Pro-Choice Protesters Set Sights on Catholic Church

By Feuerherd, Joe | National Catholic Reporter, May 7, 2004 | Go to article overview

Pro-Choice Protesters Set Sights on Catholic Church


Feuerherd, Joe, National Catholic Reporter


George W. Bush is political target number one of pro-choice activists, who used the April 25 "March for Women's Lives" to energize opponents of the administration's domestic and international abortion and family planning policies.

The Catholic church, however, runs a close second.

"If a man could get pregnant," according to the lyrics of the song that served as the opening act at the rally preceding the march, "then abortion would be a sacrament." And, continued the ditty, if such biological constraints were lifted, priests would be handing out "morning-after pills" following Mass.

It was red meat for the large crowd gathered on the National Mall, some of whom already had a taste of what was to come at a pre-march protest near the Vatican embassy. "Opposition from the Roman Catholic church and of the hierarchy is a major reason this issue stays controversial," Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal told hundreds of demonstrators at the Catholics for a Free Choice-sponsored protest. "We've got to keep more pressure on this hierarchy [because] they're vulnerable now" due to the clergy sex abuse scandals, Smeal told the cheering crowd.

"If there is a culture of death anywhere," Catholics for a Free Choice president Frances Kissling told the crowd, "its leaders are in the Roman Catholic church" which, she said, stands in the way of providing contraceptive services to the poor in countries where HIV/AIDS is an epidemic. Kissling termed the Catholic hierarchy a "crass political machine."

The weekend of protests came just after a top Vatican official said pro-choice Catholic legislators should be denied Communion. Cardinal Francis Arinze, who heads the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, made no specific mention of Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, a pro-choice Catholic. But Arinze's statement provided rhetorical ammunition for those on each side of the debate.

"If [the bishops] use the sacraments selectively then they are going to be in big trouble," Kissling told NCR. "They are going to have to do this for every [Catholic] pro-choice policymaker in the country ... because if they don't it is clear electioneering."

If the church does not apply a Communion ban "fairly," said Kissling, Catholics for a Free Choice would look to initiate IRS and Federal Election Commission investigations of the church "for violation of the rules restricting nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates. …

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