Clarke won't be speaking Anti-abortion group threatened to picket IND commencement

June 04, 1993|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Staff Writer

The Institute of Notre Dame was left without a speaker for tonight's commencement exercise after it was decided that Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke would not appear as scheduled because a local anti-abortion group threatened to picket the event.

It was not immediately clear whether Ms. Clarke canceled her appearance on her own or as a result of pressure from the school.

Ms. Clarke is a Roman Catholic who supports abortion rights, a position that runs counter to church dogma. Earlier this year, Institute of Notre Dame officials invited her to be the commencement speaker, and she accepted.

About three weeks ago, Defend Life, an anti-abortion group, began mounting a drive against Ms. Clarke's scheduled appearance. Last week, she told school officials that she would not appear at the commencement exercise, which will be held at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

Yesterday, Ms. Clarke said she canceled her appearance after receiving pressure from John Abrahms, the school's vice principal. But Mr. Abrahms said that Ms. Clarke withdrew voluntarily for the sake of the students and their parents.

In response to a reporter's questions, Mr. Abrahms released a statement which suggested that Ms. Clarke may have misunderstood the school's position.

"When Mrs. Clarke was informed of the complaints and the threats of demonstrations, she shared the school's concerns for the graduates and their parents on this special day," the statement said. "She informed the school that she would not object to the selection of a different speaker for the sake of the girls and their families. As IND's administration relayed these concerns, perhaps Ms. Clarke though that IND was requesting that she not speak. The school's decision was not to schedule a graduation speaker for the 1993 commencement."

Meanwhile, Jack Ames, Defend Life's director, said he was "very glad she decided not to appear, for whatever reason."

He described Ms. Clarke as a "a real embarrassment to the Catholic church" and said the group was prepared to turn out as many as 300 protesters.

Mr. Ames said his group learned of Ms. Clarke's scheduled appearance from an article that appeared about three weeks ago in the Catholic Review. He said the organization told Ms. Clarke that she "faced political embarrassment" if she did not withdraw. The group also told the archdiocese that demonstrators would attempt to prevent Ms. Clarke from entering the cathedral. "We put pressure on all the pressure points," Mr. Ames said.

Mr. Ames said Defend Life is made up of Catholics, Protestants and others who oppose abortion.

Mr. Ames said the group's opposition to Ms. Clarke's appearance did not infringe on her right to free speech.

"She is free to say what every she wants in the public, but when she says it in a Catholic church, she's out of order," he said.

Ms. Clarke said her commencement speech would have addressed "the future, and the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century" -- not abortion.

Yesterday, students at the Institute of Notre Dame expressed strong views on the controversy.

Daina Young, 15, a 10th-grader, said Ms. Clarke should have spoken at the commencement.

"It was wrong for them [IND] to give in. I'm pro-choice and it is hard being pro-choice and Catholic, but I believe what I believe and they cannot stop me," she said.

Another 10th-grader, Lisa Mielke, 16, said she did not understand the controversy.

"I don't know why this school is making a big deal of it. They aren't into reality here. They're into protecting this school," she said.

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