Abortion views cost board seat Catholic hospital asks delegate to quit

February 12, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

As the General Assembly confronts the issue of abortion, Delegate Gerry L. Brewster, D-Baltimore County, has been asked to quit the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation board because the hospital president said his abortion-rights stance "would prove an embarrassment to the hospital."

Mr. Brewster, an Episcopalian who has served on the board since March 1990, has been a public supporter of the right to abortion and was elected to the House last fall with the endorsement of abortion-rights groups.

Despite his views on the issue, the Catholic hospital reappointed him to the foundation board in a letter Mr. Brewster received on election day, Nov. 6.

"They knew my position," said Mr. Brewster, a first-term delegate, adding he included his opinion about abortion in a personal disclosure statement filed with the hospital. "I made no secret of my views."

But Lori A. Vidil, a hospital spokeswoman, said the hospital had not been aware of Mr. Brewster's views on abortion when he was first named to the board early last year.

"We did obviously become aware of his position during the campaign," Ms. Vidil said. "We didn't see until November, during the campaign, that he was publicly espousing a pro-choice position."

Sister Marie Cecilia, O.S.F., the hospital president, discussed the problem with Baltimore Archdiocese officials and with a moral theologian and decided that Mr. Brewster's public position was in conflict with the hospital's, Ms. Vidil said.

Mr. Brewster will "be voting in favor of legislation that is in direct opposition to the hospital's Catholic value system on an issue where there is absolutely no room for compromise: the sanctity of human life," the hospital said in a statement yesterday.

Mr. Brewster's resignation comes as the emotional abortion issue, which last year stalled the legislature in a bitter eight-day filibuster, is once again before the General Assembly.

"The hospital distinguishes between 'holding' a pro-choice position and 'advocating' it," Sister Marie Cecilia wrote Mr. Brewster Jan. 11 in a letter explaining her request that he resign.

"Your campaign categorized you as a public advocate. . . . The abortion issue is already heating up as a major highlight of the present session of the General Assembly."

The letter, which praised Mr. Brewster's diligence as a board member, said that his vote alone on the issue would not disqualify him to be a member of the foundation board.

"However, you are likely to be called upon to stand up in the forefront with the leaders of the pro-choice positions," Sister Marie Cecilia's letter said. "Your position as a foundation board member would definitely be compromised and would prove an embarrassment to the hospital."

Mr. Brewster said he had been "surprised and disappointed" by the president's request, particularly because his stand on abortion was clear from the beginning.

In a letter mailed to fellow board members, Mr. Brewster said he has respect for Sister Marie Cecilia and regrets leaving the board. He added, "I believe that the great principle at stake, freedom of thought and speech, has been weakened by the hospital's stance."

When Sister Marie Cecilia discussed the issue with him in early January, "she said complaints had been lodged against me," Mr. Brewster said. "She said she had to follow up on that and she had to consult with the powers that be."

The Rev. William Au, a spokesman for Archbishop William H. Keeler, said yesterday that the decision to seek Mr. Brewster's resignation "was initiated by Sister Marie Cecilia. We support her decision. We were kept informed, but it was clearly her decision."

"Each institution would have its own bylaws," Father Au said. "But all of them would tend to follow the principle that people representing the church in any public capacity should not undermine the basic teachings of the church."

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