Saying there can be “no equivocation” about abortion, Bishop of Evansville, Indiana Gerald Andrew Gettelfinger has decided not to attend the Vanderburgh County Right to Life (VCRL) banquet because Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, a Catholic who made conflicting comments about his abortion views, will be addressing the gathering.
Bishop Gettlelfinger charged that Steele “assiduously avoids” strong language on abortion.
The Washington Times reports that 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is also to address the banquet attendees.
Paul Leingang, communications director for the Diocese of Evansville, told CNA that the bishop intends not to attend the dinner he would normally attend.
Evansville Catholic Charities Director Jim Collins also plans not to attend the gathering, saying he was “shocked” by Steele’s comments on abortion in an interview with GQ magazine.
The Republican leader had told GQ that he believes women “absolutely” have the right to choose abortion and that he believes abortion is “an individual choice.”
Steele later distanced himself from remarks in a statement, saying “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be” and voicing his support for the Republican Party platform and “its call for a Human Life Amendment.”
Last Thursday the VCRL board voted to honor its speaking contract with Steele, which agreement was reached last fall, according to the Washington Times.
"We have done our due diligence," VCRL Executive Director Mary Ellen Van Dyke told the Washington Times. "Michael Steele has made the board of directors more than satisfied with his response regarding the GQ article. He told us he always has been and will be pro-life and against abortion in all cases."
However, Bishop Gettelfinger wrote a letter to VCRL, saying that “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.”
On Monday CNA spoke with Evansville diocesan communications director Paul Leingang about Bishop Gettelfinger’s decision.
He said there were no new developments concerning the situation because Bishop Gettelfinger is out of town. The diocese had not received a response to the letter the bishop had sent to VCRL, but was still hoping for comment. The organization may not yet have received the bishop’s letter, Leingang explained.
Explaining to CNA why Bishop Gettelfinger will not be attending, Leingang said the bishop was “disturbed” by Steele’s comments in GQ magazine in regard to a woman’s “right to choose” and that they seemed to come from “a political stance, not a principled one.”
“The principled answer would be there can be no equivocation, there’s no room for ‘choice’,” Leingang told CNA, because of what is being chosen.
CNA asked about defenses of Steele which claimed he merely spoke with “unfortunate phrasing” in his GQ interview.
“The salient point is that this is the principled decision of Bishop Gettelfinger,” Leingang replied, reporting that the bishop spoke with Steele by phone last Friday and also read the statement that Steele had issued following the GQ interview.
“After that conversation and examination of the statement, Bishop Gettelfinger maintained his decision not to attend the banquet.”
The bishop has not previously had to take a stand by declining to attend an event.
“This is unique,” Leingang told CNA.
He added that Bishop Gettelfinger will explain his decision in an upcoming article for the diocesan newspaper The Message.