The Bishop Un-Bribes Patrick Kennedy

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

When John F. Kennedy ran for president, scare tactics were used to frighten voters by suggesting that he would take directions from the Pope. He publicly denounced such claims and assured voters that he would accept no directions on policy from the Catholic Church. Apparently Providence's Bishop Tobin believes otherwise. He seeks to bar communion to Rep. Patrick Kennedy because of his support for abortion rights contrary to church teachings. His tactics are worrisome and should be of concern to all.

Individuals and groups (including religious groups) can and do threaten or sanction elected representatives who fail to carry out their policies. But those threats and sanctions are political, not personal. Votes, volunteer and financial assistance and other forms of support can be withheld if an elected representative fails to carry out the desired policies, but trying to coerce or punish a legislator personally for a vote should give us all pause.

Implicit in Bishop Tobin's bar to communion is the suggestion that if Rep. Kennedy voted otherwise, the bar would be withdrawn. Therein lies the danger. Being a member of the Catholic Church is not the same as being a member of a club that one can merely quit over disagreement with some of its policies. The Kennedy family's ties and devotion to the Catholic Church are legendary. The withholding of communion undoubtedly is a serious matter. It should not be used either as a weapon to obtain a vote or as punishment for a vote rendered.

Ironically, the Bishop's position might make it more difficult for Catholics to be elected, because the scare tactics once bemoaned by President Kennedy have become reality through the Bishop's actions. I doubt that this blatant attempt to coerce a legislative vote is criminal, but it would seem to me that if it is wrong to give something of value to a legislator to influence a vote, it should be equally wrong to withhold something of value for that same purpose.