COMMUNION IS NOT A POLITICAL WEAPON…. There’s been plenty of debate in recent years about Roman Catholic churches denying communion to pro-choice policy makers — bishops are divided on the subject — but here’s a priest taking this idea one step further. (thanks to reader M.G. for the tip)

A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.”

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.

Newman’s letter, which made careful note of Obama’s middle name, told parishioners, “Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.”

To be sure, the Catholic Church is free to come up with its own rules. I’m neither a Catholic nor a theologian, so this doesn’t apply to me anyway. Who does or does not get Communion is the business of the church and its hierarchy.

But it does strike me as odd to think of priests using Communion as some kind of political weapon in a culture war.

In general, it seems to me that it’s a mistake to deny Communion to public officials who, in their official capacity as policy makers, stray from the church’s doctrines. But this is adding insult to injury — punishing loyal Catholic congregants based on their votes, rather than their beliefs and conduct.

Not too long ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement telling Catholics that they can’t vote “for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position.” That left voters plenty of wiggle room — a Catholic voter could back a pro-choice candidate and simply say that it wasn’t his or her “intent” to support the candidate’s position on abortion. Problem solved.

And yet, here we have a priest going considerably further, saying intent is irrelevant, and he wants to punish those who voted for the “wrong” candidate, regardless of their motivation.

Given that a majority of Catholic voters backed Obama on Election Day, one wonders why a church leader would take such an extreme position.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.