By Kathleen Gilbert

EVANSVILLE, Indiana, March 23, 2009 ( – An Indiana bishop plans to boycott the country’s largest Right to Life banquet because Michael Steele, the GOP chairman under fire for seemingly “pro-choice” remarks, is scheduled to give the keynote address.

A Washington Times report Sunday revealed that Bishop Gerald Andrew Gettelfinger of Evansville says he will not attend the local Vanderburgh County Right to Life (VCRL) Banquet, featuring Gov. Sarah Palin as a scheduled guest appearance, because of remarks made by Steele that left some constituents unsure of his fidelity to the pro-life movement.

In an interview with GQ magazine earlier this month, Mr. Steele, who has been billed as a strongly pro-life figure, called abortion an “individual choice” that should be decided by the states (  After the interview drew fire from the pro-life community, Steele quickly backpedaled on the statements, affirming that he was “pro-life, always have been, and always will be,” and that he supports the party’s strongly pro-life platform.

Paul Leingang, communications director of the Evansville diocese, confirmed to (LSN) that the bishop’s plan “still stands.”  “There may be some reaction from the Vanderburgh County Right to Life Board, but at this point, right, his decision is not to attend,” Leingang said.

Leingang confirmed that the bishop communicated with Steele before reaching his decision, and that the bishop issued a warning letter to VCRL saying: “the principled answer for us is that there can be no equivocation: Intentional abortion is an act of killing the unborn. There is no room for choice in this deadly matter. Mr. Steele assiduously avoids such strong language.”

VCRL executive director Mary Ellen Van Dyke told LSN they were “saddened” that the bishop decided not to come, but they stand by their invitation to Steele. “We feel the board did its due diligence, gathered the facts,” said Van Dyke.  In a time when “human life is being attacked on all fronts,” she added, “this is a time for unity, not division, in the pro-life community.”  Van Dyke also said that VCRL never received a letter from the bishop.

VCRL reportedly extended the invitation to speak at the April 16 banquet several months ago.

The Times reports that another leading local Catholic figure, Evansville Catholic Charities Director Jim Collins, also plans to boycott the gathering.  Collins said he was “shocked” by Mr. Steele’s answers on abortion.

Others disagree that Steele’s words merit the bishop’s ill favor. 

“I am not sure Steele’s unfortunate phrasing quite constitutes the support for abortion that would warrant the bishop’s staying away from the banquet,” Colin Hanna, president of the conservative group Let Freedom Ring, told the Times.

See related coverage:

RNC Chair Steele Sparks Outrage with “Pro-Choice” Comments