E.J.Dionne on Kmiec and the Denial of Communion
The Kmiec incident poses the question in an extreme form: He is not a public official but a voter expressing a preference. Moreover, Kmiec -- a law professor at Pepperdine University and once dean of Catholic University's law school -- is a long-standing critic of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
Kmiec, who was head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in the late 1980s, is supporting Obama despite the candidate's position on abortion, not because of it, partly in the hope that Obama's emphasis on personal responsibility in sexual matters might change the nature of the nation's argument on life issues. . . .
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Kmiec shared with me the name of the priest who denied him Communion and a letter of apology from the organizers of the event, but he requested that I not name the priest to protect the cleric from public attack.
The priest's actions are almost certainly out of line with the policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In their statement"Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," issued last November, the bishops said: "A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter's intent is to support that position."
Kmiec has drawn attention because he is one of the nation's leading "Obamacons," conservatives who find Obama's call for a new approach to politics appealing.
The "if" phrase in that carefully negotiated sentence suggests that Catholics can support pro-choice candidates, provided the purpose of their vote is not to promote abortion.
Already, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City has played an indirect role in the 2008 campaign by calling on Kathleen Sebelius, the popular Democratic governor of Kansas who has been mentioned as a possible Obama running mate, to stop taking Communion because of her "actions in support of legalized abortion."
But because Kmiec is a private citizen and has such a long history of embracing Catholic teaching on abortion, denying him Communion for political reasons may spark an even greater outcry inside the church.
Kmiec says he is grateful because the episode reminded him of the importance of the Eucharist in his spiritual life, and because he hopes it will alert others to the dangers of "using Communion as a weapon."
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