A United States Congressman is being denied the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church because he does not take the Vatican's preferred stand on abortion. The Representative, a Kennedy of all people, of the family symbolic of this country's acceptance of Catholics into the cultural mainstream, has reportedly been informed that he is not a "good practicing" Catholic because he believes that American women have a right to have abortions.
As far as religion goes, Rep. Kennedy is SOL. The First Amendment does not guarantee him the right to receive communion against the will of the Catholic hierarchy. The bishops can do as they please, while bearing this in mind: about 150 years ago, Roman Catholics were widely believed incapable of becoming valid American citizens because their were suspected of taking political dictation from their priests. Priests were presumed capable of enforcing such dictation through their power to withhold the sacraments. The "Know Nothing" movement arose in order to combat the perceived Catholic menace. Their proposals focused on extending the naturalization period for Catholic immigrants, the extra time (as long as 21 years' residency if some had gotten their way) being necessary to Americanize these priest-ridden people. The movement failed, in part because its leaders were split on the question of slavery extension, and in part because Catholics convinced other Americans that their "whiteness" counted for more than their religion in defining their worthiness. But even as late as 1960, Rep. Kennedy's uncle needed to reassure Protestants that his policies as President would not be determined by the Vatican. By that time, most Americans believed him. What should they think now?
Few people will take alarm over this news, since the bishops haven't threatened Kennedy's life, but on principle this should be as alarming as any news that Rep. Ellison of Minnesota was being threatened with fatwas from local imams. We should rebel against the thought that any politician should be subject to religious discipline for exercising his conscience as an elected representative of all his constituents. There is nothing we can do about it, except perhaps to stop electing Catholics, and we are sure to hear objections to any such proposal. Remember that, though, when anyone argues against giving civic responsibilities of any kind to Muslims. Remember it not to argue against those people, but so you can remind them to be consistent.