Confusion as Spokane bishop asks priests not to join 40 Days for Life vigils
SPOKANE, Washington, September 14, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Pro-life leaders in Washington state are expressing bewilderment after their Catholic bishop apparently urged diocesan priests and seminarians in a September meeting not to pray outside abortion clinics.
John Weingarten of 40 Days for Life Spokane told LifeSiteNews.com that the instruction from Bishop Blase J. Cupich was potentially devastating for the local group, now only two weeks from launching this year’s fall campaign, as it is composed almost totally of Catholics and normally enjoys the support of local pro-life priests.
“The way we have recruited most of them has been through setting up tables at the back of parishes ... and having various priests promote it,” said Weingarten, who co-directs the campaign with his wife.
40 Days for Life is a campaign of prayer, fasting and perpetual witness outside abortion facilities known for its peaceful approach to ending abortion. The Spokane branch has been active for about four years.
A source present at the meeting where Bishop Cupich gave his instruction told LifeSiteNews.com that the extent of the bishop’s order of non-endorsement was unclear, but that the bishop expressed disapproval of Church representatives joining abortion facility protests. A written statement on the matter is expected from the diocese.
On a blog post on the issue by Catholic commentator Mark Shea, a commenter who identified himself as a Spokane seminarian also stated that “I and my brothers have been instructed by the bishop personally not to continue our Friday rosary outside of Planned Parenthood.”
Weingarten, also a member of the diocesan respect life committee, told LifeSiteNews.com that Cupich said he did not support 40 Days for Life during a committee meeting in late July, noting his disapproval of “picketing” outside abortion facilities. Although members of the committee responded that 40 Days for Life was peaceful and non-demonstrative, according to Weingarten, Cupich “was not moved.”
“We’ve asked the bishop to endorse 40 Days for Life, and if he won’t, to tell us what he’d like us to do,” said Weingarten.
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Director of Communications for the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, said on Tuesday that LSN’s inquiry would be sent to Bishop Cupich, who is travelling this week. Cupich was installed as bishop of Spokane in June of last year.
Weingarten, who said the Spokane group has swelled to as many as 300 participants per campaign, has launched an online petition.
The petition was signed by Abby Johnson, who urged for a return to public prayer witness by the Church in Spokane.
“As a former Planned Parenthood director, I can attest to the power a praying priest has on the women going inside the clinic,” said Johnson, who entered the Catholic Church soon after her pro-life conversion. “Priests are able to reach out to women and men in crisis in a way that no other sidewalk counselor can. It is important that they be present. And really this shouldn’t even be an issue since the sanctity of human life is something that is [not] an option in the Catholic Church…it is something we are commanded to revere.”
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.
Most Rev. Blase J. Cupich
Diocese of Spokane
1023 West Riverside Avenue
Spokane, WA 99201-1103
Mary Cole, Executive Assistant