Washington, July 11 - A leading American cardinal on Monday said "a majority" of U.S. bishops would not deny Communion to Catholic politicians who dissent from church teaching on abortion or other issues.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who heads a task force of U.S. bishops in responding to dissenting politicians, repeated his longtime belief that it is impossible to "judge the contents of a man's soul" at the altar rail.

"This is not an opinion that is foreign to the teaching of the church nor to the practice of the majority of bishops," McCarrick said in a speech at the National Press Club.

The issue flared up last year after a vocal minority of bishops said they would deny the sacrament to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion rights.

Last summer, U.S. bishops refused to issue a blanket policy on receiving Communion, but said politicians who support abortion risk "cooperating in evil and sinning against the common good."

At the time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- said bishops could deny Communion, but were not required to.

While the issue largely faded after the November elections, McCarrick's task force is still expected to issue recommendations to the bishops, and his speech could indicate what tone that report would take. A release date for that report has not been announced.

McCarrick said Communion can only be denied for Catholics who reject church teaching out of "arrogance or contempt." But McCarrick left little doubt that church teaching is clear on the sanctity of human life.

"I believe you can't be a strong Catholic if you believe in abortion," he said, "I believe you can't be a faithful Catholic if you believe in euthanasia."

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