(Editor’s note: Since the publication of this story, the Austin diocese has canceled the planned event, read the coverage here.)
By John-Henry Westen
AUSTIN, TX, September 15, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Rabbi Alan Freedman is a big name in the abortion industry in Texas; according to his information page at Temple Beth Shalom, he is currently “serving on the Board of Planned Parenthood in Austin.” The Planned Parenthood website confirms the fact. Despite this, the rabbi has been given permission to hold Jewish religious services at the St. Louis Catholic Church in Austin Texas. Next Saturday, the Catholic Mass will even be relegated to the chapel, while the Jewish service, led by the Planned Parenthood rabbi, meets in the main body of the Church.
Rabbi Freedman heads up Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advisory Group, as noted in the Spring 2008 Planned Parenthood newsletter. The article on page 2 of the newsletter, which includes a photo of the rabbi and his wife, states that the advisory group “provides an affirming and compassionate message for women who too frequently hear messages of condemnation and criticism about their reproductive health care decisions.”
LifeSiteNews (LSN) has spoken to several people who attend Mass at St. Louis parish who are upset with the situation, but who do not wish to be named out of concern over a reaction from St. Louis pastor, Fr. Larry Covington. One parishioner, however, John O’Sullivan, was willing to speak publicly. O’Sullivan told LSN that although he has much respect for the Jewish community, he is devastated over the participation of the Planned Parenthood Rabbi.
“Rabbi Freedman is a total heartbreak for me,” said O’Sullivan, a long-time member of the St. Louis parish. “He is sitting on the board of Planned Parenthood that is opposed to life in the womb, and I’m so much for respect for life.” The elderly parishioner added, “As long as I’m around I will speak up for the unborn.”
LSN attempted to interview Fr. Covington by phone but was directed to email questions instead. In an e-mail sent to the pastor, LSN informed him that Rabbi Freedman is a leader at Planned Parenthood and asked if the pastor approved of the rabbi’s speaking at the Church.
In his email response, Fr. Covington refused to address the question of Rabbi Freedman, instead saying only that he, the Jewish community and the majority of his parishioners were pleased with the church’s “outreach.”
Fr. Covington said that the “parish’s hospitality to Temple Beth Shalom for the celebration of the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur” was undertaken with the “permission of the diocesan Bishop.”
But a spokesman for Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez told LSN that the bishop was not made aware of Rabbi Freedman’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood prior to approving the use of the Church for the Jewish services.
Msgr. Mike Sis, Vicar General of the Diocese of Austin, told LSN, “Bishop Vásquez was installed as the fifth bishop of Austin in March of this year. He was only recently made aware of who Rabbi Alan Freedman is and did not know of his affiliations until a few days ago.”
“Earlier this summer, Bishop Vásquez was informed that for the purpose of offering interreligious hospitality, St. Louis Parish would open its doors to Temple Beth Shalom (Austin, Texas), which did not have a place large enough to celebrate its high holy days,” explained Msgr. Sis.
“Now that Bishop Vásquez is aware of the associations of this particular rabbi, he will be in dialogue with his advisers and with Father Larry Covington, pastor of St. Louis, to determine what course of action might be appropriate in future years. Since our Jewish brothers and sisters are presently in the midst of their high holy days, the parish will, for this year, honor its commitment to the community of Temple Beth Shalom and will allow them to use the facilities of St. Louis on Yom Kippur,” Sis concluded.
Despite refusing to address the matter of Rabbi Freedman, Fr. Covington did respond to a question about the concerns of his parishioners. “To answer your questions about parishioner’s who may be upset at this, I find it surprising that none of them have said anything of this to me or to members of the Parish Council,” he said. “This would lead me to believe that the information you have received may not be accurate and that its source is outside of this parish community.”
Asked about this, O’Sullivan told LifeSiteNews that he had scheduled a meeting with Fr. Covington to discuss the matter. The meeting was to take place today, September 15, but Fr. Covington delayed the meeting till after the event takes place. O’Sullivan noted that the parish secretary also informed him that Fr. Covington noted that Rabbi Freedman would not be discussed at the meeting.
In addition to the matter of the Planned Parenthood Rabbi, some of the Catholics interviewed were disturbed by the prominence given the Jewish ceremonies over the Catholic Mass.
When the first such event took place at St. Louis Church last year, the Church was transformed into a non-Catholic worship space. The altar was decked with apparel for the Jewish ritual, the tabernacle was covered, Catholic statues were removed and the Stations of the Cross covered. Before and after photos obtained by LifeSiteNews from last year’s event demonstrate some of the transformation.
LifeSiteNews spoke with someone who attended the Jewish ceremony at the parish last week. The transformation was similar. The cross and statues were removed, the altar decked, and the tabernacle covered; however the Stations of the Cross remained visible.
There remains one last Jewish celebration at the parish which is to take place Friday September 17 and Saturday September 18.
When the Jewish event took place at the Catholic Church last year, it attracted the attention of local media. The Austin-American Statesman reported at the time: “A shared Catholic church pulpit between a rabbi and a priest on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar holds particular significance.”
The paper also noted that for Fr. Covington the issue was hospitality and repentance. “There is no way that these gestures can repair the kind of damage that Christians have caused Jews over the years,” Covington said at the time.
But local pro-life Catholics say the issue isn’t about hospitality, but the handing over of a Catholic pulpit to a leader in Planned Parenthood - the country’s largest abortion provider and one of the strongest anti-life forces on the globe.