I share Victoria Reggie Kennedy's concern [op-ed, May 23] about the threatened denial of Communion to pro-choice politicians.

The altar is not a suitable place for enforcing church tenets, because a priest cannot discern a person's conscience in a brief instant at reception. Moreover, to deny Communion for the failure of these politicians to do their duty regarding abortion places the church on a slippery slope to enforce other beliefs at this sacred moment.

Ironically, however, flawed rationales such as Kennedy's have contributed to an environment where many Catholics are calling for such enforcement from the church. Her citation of "Dignitatis Humanae," for instance, correctly notes the church's defense of an individual's conscience in his relationship with the state, but that document does not mitigate the obligation of Catholics to preach and work affirmatively for a just society.

Gaudium Et Spes, the constitution on the church in the modern world, categorizes abortion and other crimes against life as "infamies" that "poison human society" and "are supreme dishonor to the Creator."

Though barring pro-choice politicians from Communion is problematic, when prominent Catholics cower in the face of their duty year after year and bring scandal on their church, is it any wonder that exasperated Catholics seek recourse in such measures?

-- Tom Sisti

Kensington

Who is coercing Victoria Reggie Kennedy or her husband to remain Catholics? She has the choice of staying a Catholic or joining a religion that tolerates abortion, and politicians who vote against their beliefs.

Please, don't expect non-politicians to change their Catholic principles just to help "pretend" Catholics get reelected.

-- Carol Shaw Greger

Bowie

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Sen. Edward Kennedy's wife asks: Where is the logic? The logic is found in church teachings. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thoughtfully explained two years ago in an essay in the Catholic magazine First Things, the Catholic Church has long opposed abortion and has done so in pronouncements that are binding on the faithful.

By contrast, since its inception the church has favored the death penalty. Although the current pope has expressed doubts about the church's ancient support for the death penalty, and the faithful must give these new misgivings respectful consideration, the misgivings have never been rendered in a form binding on practicing Catholics.

Thus, good Catholics are free to favor executing the guilty criminal, just as they oppose killing the innocent unborn.

-- Brian Fitzpatrick

Arlington

Victoria Reggie Kennedy unintentionally demonstrates why some Catholic bishops have felt no choice but to refuse Communion to those politicians who distort Catholic teaching and, despite professed "personal opposition," maintain perfect pro-abortion rights voting records.

Abortion is not a question of "imposing the laws of another faith" on an unwilling pluralistic society. The only rational basis to "personally oppose" abortion is that it violates the right to life of a member of the human family. This is not a theological opinion but the application of simple natural justice to biological reality.

Private conscience is inseparable from public duty on such a fundamental question of justice. This is made clear in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, admonishing Catholics in public office to defend the unborn, just as they are obliged to protect all persons from unjust assaults on their rights to life and human dignity.

Catholic politicians who vociferously support Roe v. Wade and its deadly consequences present pastors with a two-fold challenge: to correct the wayward, and to negate the perception that support for legalized abortion is compatible with Catholic teaching.

The "Eucharistic sanction," while always to be regretted, is a legitimate means to these ends.

-- Edward R. Grant

Oak Hill

The writer teaches medical ethics at Georgetown University.