Church penalizes woman for her pro-choice stance

October 20, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Susan Hughes Gray is a member of Catholics for a Free Choice, a national group with a very public stand on abortion. Abortion, these Catholics say, sometimes is the "lesser of evils."

That membership has put her at odds with her church's leadership.

In an unusual move, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore has told Mrs. Gray that unless she "publicly recants" her view, she may not hold any leadership position in her parish, St. Pius X in Rodgers Forge.

She may not serve as a Eucharistic minister, a lay person who helps the priest distribute Holy Communion at Mass. She may not read aloud from the church's lectern the Bible passages chosen for the day's liturgy.

And she may not serve on the Parish Council, a lay group of advisers to the pastor, the Rev. Thomas J. Golueke.

Mrs. Gray is quietly disappointed, puzzled and resigned. She does not blame her parish or her pastor, she said, because the decision was imposed "downtown," at the archdiocesan headquarters on Cathedral Street.

The chancellor, Monsignor W. Francis Malooly, who met with Mrs. Gray this week, said yesterday that "this was no judgment of her -- she is a very impressive, very forthright lady."

It is simply a case "where it is not appropriate for someone who publicly disagrees with the moral teaching of the church" to hold high-profile positions in a Catholic congregation, he said.

It would "confuse people, create an impression of tolerance where we don't have any," Monsignor Malooly said.

But a group of Catholics in Baltimore whose members have never met Mrs. Gray has taken up her cause with a passion.

The group -- a local chapter of the national Call To Action organization -- had already scheduled a prayer service Saturday in downtown Baltimore to focus attention on "any abridgment, any diminishment of our fundamental Christian freedom" as Roman Catholics.

It had geared up for a protest of last week's Vatican directive to divorced Catholics who remarry without annulments. The letter, approved by the pope, advised the world's bishops that divorced Catholics may not receive Holy Communion if they engage in sexual relations with a new spouse.

Call To Action's "alternative" service at 5 p.m. at Old Otterbein PTC United Methodist Church near the Inner Harbor is one of many events, official and unofficial, that had been planned in connection with the planned visit to Baltimore by Pope John Paul II that was canceled because of health considerations. He was to have arrived in Baltimore Sunday morning.

"Our belief is that all voices need to be heard in the Catholic Church," said Audrey Rogers, one of the organizers of the prayer service. Call To Action and Catholics for a Free Choice are part of a national coalition, Catholic Organizations for Renewal, that has been critical of the pope.

"The human experience is muddy, and if the Incarnation means anything, it means that God values that very muddy experience," Ms. Rogers said. "Rome needs to listen to and learn from the experience of her people."

Fred Ruof, another leader of Baltimore's Call To Action chapter, said the "repressive" decision affecting Mrs. Gray "is out of line in a church which, in all its best teaching, honors and celebrates freedom of conscience, especially where there is no conflicting church law."

Mr. Ruof, who once studied for the Catholic priesthood, said of Mrs. Gray's membership in Catholics for a Free Choice, "She has committed no sin. She has broken no church law. She has not acted counter to any defined truth."

Mrs. Gray said that her position on abortion became public when she ran unsuccessfully for a place on the Parish Council a year ago and was picketed outside St. Pius X Church by anti-abortion activists who were not St. Pius parishioners. She said she is not "for abortion," but for the right of individuals to make hard decisions for themselves.

Mrs. Gray, Ms. Rogers and Mr. Ruof all called for a more "nuanced" position by the Catholic Church on abortion.

"Church theologians recognize circumstance, intention, mitigating circumstances when it comes to life-and-death issues such as war, capital punishment and police action," he said. "Strangely, it is only on the life-death issue of abortion that some moral theologians have taken such an unbending position against it, and that only in very recent years."

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