Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) warned yesterday that the Roman Catholic Church could find itself isolated from the U.S. political process if it follows the advice of Cardinal John O'Connor, the New York archbishop, regarding politicians and abortion.

Moynihan, a Roman Catholic, said he was surprised by O'Connor's warning that Catholic politicians who either advocate abortion or fail to oppose it risk excommunication. O'Connor, a leader in the church's antiabortion effort, issued the warning in an article in the weekly newspaper of the archdiocese.

At a news conference in New York yesterday, O'Connor said his article was intended to prevent, rather than advocate, excommunication.

"We don't want to see people excommunicated," O'Connor said. "We're talking about . . . trying in every way possible to bring it about that individuals won't excommunicate themselves.

"I have never threatened to excommunicate anybody; I have never suggested that any other bishop excommunicate anybody; I have no intention of excommunicating anybody," he said.

Public officials "know I don't go around thundering excommunications. I don't go around threatening," he said. But he added that it would have been dishonest of him to say that no one would be excommunicated for taking a stance contrary to church teachings.

Excommunication is a powerful, rarely used sanction that bars a Catholic from most sacraments.

Moynihan, interviewed on NBC News's "Meet the Press," said he wished O'Connor had allowed the issue to calm down. "I don't want to see our church isolated from the rest of the community," Moynihan said.

But the onetime diplomat was not about to make a direct attack on one of his spiritual leaders. Asked if O'Connor was off base, Moynihan replied: "Cardinals are never off base, but they are frequently ill-advised."