Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bp. Tobin, Rep. Kennedy, and Holy Communion: First question

Updated Post: I read Bp. Tobin's statement released just a few minutes ago as saying that no new steps have been taken by Tobin in regard to reception of holy Communion by pro-abortion Democrat Patrick Kennedy, resident in Tobin's diocese. It appears, to the contrary, that Kennedy has -- God knoweth why -- parlayed Tobin's letter to him of February 2007, urging Kennedy to refrain from taking Communion, into a news story in November 2009 that he has been barred from receiving.

Mind, Tobin can, if he judges it pastorally useful, move to an actual prohibition against reception by Kennedy under Canon 915, but to date at least, Tobin's stance seems to be one of urging Kennedy to examine his conscience under Canon 916 before approaching the Eucharist. It's an open question as to how long such an approach might be tried before being found insufficient but as I read it, it's still being tried, Kennedy's claims notwithstanding.

I've not followed Kennedy's career closely, but ever since his tasteless remarks at his father's funeral, I've wondered about his public judgment. Guess I'll wonder a little more now.

PS: My favorite Tobin line? "I will absolutely respond publicly and strongly whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the Church, or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry." Right-on, Episcope.

Original Post: The first question is always, What happened?

The press is widely reporting that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D, RI) has been barred from receiving holy Communion by Bp. Thomas Tobin of Providence. There are some serious inconsistencies in these news reports, however, but so far, Kennedy is making most of the comments.

Now, the act of receiving holy Communion is a public one, and the act of barring one from receiving holy Communion is a public one. Therefore, a statement from Bp. Tobin's office is quite in order.

These two points at a minimum need clarification:

(1) has Tobin barred Kennedy from reception of holy Communion in accord with Canon 915, or has he perhaps urged Kennedy to examine his conscience carefully in accord with Canon 916, maybe as a last step before Tobin acts under Canon 915, or has he done nothing; and,

(2) if Kennedy has been barred from reception, have the priests (and other ministers of holy Communion) been instructed to abide by the bishop's directive until the bishop's office notifies them otherwise?

Let's get the facts straight first, and then talk about it. + + +

Comic relief: Did you see this screamer line about the Kennedy story from Rachel Stockton, an accountant (huh?) who serves as reporter for (for who?), and steward (um, whatever) of the "Self-Help" section of the Religion Channel (the what?):

"Practicing Roman Catholics believe in extreme unction; in other words, that the wine and unleavened bread are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ -- a belief that in itself, is somewhat controversial."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Time to go back to recipes, Rachel. Or checking receipts. Or anything, besides theology.

Update, Nov. 25: Fr. Vincent Bertrand, JCL, comments well here, to which I add two quick points. First, we need always to be careful about contrasting a so-called "pastoral" approach with a "canonical" approach. Canonical calls for pastoral, pastoral embraces canonical. Second, I don't think Bp. Tobin has yet formally invoked Canon 915. He can, of course, but I don't think he has, yet.