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Vatican cardinal fuels religious dispute

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Catholic Church
John F. Kerry

VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Just hours before Sen. John Kerry was scheduled to discuss his support for legalized abortion at a large women's rights rally Friday in Washington, a top Vatican cardinal called on priests to deny communion to Catholic politicians like Kerry who take that stance.

In a news conference to announce the release of a document aimed at a crackdown on possible abuses in celebrating Mass, Cardinal Francis Arinze was asked if a politician who supports abortion rights should be denied communion. (Full story)

"Yes. Objectively, the answer is clear," Arinze said. "The person is not fit. If he shouldn't receive it, then it shouldn't be given."

Asked about Kerry, Arinze said the decision would be up to U.S. bishops: "The norm of the church is clear. The Catholic Church exists in the U.S. There are bishops there. Let them interpret it."

Kerry supports a woman's right to an abortion and the promotion of family planning resources. He also has said he will only back judges to the Supreme Court who support abortion rights.

Kerry has said, "I fully intend to practice my religion as separate from what I do with respect to my public life."

Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said, "John Kerry takes his faith seriously, but he also believes in the separation of church and state and believes that public officials have a commitment to separate church and state and protect the lives of every American."

Some U.S. Roman Catholics have said Kerry should not receive communion because of his position. The senator from Massachusetts received it on Easter -- prompting further debate within the church.

After Arinze's comments, Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, called on the Vatican not to "politicize sacraments."

"The Vatican has consistently shown itself to misunderstand the American principle of separation of church and state. ... It is time for church leaders to accept that Catholics in good faith disagree with the absolute prohibition of legal abortion demanded by the Vatican. It is time for church leaders to acknowledge that the threat of denying the sacraments to Catholics who disagree with their positions has no basis in church law. It is both bad politics and bad religion."

Asked about the push to deny communion, Cutter said, "For a generation, Catholics have believed in the freedom of conscience. ... At the end of the day, this is between John Kerry and his church."

Archbishop Theodore Egan McCarrick of Washington met privately last week with Kerry at the Archdiocese of Washington at the presidential candidate's request. McCarrick is heading up a commission of U.S. bishops to determine if Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be denied communion.

That commission may resolve the issue at a meeting set for November -- after the presidential election.

CNN's Hada Messia and Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.

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