According to the Providence Journal, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat from Rhode Island, has said the Roman Catholic bishop of Providence has forbidden him from receiving communion due to his support for abortion rights:
Kennedy said Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin “instructed me not to take communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me communion,” the paper reported.
The report said a spokesman for Tobin declined to comment on whether the bishop told Kennedy not to receive communion. According to the report, the spokesman denied that Tobin ordered any priests to refuse Kennedy the fundamental Catholic sacrament.
As Jill Sixpack has noted, Rep. Kennedy is not the first politician to be denied communion for supporting abortion rights, and none of those elected officials have changed their stance on abortion because of the Roman Catholic church. However, Jill notes the church does have one option it could utilize if it really wanted to try to force an elected official’s hand on abortion:
Historically, however, the RC Church had a much more powerful weapon to use against rulers who defied Papal orders. A local interdict was sometimes imposed against an entire jurisdiction — banning the sacraments and effectively excommunicating everyone within its borders — until the leader bowed to the Papal will.
It hasn’t been used since the days of the counter-reformation (perhaps because the RC Church was afraid to lose market share to the Protestants). However, Pope Benedict has shown himself willing to preside over a smaller but purer flock. Will he go so far one day as to place Kennedy’s Congressional District under interdict until he is voted out of office?
As Jill noted, I find it interesting, however, that the Roman Catholic Church has withheld communion from politicians who support a woman’s right to choose while at the same time choosing not to withhold communion from politicians for supporting the death penalty, a practice that also runs contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine.