NEW YORK, JUNE 15 -- Cardinal John O'Connor, archbishop of New York, has touched off an uproar in political circles here by warning that Roman Catholic officeholders who support the right to abortion could be excommunicated.
Politicians in both parties said O'Connor, an outspoken critic of abortion, had gone too far in raising the threat of excommunication, a rarely imposed sanction that cuts off Catholics from church sacraments, including baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage and last rites.
Rep. George J. Hochbrueckner (D-N.Y.) said today many church leaders do not agree with what he called O'Connor's "trial balloon . . . If you follow this to its logical conclusion, you could well end up with no Catholic representatives in government. If you follow the teachings of the church, you get beaten up because you're a pawn of the pope. It's an untenable situation to put someone in."
In a 12-page article in the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, O'Connor said Catholics who "help to multiply abortions by advocating legislation supporting abortion or by making public funds available for abortion . . . are at the risk of excommunication."
In a section that appeared aimed at Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D), O'Connor dismissed the " 'personally opposed to, but' position," saying it "serves the agenda of those who actively favor abortion."
During his six years as archbishop, O'Connor has clashed repeatedly with Cuomo, who has supported abortion rights and public funding of abortions while remaining personally opposed to the practice.
In February, O'Connor defended Bishop Austin Vaughan of Newburgh, N.Y., who said Cuomo was "in danger of going to hell" because of his beliefs on abortion.
Cuomo told reporters Thursday that O'Connor's comments were "upsetting. I don't like to hear it. How could you? This is something very fundamental to our family."
But the governor said he had "gone over and over" the issue and still believes in "people having the choice in our democracy. . . . To declare those people who disagree with you murderers, I don't think will do it."
Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese's communications director, said today O'Connor's article was not aimed at any individual and was "not a threat. Nowhere does he say it is now time for bishops to start excommunicating people, or let this be a warning. He wanted to set out in a clear way the church teaching on this. I think there's been an overreaction . . . "
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), who last week was "disinvited" from a planned address to Harlem students at St. Patrick's Cathedral, said, "I don't want to believe that the cardinal has issued such a mean-spirited statement. Intimidation and threats, to me, is inconsistent with Christian thinking."
Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) said she was "not sure what it accomplishes other than to close the door and disenfranchise a whole group of what could be very good Catholic leaders."
Burt Neuborne, a New York University law professor, said O'Connor had resurrected the dual-loyalty issue that dogged John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign.
He said the cardinal had done "more damage to religious tolerance in this society than he realizes. When you accept public office, you're not a Catholic, you're not a Jew. You're an American."