By Niall O’Dowd
(Editor’s note: This commentary was first published November 22 at IrishCentral.com)
The decision to bar Congressman Patrick Kennedy from receiving Communion by Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin is a step too far.
Abortion is a complex and incredibly emotional issue, which has divided this country for decades. However, dialogue, not confrontation, is the way forward.
If we start drawing lines, then it starts to get utterly polarized and nasty. The Catholic Church is against the death penalty. Should Rudy Giuliani be banned also from the altar rails because he supports it?
Of course not. The way forward on all these issues is to begin and continue a dialogue, such as what is now happening over the issue in the health care reform bill.
There, the Catholic Church has won a major victory with the agreement of Democrats that federal funding for abortions be curtailed.
There is also a mood in the country that, as life is seen to be established earlier than previously thought, that the issue of late-term abortions has tipped decisively in their favor.
Those are real victories, fairly won in a very difficult and emotional environment.
The arguments on the other side are also compelling. For example, if you ban abortion completely (as in Ireland, where women are forced to go to England), the problem may actually get worse.
In that case, we return to back-street abortionists for the poor, while the rich will simply find another way.
Bishop Tobin is treading on treacherous turf here. It leaves no room for dialogue and even less for the kind of patient and long-term perspective that is needed.
Patrick Kennedy has freely admitted he is a less than perfect human being, that he has struggled with alcoholism and other vices. The fact that he has been so straightforward about his failings is a credit to him.
On this issue, he apparently feels equally as strongly as the bishop that his point of view must be heard. The result has been that instead of quiet diplomacy from both sides, we get a horrendous standoff that will inflame an issue already deeply controversial.
Nobody wins in that case.