Monday, November 23, 2009

No Winner in Kennedy - Bishop Standoff

By Niall O’Dowd

(Editor’s note: This commentary was first published November 22 at

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.


  1. What's to discuss? How can there be "dialogue"? The clear teaching of the Church is that abortion is the killing of an unborn child. It isn't complicated. If you cannot accept this, you have put yourself outside the Church. There are plenty of other 'churches' that will accommodate a different viewpoint. The death penalty is irrelevant to the matter of abortion and, is anyway permitted where it is the only means to protect life. Why not buy a catechism even if you can't buy into it?

  2. To this conversation I would like to add the thoughts of someone else. Please see An Open Letter to Patrick Kennedy by Fr. Paul Bresnahan. The negative voice of the Catholic church is not the only voice that speaks, nor is it the only one with truth to be told.