SPOKANE, Washington, September 19, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After news broke last week that the bishop of Spokane had allegedly forbidden priests of the diocese from participating in pro-life vigils outside abortion facilities, the diocese on Friday released a new statement to clarify the bishop’s position.

While the statement appears to allow priests to participate in such events according to their discretion, multiple sources have confirmed to LifeSiteNews that the diocese has also privately reinforced its request, via e-mail communications, that priests and seminarians not do so.

The news of Bishop Blase Cupich’s position broke last week after witnesses at a September meeting reported that at the meeting the bishop had urged Spokane priests and seminarians not to pray outside abortion clinics.

The news prompted a petition asking Cupich to reconsider, spearheaded by the local 40 Days for Life co-director, who said the bishop also expressed disapproval of the 40 Days campaign during a diocesan Respect Life Committee meeting this summer. 40 Days for Life is an international pro-life campaign calling for a period of prayer and fasting to end abortion, as well as peaceful and non-confrontational public witness outside abortion clinics.

In a statement Friday, the diocese of Spokane said priests should place emphasis on education about the abortion issue above confrontational tactics.

“The present political environment has become very toxic and polarizing, to the point that people have become fixed in their positions, especially in regard to abortion, and are unwilling to talk to each other,” the diocese says in its statement. “The pastoral challenge is to get people to take a second look at the issue of abortion.”

The diocese notes that Bishop Cupich had “asked the priests to approach respect life issues as teachers, for that is what they are.”

Regarding the 40 Days for Life vigils, the diocese distinguished its official pro-life ministries from the campaign, and stated: “the Bishop recognizes that a given priest in good conscience may feel the need to participate in the vigils and he should never be forced to go against a good and informed conscience.

“The Bishop only asked that all priests prayerfully reflect on what he has told them, commit themselves to making teaching effectively their first priority and keep in mind the irreplaceable power of the witness of their unity with each other.”

The statement also concludes that only materials published by the local diocese, the state conference of bishops, or the U.S. bishops may be distributed in parishes.

John Weingarten, co-director of 40 Days for Life Spokane, told LifeSiteNews.com that non-official publications are already found in some parishes, leaving 40 Days for Life material to an uncertain fate. Weingarten also expressed concern that the statement wasn’t clearer about vigil participation.

“Unfortunately, [the statement] doesn’t address most of the issues and leaves the priests in fear that if they do participate in the vigils, they will be disregarding his instructions,” he said.

Other sources told LSN that the chancery appears to be allowing 40 Days for Life promotion in parishes, but has privately reinforced a request that priests not participate in abortion clinic vigils, while not strictly forbidding it, in order to maintain unity behind the diocese’s educational outreach.

Sources at Gonzaga University in Spokane told LSN that the communication particularly impacted seminarians at the nearby Bishop White Seminary, who have been told to no longer come in plainclothes to join the university pro-life group’s rosary outside the local Planned Parenthood on Fridays.

Spokane diocese communications director Deacon Eric Meisfjord did not answer multiple calls and emails placed by LifeSiteNews.com.

Catholic bishops across the world have been known to personally support 40 Days for Life vigils, including campaigns in North Carolina, New Jersey, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Toronto, and Sydney.

Mary McClusky, the Special Projects Coordinator at the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, praised 40 Days for Life last year as “regularly report[ing] stories of hundreds of children’s lives saved from abortion and grateful pregnant women being connected to caring people who meet their emotional and material needs.”

To contact:

Most Rev. Blase J. Cupich
Diocese of Spokane
1023 West Riverside Avenue
Spokane, WA 99201-1103
(509) 358-7305
Mary Cole, Executive Assistant
mcole@dioceseofspokane.org