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November 24, 2009

Support Congressman Kennedy and Health Care Reform

Call Bishop Tobin Today

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
- President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1960, Houston Texas, The Greater Houston Ministerial Association

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday, it was reported that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin had barred his Congressional representative, Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), from receiving Holy Communion in the diocese in early 2007, a sanction that remains in place today.  We are asking you for your help in responding to this action and to the bishop's  disparagement of Representative Kennedy's Catholic faith that occurred in the course of a public dispute that preceded this recent revelation.

Bishop Tobin has made no secret of his preference for the Republican positions on a variety of social issues.  A majority of Catholics hold views similar to Congressman Kennedy, namely that constructive measures to decrease the number of abortions are a more Christian and effective approach than the vague criminalization threats of the past.  Catholic Democrats believes that Bishop Tobin's personal political views are driving actions that are not only hurtful to Catholics in Rhode Island but also to the larger Church - as well as fueling the political divisions across our country.  

This public conflict is deeply regrettable, particularly at a time when our country is debating national health care reform.  In the midst of this historic opportunity, that would help millions of people in need, Bishop Tobin returned to a divisive path.  Building on his sanction in 2007, the bishop recently issued a public letter that only added to the polarization of the health care debate when faith, reason, and civility are called for, particularly from our pastoral leaders.  

His open letter to Rep. Kennedy states, "For the moment I'd like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, ...."  Catholic Democrats believes that it is time to get back to that discussion and make the passage of health care reform a priority for all Catholics - including Bishop Tobin - building on the common ground we share of helping those most in need.

However, we believe that it is important to support any Catholic Democratic public servant who is being denied Communion for unjust political reasons.  We also believe that it is important to urge Bishop Tobin to put his pastoral responsibilities ahead of his political views and to focus on helping pass health care reform legislation.

We are asking you to do a few things:
  • Contact Representative Kennedy's office, voice your support for him as a Catholic, and ask him to continue working for affordable, universal health care for all.  Call 202-225-4911 or send an email to him by clicking here.
  • Contact Bishop Tobin and politely ask him to stop using the Eucharist as a political weapon, and to direct his pastoral energies toward helping pass affordable, universal health care for all.  Call 401-278-4500 or send an email to the bishop, care of the Communications Office at
  • Consider writing a letter to the editor - usually 250 words - for your local or a national newspaper.  If you are interested in doing so, please contact us at and we will assist you in developing your key message points and the best media outlets.
Please forward this email to Catholics you know.  Forward to a Friend

Your support and help will make a difference across the nation today, and in the future.  Thank you and Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family.

Warm regards,

Patrick Whelan, MD PhD
Suzanne Morse
Lisa Schare
Steve Krueger

Please consider making a donation to Catholic Democrats to help us continue our efforts for health care reform, and advancing Catholic Social Teaching in the public square and within the Democratic Party.

Background On Communion as a Political Weapon and
the Public Dispute Between Bishop Tobin and Representative Kennedy

Since 2004, a small but vocal minority of bishops - whose political views are closely aligned with the Republican Party - have called for denying Communion to Democratic elected officials because of their views on abortion.  No other Church teachings - those against racism, unjust war, the devaluation of a person's humanity through torture, or the denial of adequate health care - receive this level of attention from these bishops.  The denial of Communion, which is at the heart of our faith as Catholics, is considered a subtle form of excommunication from the Church.  This controversy has never materialized in Europe, where Pope John Paul II often gave Communion to Catholic heads of state who opposed the criminalization of abortion.

While the bishops have a necessary role in articulating moral principles and values, it is the legitimate role of the laity to determine - through the political process - what is prudent, what is possible, and how to apply the principles of faith to concrete situations in matters of public policy.  See "Holy Communion and Unholy Politics" by Rev. John Beal, professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America, in America Magazine.  Also, see Chris Matthews's interview of Bishop Tobin on MSNBC's Hardball arguing these points with the bishop.

The announcement of Bishop Tobin banning Rep. Kennedy from Communion followed Bishop Tobin's escalation of a public disagreement between the two leaders on a matter of public policy related to health care reform and abortion.  In his newspaper column of November 12, 2009, the bishop ridiculed Representative Kennedy after they had agreed to keep the matter private until they met in person.  The bishop's letter was issued five days after the passage of the House health care reform bill, which contains language supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops restricting the availability of health care coverage for abortion services on the Exchange.  Congressman Kennedy voted for the bill.