By Hilary White

  BUFFALO, January 25, 2007 ( – A Catholic deacon has been reprimanded for taking a pro-abortion Congressman to task on his voting record during a homily on “Respect Life Sunday.”

  Deacon Tom McDonnell pointed out that Democrat Rep. Brian Higgins, in attendance with his family, had voted in favour of legislation allowing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and suggested that parishioners could talk to him about his vote. The Congressman and his family walked out of the church.

  Rep. Brian Higgins was endorsed in 2006 by the National Abortion Rights Action League and Planned Parenthood for his support of abortion and related legislation.

  He complained that the homily was a “cheap shot” and designed to “drive a wedge” between him and the Church and implied that the Church, after the clergy sex abuse scandals, ought to remain silent on any political issue.

“The lesson here is that the Catholic Church has enough problems and should take greater care before allowing nonpriests [sic] to use the church as a forum to advance what clearly was a political agenda,” Higgins said.

  The pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rev. Art Smith, competed with the bishop of Buffalo, Edward U. Kmiec, in the haste and abjectness of the apologies. Fr. Smith said he felt “horrible” that Higgins, with whom he is on a first-name basis, was moved to walk out of the church with his family. He complained that he had been turned away from a reception at Higgins’ house over the incident.

  Rev. Smith said, “I’m hoping the deacon will somehow express his regret. He could have done the whole [homily] without publicly embarrassing Brian.” Fr. Smith did not say whether, as Higgins’ pastor, he had in the past or planned in the future to speak to the Congressman about his moral obligations in voting.

“I can’t tell you how terrible I felt,” Smith told Buffalo News on Tuesday. “While we have to always uphold the church’s teachings regarding life, I don’t think it’s ever fair to publicly criticize someone who serves our community and our parish so well.”

  In addition to his support for federal funding for embryo research, Higgins has voted for allowing abortions in military hospitals, for funding to organizations that promote abortion, and against making it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion to evade parental notification laws.

  Bishop Kmiec quickly issued a public statement saying, “The pulpit is not the appropriate place for confronting a member of the congregation. It is my belief that in situations like this, we are more effective when we have substantive, one-on-one conversations with individuals outside the context of the Mass.”

  Although Bishop Kmiec declined to mention whether he had himself ever addressed the life issues in private meetings with his Congressman, Higgins’ comment to the Buffalo News suggested otherwise: “I think the letters and e-mails speak for themselves and show the inconsistencies in what the church leaders have said.”

  Buffalo Right to Life, however, had no difficulty with their message to Rep. Higgins, Fr. Smith, Bishop Kmiec and Deacon McDonnell.

“God bless the deacon a thousand times. He did his job. If every bishop, every clergy member of all faiths did their jobs, we wouldn’t have the shedding of innocent life in our country,” said Stacey Vogel of the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee.
  Vogel said that Deacon McDonnell was “doing his duty” and was owed an apology from the priest and bishop for their lack of support. “You shouldn’t care so much about Brian’s feelings so much as Brian’s salvation,” she said.

  Although there are no statements on record as to his position on pro-abortion politicians receiving Communion, early in 2005, Bishop Kmiec declined to cancel a speaking engagement by Hilary Clinton, the leading pro-abortion politician in the US at Canisius College.

  He said although the diocese was not involved in the planning or promotion of the lecture, he wanted to “maintain channels of communication with Senator Clinton” and he was confident she knew and would “respect and be sensitive to” his “sentiments” on the life issues.

  Fr. Smith told local news that he regretted that Brian Higgins was not given the same warm welcome as that shown to Senator Clinton by Buffalo’s previous bishop, Henry J. Mansell during a prior visit at a Catholic venue in 2001.

  Brian Higgins told the press that messages to his office were running 4 to 1 in his favour.

  Link to NARAL endorsement rating of Brian Higgins:

  Rep. Higgins’ voting record can be found here:

  Messages to Deacon McDonnell may be sent to
  St. Thomas Aquinas Parish:
  450  Abbott Road
  Buffalo, New York 14220
  Ph: (716) 822-1250
  Fax (716) 822-2594

  To contact Bishop Kmiec:
  Diocese of Buffalo
  795 Main Street
  Buffalo NY 14203
  Ph: (716) 847-5500
  Fax: (716) 847-5557
  Email: [email protected]

  To contact Brian Higgins:
  Washington, DC Office
  431 Cannon HOB
  Washington, DC 20515
  Phone: 202-225-3306
  Fax: 202-226-0347

  Erie County Office
  Larkin at Exchange
  726 Exchange Street
  Suite 601
  Buffalo, NY 14210
  Phone: 716-852-3501
  Fax: 716-852-3929