Rep. Patrick Kennedy has lashed out against bishops of the Catholic
Church very publicly. Kennedy’s bishop, Thomas Tobin of Providence,
Rhode Island, publicly responded. Now Kennedy is upset that Tobin
didn’t keep their difference ‘between them’.

But he’s public about feeling upset.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy said he was “not going to
dignify with an answer” Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s public
comments that Kennedy could not be a good Catholic and still support
abortion rights. Kennedy called those comments “unfortunate,” and said,
“I’m not going to engage [in] this anymore.”

Well, that’s convenient.

Michael Guilfoyle, spokesman for the diocese, said the
meeting was postponed “by mutual agreement,” but noted, “The bishop’s
schedule is still free on Thursday if the congressman would like to
have that personal and pastoral meeting. The contents between any
personal conversation between the bishop and the congressman could
certainly remain private. However, the congressman has made this a very
public debate, and the bishop is responding to his public comments.”

This is an ongoing problem between the Kennedys and the bishops, with Patrick and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend leading the headlines these days.

But it goes back a ways…

Even Ted Kennedy, who gets a 100% pro-choice rating from
the abortion-rights group Naral, was at one time pro-life. In fact, in
1971, a full year after New York had legalized abortion, the
Massachusetts senator was still championing the rights of the unborn.
In a letter to a constituent dated Aug. 3, 1971, he wrote: “When
history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as
one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war,
to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its
responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

But that all changed in the early ’70s, when Democratic politicians
first figured out that the powerful abortion lobby could fill their
campaign coffers (and attract new liberal voters). Politicians also
began to realize that, despite the Catholic Church’s teachings to the
contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of
responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda.

In some cases, church leaders actually started providing “cover” for
Catholic pro-choice politicians who wanted to vote in favor of abortion
rights. At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on
a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and
allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college
professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a “clear
conscience.”

That has given decades of cover for Catholic politicians who see expediency in promoting abortion rights.

So the faithful are confused.

But that’s one of the reasons the bishops have come out in force in
the public square lately. As in….the past year. And especially with
regard to these kinds of clashes.

However it works out, I am pretty sure we will not see
many bishops giving Patrick Kennedy open signs of support. It is true
that the bishops have gone to the edge of the cliff, looked down, and
espied yet another of the Kennedys at the bottom. But I think the days
of jumping off the cliff to join them are gone.

Evidently. I don’t know…..call it a late hour impulse. But this NYT piece seems to capture the essence.

“If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you
believe certain things, you do certain things,” Bishop Tobin said on
WPRO, a Providence radio station. “If you cannot do all that in
conscience, then you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else.”

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....