A Catholic priest in South Carolina has warned parishioners that they'll take communion at their own risk if they voted for President-elect Obama last week because of his support for abortion rights. There's nothing really novel to this, since priests elsewhere, and higher authorities, deemed the sacrament inappropriate for people who voted for Senator Kerry four years ago.
Back in the day, of course, priests could deny the sacraments to entire communities and entire nations if their rulers went against the Pope's will or denied his temporal power. The priest in the present instance denies any partisan intent, and I can accept that insofar as he's made his statement now rather than, say, two weeks ago. But the real issue isn't partisanship; it's political intimidation. This is the sort of stunt that gave Catholics a bad name 150 years ago. The presumption that priests could use such tactics to force Catholics to vote according to dictation, for whichever party or for whatever reason, is why many Protestants wanted to deny the vote to Catholics or force them into a longer naturalization period than other immigrants. History calls the old nativists "Know Nothings," but when someone like this fellow in South Carolina pulls a stunt like this, it makes you wonder whether the Know Nothings were on to something after all. Fortunately, Catholics throughout American history have proven worthy of the franchise, but you wonder sometimes about certain individuals.