came from Kennedy, not from Tobin, in an interview with a Providence newspaper. I don’t know why Kennedy made the disclosure, but it could be as simple as that he was asked. I’ve seen it happen with public figures before: they don’t plan to make a statement about something, but if the question comes up, they feel obligated to answer it. (The pope’s comments on condoms en route to Africa are a classic case in point.)


On the other hand, Kennedy has a deep reservoir of political savvy swimming in his gene pool, and it’s impossible not to notice that there are at least two clear political objectives to be served by revealing Tobin’s disciplinary act now:

• It’s reminder that the bishops don’t speak for a unified Catholic bloc when it comes to abortion policy. The political translation is that a legislator doesn’t have to worry about losing all 67 million Catholic votes in America if they don’t back the bishops’ line.

• It creates a PR headache for the bishops, because it shifts the terms of debate from the merits of the pro-life argument to the bishops’ tactics in suppressing dissent. In a culture that prizes tolerance, anything that makes an institution look intolerant usually hurts its image, and therefore its political effectiveness.

Check out the link for much more.

Comments read comments(16)
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John V

posted November 23, 2009 at 2:32 pm

In other words, if somebody here is “politicizing the communion rail”, it’s Rep. Kennedy and not Bishop Tobin.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 2:40 pm

“In a culture that prizes tolerance, anything that makes an institution look intolerant usually hurts its image, and therefore its political effectiveness.”
But I guess the loss of the faithful to secular Catholic “leadership” is worth it and the effect it has on others is worth it as well. It sure has helped Catholicism in America for the past forty years.
Since image is everything, I wonder would a picture of heaven be of comfort to the souls in hell; perhaps even with their souls in heaven to make it appear more real?
I am glad to see this out in public. About time.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I’m only glad to see it out in public because it was Kennedy and not Tobin who publicized it. I think that Tobin’s judgment that this discussion ought to be carried on in private is quite right. I, personally, have no reason that I should know these things (ok, other then prurient curiosity — I’ve got as much of that as the next human :-) and I hope that there are other such private interventions being conducted by other bishops.
Those of us who believe that the Holy Spirit can perform miraculous transformations of heart ought to also believe that God can accomplish this without the yammering “assistance” of the peanut gallery.

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pat straubinger

posted November 23, 2009 at 3:58 pm

You have got to be kidding. How quickly the Catholics forgot about their priest pedophiles who were sent off to new locations and not only received communion and continued to say masses but have contact with men. If Tobin wants to play politics tax his church. And for those who say they follow all the rules. That’s a laugh. Maybe Tobin and his followers should take the log out of their own eye. He is not God.Jesus gave people choices. God is the vindicator. Religion was created by man. What is Tobin smoking. Hurray for Kennedy.

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ron chandonia

posted November 23, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Playing to his NCR audience, John Allen characterizes Bishop Tobin’s 2007 confidential request as “confrontational,” but he is certainly on target here about Kennedy’s decision to publicize the matter now. The idea is to make the Church look bad. Of course, as the responses on this thread and the others indicate, the Church just naturally looks bad to some people; Kennedy’s latest effort will no doubt bring a few more of them out of the woodwork.

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The Senescent Man

posted November 23, 2009 at 6:27 pm

I think the timing was based on Kennedy falling into another drug induced stupor. The man is a basket case, but I suspect he’ll retain his seat, RIers being so forgiving and understanding. He’d probably have to set off bombs in downtown Providence at high noon before he had a chance at losing his seat.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Ms. Straubinger,
Your comment is wrong on so many levels. In the first place, the Catholic Church is about the only institution in this country that has made an effort toward real reform in the face of the sex abuse scandal. Based on results, it seems that the Church’s reforms are working. Other institutions, such as the military and the public schools, have steadfastly resisted any attempts to reform. Considering that these institutions are supported by your tax dollars, so those who abuse are your employees, I wonder if you have any indignation left for them after you finish ranting about the Church.
In fact, and you can bang your head against the nearest wall if you want on this one, but the abuse scandal was probably what brought on the newly grown spines many of our bishops have recently grown. Bp. Tobin, like so many others, is part of a new generation of bishops. They had nothing to do with the sex abuse scandal, since it was long before they became bishops. They realize, too, that it was not the Church’s adherence to orthodoxy that was at the root of the scandal, but just the opposite: the willingness of so many at so many levels to compromise the Church’s faith and morals allowed for a corrupt spirit to infiltrate seminaries, chanceries and rectories and led to the abuse scandal. They are not willing to make the same mistake, so they are more willing to take an uncompromising position in favor of orthodoxy, even if that means taking heat from politicians like Kennedy and the chattering class.
Yes, Jesus gave people choices. Namely: follow me! Light or darkness. Life or death. Rep. Kennedy, in supporting legislation that allows for the willful destruction of innocent human life, has made his choice. We all sin. Repentance is the key to forgiveness. It was Kennedy who publicly took a stance in favor of killing innocents. It was Kennedy to made public his disagreement with his bishop. It is Kennedy who needs to publicly repent.

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posted November 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Missing in these arguments is the lie that Rep. Kennedy stated to the Providence Journal, ““The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion,” Kennedy said in a telephone interview.” (Providence Journal, 11/22/09). Bishop Tobin admitted that three years ago he wrote to Mr. Kennedy recommending that he not approach the Sacrament, but never mandated it. The Bishop has never, to my knowledge, instructed the priests to deny him the Sacrament and I can categorically state that the deacons were never so advised.

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Jean-Therese Delacroix

posted November 23, 2009 at 10:11 pm

First, I’d like to say amen to Bob and Ron especially. Seriously, I’d hae to agree with you and Greg: why didn’t Kennedy do this in 2007? The only reason would be to gain political capital with the health care debate as he claims that he is being abused by a bishop who’s just trying to follow Church teaching on abortion.
And apparently, considering that I had posted a blog entry on how to respectfully criticize a bishop (whether for dissenting purposes or not —, Kennedy didn’t follow the rules of tact and respect when it comes to dealing with bishops such as Tobin.
God help him.

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posted November 24, 2009 at 9:00 am

I have many thoughts about the Church making changes to satisfy a certain faction of people. Bob you have stated things quite well. In a study done of which I was part of clearly shows that it did not bring the people back to Church on Sunday or the Holydays. It also, shows thaat the decrease in the number of priest is directly coincides with the changing of the Mass into English from Latin.
Many Bishops Pat have asked politicians around the US to do the same. Patrick( known my many as “Leaky”, “Liar” Leahy was told the same thing. Mr. Kennedy, Leahy, and many others are what years ago Bishop Sheen called “Fair weather Catholics”. They are Catholics in name only and only when it suits their purpose.
Pat Straubinger, your denouncement of priest is ill founded. I asked a newspaper editor friend of mine why they publish about priest abuses, but not the other denomination abuses. The abuses of priests, real or just accussations is less than 7%, while the other denominations is 22%. He told me that its Catholic and it sells more newspapers. So, where is our tolerance or political correctness here

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posted November 24, 2009 at 12:38 pm

There are any number of ways of interpreting the fall-off in Catholic statistics (both priestly vocations and lay membership) after the institution of the English Mass, but one of them is the sudden discovery of what one has been saying all these years without knowing it. Has anyone explored this issue?

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Marian …
Not sure that’s entirely accurate.
Most missals printed before Vatican II provided the faithful with a translation of the prayers, alongside the Latin.
Anyone paying attention knew what they were saying.
Dcn. G.

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posted November 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm

It also, shows thaat the decrease in the number of priest is directly coincides with the changing of the Mass into English from Latin.
It was actually delayed slightly from that. It coincides most closely with the promulgation of Humanae Vitae.
That’s the problem with attempting “scientific experiment” style statements about what historical events correspond with what other events and claiming causality. There are lots of things going on at the same time, and you can’t repeat the “experiment” by running the same time over and over under different scenarios.

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posted November 25, 2009 at 5:11 pm

If you’re interested, find yourself a copy of Henri Fesquet’s “The Drama of Vatican II”, first published in 1966. Fesquet reveals that “the crisis in vocations” was actually a topic of discussion among the fathers of the Council. Fr. Jean Pin, a Jesuit scholar, was invited by some of the bishops to give a presentation on “The Crisis of the Priesthood.” Fr. Pin began by insisting that, “There is such a crisis. The vocation shortage is critical.” This was 1965 and was not the first or only time at the Council that the shortage of priestly vocations was discussed.

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posted December 1, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Richard any % of abuse is too much. Abuse is a learned cycle and therefore the priests have taught others to abuse. How anyone can defend the catholic church for this is beyond my belief. We are talking about a Catholic that refused communion to Kennedy. Not the other denominations. God and only God is the judge.

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posted December 23, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I would like to propose not to hold back until you get big sum of money to buy different goods! You can take the mortgage loans or short term loan and feel fine

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