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November 25, 2009
Column #1,474
Should Pro-Abortion Politicians Receive Communion?
By Mike McManus

WANTED: CATHOLICS TO RESCUE THE INNOCENT blared the ad headline.

"Dear Catholic: Would you vote for Herod after he slaughtered the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem?

"Abortion is the ethical equivalent of Herod's slaughter of the innocent.

"Some candidates support the legalized slaughter of the innocent by abortion.  How then can we ethically vote for these candidates?"

Does that look like an ad that would appear in Catholic newspapers before the 2008 election?  It was offered to all of them, but only one paper agreed to publish the ad!

No wonder 55 percent of American Catholics voted for Barack Obama.

       It contained a quote from Pope John Paul II:  "When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal…to kill unborn human life, it is not really making a `tyrannical' decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless of human beings?"

       A debate is raging in Catholic circles.  What should the Church do about politicians who vote for abortion?

       Rep. Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, announced last weekend that he has been refused communion by Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, because of the congressman's position on abortion.

       Why?  He was not one of the 64 House Democrats who voted with Republicans to prohibit the use of any public funds to pay for abortions in the new Health Care bill.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied hard for passage of the amendment authored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D- MI, a Catholic.

       Kennedy told the Catholic News Service, "I can't understand for the life of me how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time, where the very dignity of the human person is being respected by the fact that we're caring and giving health care to the human person - that right now we have 50 million people who are uninsured."

       "You mean to tell me the Catholic Church is going to be denying those people life-saving health care? I thought they were pro-life.  If the church is pro-life they ought to be for health care reform."

       Bishop Tobin asked Kennedy to apologize for his "unprovoked attack on the Church."

       In an interview the bishop said, "The point is, because of his obstinate…public support of abortion, which is clearly contrary to an essential teaching of the Church of critical morality…he is then not properly prepared to receive Holy Communion.  No one has a right to Holy Communion."

       Bishop Tobin said he wrote Rep. Kennedy in February 2007 and asked him not to receive Communion because of his voting record supporting abortion. 

       He added that while the Church supports health care overhaul, "We are adamantly opposed to health care legislation that threatens the life of unborn children, requires taxpayers to pay for abortion, rations health care, or compromises the conscience of individuals."

       Rep. Patrick Murphy, D - PA, defended Kennedy this week at Harvard University after receiving an award from Caroline Kennedy, "We don't legislate at the orders of the Vatican. We legislate what is in our conscience and what we think is good for the country."

       Rep. Kennedy defended himself: "The fact I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic."

       Bishop Tobin issued a tart public response: "Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn't choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life and death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church.

       "If you don't accept the teachings of the Church, your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you `less of a Catholic.' But let's get down to a more practical question; let's approach it this way. What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic?" he asked.

       "Being a Catholic means that you're part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially."

       The bishop noted Kennedy claimed he "embraced" his faith.  "Terrific. But if you don't fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?"

       Bishop Tobin won the argument hands down.
 
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