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Legislators protest communion recommendation

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(CNN) -- Forty-eight congressional Roman Catholic Democrats have signed a letter to protest the idea that politicians who support abortion rights should be denied communion.

The letter, dated May 10, was sent to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, chairman of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops. It was signed by legislators on both sides of the abortion issue.

The legislators said denying communion to Catholics based on political beliefs would have "the effect of miring the church in partisan politics and allowing the church to be used for partisan purposes," and would "bring great harm to the church."

McCarrick's task force is considering recommendations on how the church should react to legislators who vote contrary to church guidelines. The church opposes abortion, same-sex marriages, the death penalty, unjust wars and a host of other issues that are debated in the political mainstream.

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, the largest American pro-life educational organization, issued a response to the legislators' letter saying that there is nothing more harmful to the church than "perpetuating the lie that you can be a Catholic in good standing and support abortion."

Brown called the legislators' letter "outrageous" for trying "to hold Christ hostage in what was clearly a thinly veiled threat to the church hierarchy."

The letter warned that the church, if it were to deny communion to those who voted in favor of abortion rights, would set a precedent under which other issues also could become the basis for sanctions.

The legislators cited support for the war in Iraq or the death penalty -- two issues supported by President Bush -- as possible areas of conflict.

They also recalled that Catholics were denied public office for many years "by voters who feared they would take direction from the pope." And while they noted this sort of "paranoid anti-Catholicism seems to be a thing of the past," they said anti-Catholic prejudice could be reborn if the church were to withhold communion from legislators who did not vote according to church guidelines.

The issue has been raised amid the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, a Roman Catholic and the presumed Democratic nominee.

The writers said they do not believe it is their role to transform the teachings of the Catholic Church into legislation, noting "we live in a nation of laws and the Supreme Court has declared that our Constitution provides women with the right to an abortion." Further, they said, they are sworn to represent all Americans not just Catholics.

The signers of the letter included Reps. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is House minority leader and Democrats Rosa De Lauro of Connecticut; Bill Pascrell of New Jersey; Raul Grijalva of Arizona; Edward Markey of Massachusetts; James Oberstar of Minnesota; and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who is also campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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