At the same time that Jim Naughton accused Cardinal John O'Connor of obfuscation {"Cardinal O'Connor's Peculiar Warning," op-ed, June 20}, most of his own article indulged in even worse examples of confusion.

Mr. Naughton spoke of Cardinal O'Connor casting Mario Cuomo into eternal darkness, although he should know that excommunication is simply a declaration that a person is no longer in communion with the church. Excommunication no more causes damnation than a courtroom verdict causes a criminal's guilt. It's the criminal's law-breaking that makes him guilty.

While Catholic doctrine does not specify the kind of laws a society must have, Mr. Naughton knows that it does prescribe the kind of actions a Catholic should adhere to: moral actions. Accordingly, no Catholic (whether lawmaker or not) should aid people in an action that is intrinsically immoral -- precisely what many Catholic politicians have done in voting to provide public funding for abortion.

I agree that instruction is a better tool than warnings. Nevertheless, Mr. Naughton knows that many Catholic lawmakers, through their support of pro-abortion-rights legislation, have ignored their bishops' teachings. In such cases it is important for the bishops to make clear to the rest of the faithful that such refusal to follow Catholic teaching is not a valid expression of moral action within the church. Whether a bishop should make this clear by declaring that the politician is not in communion with the church depends on individual instances.

Mr. Naughton claimed that many well-educated Catholics disagree with their church's teaching on abortion. This is more obfuscation: such "well-educated Catholics" are not well educated in their faith. While there is serious debate among Catholic scholars concerning various issues of sexual morality, there is no significant debate concerning abortion. From theologians to bishops, the consensus is that abortion is intrinsically immoral.

Mr. Naughton says he does not begrudge the bishops the right to speak out. It is clear though that he does begrudge them the right to speak out in a way that may make Catholics unpopular. However, it is a bishop's duty to help his people find favor with God, not men. ANTHONY J. MONTANARO Dale City

Jim Naughton's "peculiar" column on Catholicism contained some serious distortions.

The Catholic faith is set by the Vicar of Christ. It is not determined by disputes among cardinals; Jesus never called for a vote. Pope John Paul II has been crystal clear about abortion, and Mario Cuomo knows it.

The church is militantly opposed to sin, and considers abortion a grave sin. Catholics are expected to resist sin when they can and deplore it when they succumb. A person who exercises his free will deliberately and consistently to facilitate grave sin excommunicates himself.

MARTIN K. BARRACK Burke

Jim Naughton's attack on Cardinal John O'Connor contained more errors, irrelevancies and latent elitism than can be analyzed in the space of a letter. But on one point at least, Mr. Naughton must be corrected.

Cardinal O'Connor is far from being "without support from his fellow bishops." In the two weeks prior to Cardinal O'Connor's article, similar points were made in a speech by Archbishop Francis Stafford of Denver and in a diocesan pastoral letter by Bishop John Myers of Peoria. Bishop Thomas Dailey, newly installed in Mario Cuomo's home diocese of Brooklyn, has taken a tough stand on "personally opposed but ... " Catholic pols. And, of course, San Diego Bishop Leo Maher actually excommunicated one. It is Archbishop Weakland who is becoming isolated in his pusillanimous "enlightenment."

Mr. Naughton should realize that as members of what he calls an "increasingly independent and sophisticated laity," we are simply thrilled by Cardinal O'Connor.

DAVID M. WAGNER Manassas