Pepperdine professor denied communion

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The matter is fanning flames on the issue of religion and politics.

By Laura Tate / Associate Publisher / Editor

A priest denied communion to Pepperdine University professor of law Douglas Kmiec, a conservative Catholic and an opponent of abortion, because he is supporting Democratic nominee Barack Obama for president.

The story, first circulated among the Catholic community in online blogs and posts mid-May, was taken up by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. and National Public Radio this week.

Kmiec, who served both in the Reagan and the first Bush administrations, was asked in April by a conservative Catholic business group to talk about why he chose to endorse Obama. Kmiec told NPR that, at a Mass service before he spoke to the group, the priest began talking about him during the service. He was talking, “in quite explicit terms,” Kmiec told NPR, “about the only choice for a faithful Catholic, was one of a pro-life candidate, a fully legitimate pro-life candidate, and that anyone who would contemplate voting for or endorse a candidate otherwise was participating in a grave moral evil.”

When Kmiec presented himself for communion, the priest, whom the law professor told the Washington Post he did not want to name for fear of retribution against the cleric, refused.

Kmiec told NPR that his wife, Carol, had fled the church in tears, and those in attendance “were mortified by what they had witnessed, as they should be because faith isn’t a weapon.”

He went on to explain that communion, in definition, “means community and what we were witnessing was religion used as a form of anti-community.”

A spokesperson for Cardinal Roger Mahony told NPR that it was not in the priest’s authority to have denied Kmiec communion.

Kmiec said he endorsed Obama for president because, despite the Democrat’s pro-choice stance, he agrees with him on many other issues, from the economy to the war.

Kmiec wrote in a blog posted on Slate.com, “I believe him [Obama] to be a person of integrity, intelligence and genuine good will. I take him on his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides, and that he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights.”

Author Michael Sean Winters, in a group blog of the national Catholic weekly, America, wrote in May regarding Kmiec’s endorsement of Obama that perhaps the professor and others are hoping that “Obama will be responsive to efforts to reduce the number of abortions in America.”

Of the following religious fallout regarding Kmiec’s endorsement, Winters wrote, “Conservatives who are too invested in the old ways, and the partisan advantages the old ways encourage, have failed to change the culture. Doug Kmiec is prepared to try a new approach. He may be right, he may be wrong. But, he should not be denied communion for trying.”