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A month ago, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), the latest and possibly the last holder of public office among America’s most famous Catholic family, stated in an interview with 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, then they ought to be for health care reform because it’s going to provide health care that are [sic] going to keep people alive. So this is an absolute red herring and I don’t think that it does anything but to fan the flames of dissent and discord and I don’t think it’s productive at all.”

That was the salvo that brought into the open a rather long-standing, private conflict with his bishop, Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, over whether Kennedy was a Catholic in good standing and thus eligible to receive the Eucharist. It culminated on November 12 in the open letter from Tobin , in which he took up Kennedy’s line, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic,” and replied: “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.”

Last Friday, Kennedy was quoted by the Providence Journal saying : “The bishop instructed me not to take Communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me Communion.”

That, according to Bishop Tobin last Sunday, is not entirely accurate. Mark Silk of Spiritual Politics deftly recounts, links to, and comments today on all the public back-and-forth, which reached its pitch yesterday.

As of this writing, Kennedy has not yet indicated he was going mum. But his office has not returned requests for comment.

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