It's hard for non-Catholics (and many Catholics) to understand why Archbishop Raymond Burke said that Catholic politicians who are pro-choice couldn't receive communion until they "publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices." Communion is a rite of unity. Can a bishop do that? Do Catholic politicians have to "vote Catholic"? Why would church leaders use the altar as a rod of discipline?
Let's get a few things clear.
First, Archbishop Burke's action is not outside the Catholic Church's canon law. It is not morally unfounded. His pastoral letter "On the Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility" cites Martin Luther King Jr., St. Thomas Aquinas, and the history of Jim Crow laws to make his argument. It's a rigorous, conservative appeal. Catholic teaching states that abortion is a grave sin. Some Catholics preach primus est vivere - "above all there is life." In this logic other critical issues of concern for Catholics - poverty, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, the sanctity of marriage, and the dignity of women, workers, and the poor - all mean nothing without the "right to life." From the primus est vivere perspective, simplistic though it is, there is no inconsistency in targeting pro-choice Catholic politicians while not calling to task Catholic legislators who, for example, support tax cuts for the rich or the war in Iraq.