- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

LOS ANGELES A Catholic archbishop opened the Democratic National Convention yesterday with a prayer to protect the lives of "unborn children" a view opposite of the stance taken in the party's platform.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles with 4 million Catholics, the nation's largest archdiocese asked God to "keep us ever committed to protect the life and well-being of all people, but especially unborn children, the sick and the elderly, those on skid row and those on death row."

And in what appeared to be a jab at President Clinton, who has made focus groups and nationwide surveys a part of politics, he said: "Oh God, we pray for a new kind of politics, focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls."

While the convention hall was silent and few delegates were present when the Roman Catholic archbishop made his comments, the prayer drew criticism from pro-choice delegates as well as pro-life organizations.

"If the Catholic Church believes abortion is the murder of children, then how can Cardinal Mahony as a representative of the Catholic Church give the Democratic Party his blessing?" questioned Jeff White, a spokesman for Operation Rescue.

Ann Gaither and Pat Patton, two delegates from North Carolina, felt the pro-life language in the prayer including the cardinal's statement, "We have been called to choose life and to serve the least of these" was out of sync with the overwhelmingly pro-choice views of Democrats.

"It was very unpolitic of him to do that," said Mrs. Patton. "He should have been very well aware of our platform. We certainly support a woman's choice to make her own decision."

"I think it was very unfortunate that he chose to use those words," said Ms. Gaither. "I think there are several defining issues between the Democratic and Republican parties, and that's one of them."

Other delegates who heard the invocation were less concerned about the pro-life remarks, stressing instead a principle of party tolerance.

"Obviously that's not part of the platform of the party," said Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a delegate and City Council member from Baltimore. "But I think it shows the diversity of the party to have a Roman Catholic who is pro-life give the invocation at the convention.

"We may disagree with one another on certain issues but we have the common goal of electing Al Gore," Mr. Mitchell said.

Andrea Wassner, a labor delegate from Boise, Idaho, felt the cardinal had a right to speak as he wished.

"He's entitled to his opinion and I would never tell someone they can't say something."

"It's part of our inclusiveness as a party," said delegate Krystal White, also of Boise.

Ray McLennan, a pro-life delegate from Kentucky who tries to encourage right-to-life candidates to become Democrats, was pleased by Cardinal Mahony's prayer.

"Even though our platform is a pro-choice platform… . I'm not a one-issue person," he said. "Majority rules on the platform, but we also understand that not everybody's going to agree on every issue."

Cardinal Mahony's acceptance of the Democrats' invitation was a departure from recent precedent. In 1996, Cardinal Joseph Benardin turned down an invitation to speak at the Democrats' convention in Chicago. Cardinal John O'Connor turned down an invitation to speak at the Democratic convention in New York in 1992.

Those past refusals were widely interpreted as a rejection of Democratic Party platforms, which for more than two decades have advocated the legalization and availability of abortion.

About 10 pro-life protesters picketed outside Cardinal Mahony's office yesterday carrying signs that read "Cardinal Roger Mahony Pro-Abortion," "A Wolf in Sheep's Fold" and "Find Out What Mahony's Real Record on Abortion Is." Cardinal Mahony declined to comment on the criticisms.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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