Rep. Kennedy, Bishop Tobin, and the Media

Rep. Patrick Kennedy is a pro-choice Catholic. He’s got a good bishop, Bp. Tobin, up there in Rhode Island, who’s been quietly trying to get Kennedy to either shape up or not show up for Communion. Bp. Tobin finally became much more vocal about his troubles with Kennedy after the latter attacked the importance of the Church’s position on abortion publicly, arguing that it wasn’t important enough to oppose the health-care bill over.

Kennedy is adept at playing the victim, appearing to be persecuted by the big bad Catholic hierarchy. To that end, he complained that the feud between himself and Bishop Tobin was private. He then proceeded to reveal details of a confidential 2007 meeting with Tobin, coupled with a lot of misinformation. Bp. Tobin claims that he requested Kennedy not present himself for Communion [and in fact, finally presented the letter which clearly states it as a request]; Kennedy claims he demanded it, and (here’s the real sticker), ordered all 300 of his priests not to permit him to receive. The good Bishop pointed out, pretty reasonably, “If I had told 300 priests of the diocese in any format not to give Communion to Kennedy or anybody else, you think that would have remained confidential?” It borders on unbelievable to think that for two years, not one priest, anywhere in Rhode Island, mentioned anything to anyone. Put more bluntly, Kennedy was grossly misinformed or lying, and it’s a lie that even some rudimentary news reporting should have been able to see through.

But instead, the press reported the Kennedy version as if it were factual. And what’s weirder, they repeatedly suggested or stated that this was because of Kennedy’s 2009 comments on abortion and the health-care bill. Here’s Fox’s take, which is pretty typical:

The dispute between Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Tobin began in October when Kennedy criticized Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose health care reform without restrictions on federally funded abortion. Tobin demanded an apology and requested a meeting with Kennedy, but that meeting fell through. Tobin then wrote a public letter calling Kennedy’s position “scandalous” and “unacceptable.”

The latest chapter in the dispute came over the weekend, when Kennedy told The Providence Journal that Tobin instructed him not to take Communion and instructed other priests not to give it to Kennedy either. Though Tobin denied banning Kennedy from receiving Communion elsewhere, he said he did ask Kennedy to stop receiving Communion in 2007.

I realize that most secular news sources don’t know enough about Catholicism to get it right. But how do you explain this one? In what possible world does any action in 2007 get taken in response to comments made in 2009? This failure in accurate reporting is more spectacular than simply getting some religious details wrong, or only presenting the Kennedy View of Reality. It’s as simple as understanding “before” and “after.”

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