Word spread like wildfire in Catholic circles: Douglas Kmiec, a staunch Republican, firm foe of abortion and veteran of the Reagan Justice Department, had been denied Communion.

His sin? Kmiec, a Catholic who can cite papal pronouncements with the facility of a theological scholar, shocked old friends and adversaries alike earlier this year by endorsing Barack Obama for president. For at least one priest, Kmiec's support for a pro-choice politician made him a willing participant in a grave moral evil.

Kmiec was denied Communion in April at a Mass for a group of Catholic business people he later addressed at dinner. The episode has not received wide attention outside the Catholic world, but it is the opening shot in an argument that could have a large impact on this year's presidential campaign: Is it legitimate for bishops and priests to deny Communion to those supporting candidates who favor abortion rights?

A version of this argument roiled the 2004 campaign when some, though not most, Catholic bishops suggested that John Kerry and other pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied Communion because of their views on abortion.

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.


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