I’m not familiar with Douglas Kmiec’s work or his temperament, but something doesn’t smell right about his account of being denied communion after endorsing Obama. Kmiec is a prominent conservative (and pro-life) legal scholar whose support for Obama came as a shock to the right. I have no reason to doubt that he keeps very conservative, orthodox Catholic company who I’m sure pressured him to voluntarily not take the Eucharist, but… his priest? Really? Just for endorsing Barack Obama? If the story is as simple as that, then his pastor needs to be forcibly pried away from his flock and be stuck in a office somewhere, because that sort of boorish partisanship has no business in the communion line.
The logic here — again, if true — rests on such shaky ground that it wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that a Catholic who votes for any mainstream political candidate would be subject to excommunication. Eight years of Reagan… Four of Bush I… Eight of Bush II… and not only does Roe v. Wade still stand, but each of those men, not to mention John McCain, were and have been quite clear that they had no interest in overturning it, even though in reality a repeal of Roe would do virtually nothing to reduce abortions in America. So even a mostly symbolic act (admittedly with far-from-symbolic political repercussions) was off the table for these “pro-life” presidents. Why, then, are their supporters not subject to the heavy hand of the bishop?
As I see it, the difference between the two parties on abortion is effectively small and boils down mostly to rhetoric. Some wings of the GOP will condemn it, most Democrats will praise choice, but abortion will remain legal either way. The true chasms are on issues like torture, immigration, and poverty. Here, votes in November really will make a difference in which policies the government adopts or doesn’t adopt in response, and so these issues ought to frame the election in the view of the Church. Instead, some American bishops choose to make these elections solely about abortion, alienating a great deal of Catholics who see more pressing concerns. This sort of approach seems more applicable to a niche denomination than a vast religion that sees itself as the one universal church of Jesus Christ.