Two top Catholic bishops have called on Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) to apologize for remarks blasting the church's opposition to health reform legislation.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, of the archdiocese of New York, and Bishop Thomas Tobin, who is Kennedy's bishop, called on the Catholic lawmaker's criticism of the church's opposition to healthcare reform, citing concerns over whether the bill would allow funding for abortions.

"I can’t understand for the life of me how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time, where the very dignity of the human person is being respected by the fact that we’re caring and giving health care to the human person," Kennedy said in an interview with the Catholic News Service.

"I thought they were prolife?" Kennedy added. "If the church is prolife, then they ought to be for health care reform, because it’s going to provide health care that are going to keep people alive."


Tobin demanded an apology, calling Kennedy's statement "irresponsible and ignorant of the facts" in a statement last week. Dolan, who occupies one of the most prominent and influential positions in the U.S. Catholic church, followed suit this week.

"His remarks were sad, uncalled-for, and inaccurate," Dolan wrote on his blog. "The Catholic community in the United States hardly needs to be lectured to about just healthcare."

"All we ask is that it be just that -- universal -- meaning that it includes the helpless baby in the womb, the immigrant, and grandma in a hospice, and that it protects a healthcare provider’s right to follow his/her own conscience," Dolan added. "This is what the President says he wants; this is what we bishops say we want."

The spat marks an unusually public split between Kennedy, a scion of one of the most prominent Catholic families in the U.S. and the church.