A Roman Catholic bishop in Indiana will shun a pro-life banquet if Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele addresses the sold-out event, The Washington Times has learned.
The other honoree at the April 16 Vanderburgh County Right to Life (VCRL) banquet is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the snub by Bishop Gerald Andrew Gettelfinger of Evansville over Mr. Steele could embarrass Mrs. Palin, a hero to pro-lifers, and reverberate throughout the movement.
“At this point, the bishop’s intention is not to attend the dinner he would normally attend,” Paul Leingang, communications director for the diocese and editor of its weekly newspaper, the Message, said. “The bishop has had a conversation with Mr. Steele and has informed [VCRL Executive Director Mary Ellen] Van Dyke that his early decision not to attend still stands.”
Mrs. Palin, an evangelical, is twinned with Mr. Steele, a Roman Catholic, as the featured attractions at the banquet, billed as the biggest such event in the nation and expected to attract more than 4,500 people.
Nor will Bishop Gettelfinger be the only prominent area pro-lifer to shun the banquet over Mr. Steele. Evansville Catholic Charities Director Jim Collins also plans to boycott the gathering, saying he was “shocked” by Mr. Steele’s answers on abortion during a recent interview.
In an interview with GQ, published in the latest issue of the magazine, the reporter asked, “Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?” According to GQ, Mr. Steele said, “Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.” The reporter then said, “You do?” and Mr. Steele said, “Yeah. Absolutely.”
However, he also said the Supreme Court “wrongly decided” the 1973 case that struck down state limits on abortion and made it a matter of individual choice. And on the day after GQ posted the article on its Web site, Mr. Steele backtracked, saying “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be” and reiterating his statement that the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling was flawed.
“No pro-life person could have answered the way he did,” Mr. Collins said. “I don’t care how he dances around it afterward, he is not a pro-lifer,” he added, contending that Mr. Steele’s presence would thus tarnish the event.
“The banquet has always been the high point because the speaker was always someone who had impeccable pro-life credentials - who had actually accomplished something to protect human life in the womb,” Mr. Collins said, adding that he has “not found one credible achievement by Michael Steele” on pro-life issues.
The expected attendees have yet to learn of the decision by Bishop Gettelfinger, 73, to shun the banquet as all sides have labored to keep secret the decision, and private negotiations were held involving the banquet organizers, the bishop and the local Catholic Charities director.
But the talks collapsed after a Thursday afternoon meeting of the Vanderburgh County Right to Life board when the panel secretly voted, after contentious debate, to honor the speaking contract it had made with Mr. Steele, which predated not only the GQ remarks but even his Jan. 30 election as chairman of the Republican National Committee, the GOP’s 168-member governing body.
“Mr. Steele was contracted to speak last fall,” Mrs. Van Dyke said.
A last-ditch conversation between Mr. Steele and the bishop failed to reach an agreement, making final the bishop’s decision to avoid the gathering.
Bishop Gettelfinger had written a warning letter to Mrs. Van Dyke that laid out his objections to Mr. Steele’s scheduled appearance at the banquet. The bishop has repeated publicly to politicians in his own diocese Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 worldwide warning to Catholic politicians that they risk excommunication from the church and should not receive Communion if they support legal abortion.View Entire Story
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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