Bishop Richard J. Malone says he is “extremely disappointed and deeply concerned” that State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy has adopted a pro-choice position on abortion, in what appears to be an unprecedented statement by a Buffalo bishop about a local Catholic officeholder.
The bishop noted the conflict between Kennedy’s support for pro-choice bills such as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act and the Buffalo Democrat’s faith.
“For anyone to say that he or she is a faithful Catholic and to be pro-abortion/pro-choice rights is totally inconsistent with Catholic teaching, which is clearly articulated in the catechism of the Catholic Church,” Malone said.
Malone said he was initially pleased by Kennedy’s pro-life stand when he took over the diocese in 2012.
The bishop also cited the teaching of Pope Francis, who recently said the church should de-emphasize dogmatic intransigence on such subjects, but who he noted remains opposed to abortion.
“Pope Francis calls abortion a symptom of a throwaway culture,” Malone said. “Just last month, he said: ‘It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day.’ ”
The bishop’s blast at Kennedy follows a Buffalo News report Sunday in which the senator explained that his views on abortion have “evolved” in the last few years, despite earlier views that fell into the pro-life category and even in the past earned support from the Conservative Party, which opposes the procedure.
A product of Catholic education through grammar school, high school and college, Kennedy said he will vote this year for the “10th point” of Cuomo’s bill addressing women’s issues, which expands abortion rights in New York.
“I believe at the end of the day that a woman has to be able to make a decision upon her health, her life and her family that is in her best interests and their best interests,” he said in the report. “Oftentimes, the situation that presents itself involves dire circumstances.”
The senator also noted that he remains a practicing Catholic at St. Martin’s Church in South Buffalo and that he is “nurturing” his children in the faith.
That also drew a rebuke from Malone on Wednesday.
“Practicing Catholics who claim they are nurturing their children in the faith must teach their children that abortion is intrinsically evil, that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the bishop said. “From the first moment of his or her existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person, among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”
Kennedy declined a request by The News for an interview Wednesday, instead issuing a statement reiterating many of the points outlined in the Sunday report.
“I believe that there is more to my faith than one particular issue,” Kennedy said Wednesday. “My faith emboldens my continued fight for economic and social justice for all Western New Yorkers.”
He also said efforts should be made to “end abortion once and for all through education, awareness and health care resources.”
“I maintain my personal views on this issue, but my decisions in the State Senate impact about 300,000 individuals who live in my district and over 19 million people who live across the State of New York,” he added in the statement. “Their input, opinions and access to health care must be weighed against my personal beliefs, especially on issues of this magnitude.”
While such ecclesiastical criticism has proven rare if nonexistent locally, it has occurred in other dioceses across the country. Probably the most criticism a local Catholic politician has endured occurred in 2007 when Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, was upbraided from the pulpit of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in South Buffalo by Deacon Thomas P. McDonnell for his support of embryonic stem cell research, which the church also opposes. McDonnell noted that Higgins was in attendance and suggested that congregants could talk with him about his vote.
The Rev. Arthur J. Smith, pastor of the church, later apologized from the pulpit after the congressman and his family walked out during the sermon. Then-Bishop Edward U. Kmiec later issued a statement also criticizing McDonnell’s action.