The following essay was written at the request of Fox News following the matter involving Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) being denied communion by the order of his bishop, Thomas Tobin.
Well, Fox has declined thus far to run this essay.
But I still think the piece has merit.
And so here it is, presented for the Clyde Fitch Report.
On Rep. Patrick Kennedy Being Denied Communion
By centuries-long historical tradition and by longstanding social compact, our nation supposedly enjoys and esteems a wall that separates church from state. But more and more, and with increasing fury and a brazen, in-your-face swagger, religious organizations are charging into political matters, despite being banned from engaging in political activity by law, or else risk the loss of their cherished tax-exempt status.
Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Providence, recently forbid a man named Patrick Kennedy, a member of the Catholic Church, from receiving communion as punishment for personally, pointedly refusing to confirm to the pro-life dogma of his faith. That is within the bishop’s rights as a man of God, as a defender and communicator of the teachings of his religion.
But Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Providence, recently forbid this Patrick Kennedy from receiving communion who is also elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives; he votes pro-choice as part of his public service, as a man who represents all the people of his district, not those specifically who are Catholic. For Bishop Tobin, then, to punish Rep. Kennedy represents one more step on the slippery slope that is blurring — and rendering immaterial — the separation of church and state. Bishop Tobin’s decree represents nothing more or less than a man of God, sipping from cups of wrath, exacting revenge upon a man duly elected by ballot to represent the will of all the citizens, not just those Tobin leads.
Not that Tobin would remotely agree with this assessment. Consider part of his public statement on the matter:
Congressman Kennedy continues to be a disappointment to the Catholic Church and to the citizens of the State of Rhode Island. I believe the Congressman owes us an apology for his irresponsible comments…
Who does Tobin think he is to determine what does and does not constitute a “disappointment…to the citizens of the State of Rhode Island”? Does he speak for Jews, for Muslims, for Protestants, for atheists? A disappointment to his church — well, that is one thing. But for Tobin to dare to speak for all of the electorate — that is dangerous. This is entirely beyond Tobin’s bounds.
(As for why the bishop is choosing to punish Kennedy now, that’s another matter, one that raises eyebrows as well.)
Americans understand that some view the separation of church and state as an elastic, fungible term. Americans further know that some eagerly treat the concept as little more than rhetorical hogwash. But the U.S. does not, must not and will not have a state religion. So what Bishop Tobin has done is take a sledgehammer to the wall separating church and state, drawing the day nearer, potentially, when there will indeed be a state religion. I assert once more that such a red line must not and will not be crossed.
If Bishop Tobin wishes to punish Rep. Kennedy for how he votes on behalf of his constituents, let him go ahead and do so.
But let him be warned: any statement he utters publicly, any statement he issues in writing, should be subject to monitoring for evidence of political activity, which would be a violation of the Church’s tax-exempt status. Who should do this monitoring? Not the government. Bishop Tobin instead should be monitored by private citizens who wish, as I do, to preserve, protect and defend the separation of church and state in America.
After all, if the bishop wants to play politics, he is a citizen as well, and must be allowed his view. But let’s not have him on a public subsidy, a public charity not paying taxes. To keep the Church’s tax-exempt status, he should exhibit the comportment of one who does not aim to conflate — or to destroy, like the wall of Jericho — our longstanding religious and political traditions.