The very public spat between Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin shows no sign of abating. But it should, for the sake of both men and their institutions. At the moment, the feud is focused on competing claims. Kennedy, no stranger to political woes and personal struggles with addiction, says that Tobin has effectively barred him from taking communion in his home state because he supports abortion rights; Tobin replies that he merely asked Kennedy in a private letter three years ago not to take communion and that he never spoke to the priests in his diocese about it.
OK. We get it. Kennedy and Tobin clearly detest each other. But the longer their battle lingers, the more attention will inevitably be paid to the Church's very aggressive lobbying in our political process and the extent of its alleged influence over Catholic politicians in government.
The Catholic bishops have not hidden their vigorous campaign against abortion or their threats to oppose legislation to reform the nation's health care system unless tighter restrictions on abortion are contained in the bill, which the House version of the measure now includes.
But denying, or appearing to deny a politician a holy sacrament because he disagrees with the church's teachings can only raise questions about whether Catholics in good standing can act independently of church dogma, an issue that initially dogged Kennedy's uncle, JFK, early in his bid for the presidency.
In 1984, as Ray Henry of the AP reminds us, former New York Governor and then presidential aspirant Mario Cuomo, a Democrat and Catholic who has supported abortion rights, warned the church in a speech at the University of Notre Dame against pressuring Catholic lawmakers to champion anti-abortion legislation. "If you're required (by the church) to make everybody follow your Catholic role, then nobody would vote for Catholics because it's clear that when you get the authority, you're going to be guided by your faith," he told the AP. If that were true, wouldn't Catholic politicians have difficulty getting elected to office? "And would that be better for the Catholic church?" Cuomo said.
Judith Miller is a writer and Fox News contributor.
Judith Miller, a Fox News contributor, is an award-winning writer and author. She spent 85 days in jail in the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia in 2005 to protect confidential sources. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir.