Politics

U.S. Catholic bishops vs. compassion

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ political push to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights is nothing new. In the 1960s, that body was just about the only organized voice against abortion. But were the bishops less political in those days? No. In 1967, as the New York State Legislature was poised to pass a bill reforming abortion laws, the bishops wrote a pastoral letter calling for Catholics in the state to oppose such reform and directed that the letter be read from every pulpit in the state. The bill was killed in committee–which led pretty directly to the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).

Were the bishops more in tune with average Catholics (or vice versa) back then? Again, no. In 1965, as now, a majority of American Catholics believed that legal abortions should be available, at least under some circumstances. Compassionate Catholic clergy–both priests and nuns–worked with the CCS, referring desperate parishioners to the group, or serving as post-abortion counselors for Catholic clients. The New York CCS found that about a third of their clients were Catholic. Though he was against abortion, Father Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit, argued in The Dublin Review in 1967 for repealing laws prohibiting it, saying, “repeal would not mean that the state approves of abortion but only that it declines to regulate it.” Drinan served for a decade as a member of Congress from Massachusetts, but left office to comply with Pope John Paul II’s call for priests to stay out of politics.

The bishops, however, then and now, have never been shy about politics. As Mollie Wilson O’Reilly wrote recently in the Atlantic, “It has become an article of faith among some Catholics that to be a member of the Church in good standing means voting Republican; that this is not literally an article of our faith is something many bishops are content to obfuscate.” O’Reilly points out that Donald Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr, a Catholic, oversaw the reinstatement and increased application of the death penalty. The bishops said nothing about withholding communion from Barr, though the Church condemns capital punishment just as it does abortion.

Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, is quoted in Salon as saying, “To use what is most sacred about our church and sacred to Biden, to punish him or try to bully him into changing his views on abortion rights, is very troubling,” she said. “The bishops taking part in this are part of a right-wing political agenda in this country. It’s very scary.”

Where is the love in all of this? The most compassionate response we’ve read has come from Father John D. Whitney, a Jesuit, who wrote on his Facebook page: “I want to write a longer piece about those bishops who seek to keep some from the table of Christ, but for now I will say this: it is not you[r] table (nor mine). Bishops, priests, etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (‘all you who labor’); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared (‘Take this, all of you. . .this is my body, this is my blood’). We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane, please. The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.”

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Rev. Donna Schaper on the CCS and Jane

Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York, is featured in a new, short video interview by Tracy Thompson for Jezebel. Rev. Schaper talks about the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service and her own work with the group, and about the Chicago women’s abortion group Jane. She also speaks of the current situation regarding abortion in the U.S.–and what may need to happen if the law changes. (Oh, and the video includes a couple of wonderful archival photos of Howard Moody and Arlene Carmen.)

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Another 50th anniversary: Shirley Chisholm’s run for congress

Vanessa Williams, in the Washington Post, reminds us that it was fifty years ago this year that, without the help of the New York Democratic Party’s political machine, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. “Unbought and Unbossed” was her campaign slogan, and it’s also the title of her memoir, which we can’t recommend highly enough. It’s a book that, unfortunately, could have been written yesterday.

Abortion rights were important to Rep. Chisholm. She became honorary president of NARAL and often spoke publicly about abortion. As a result, women from around the country called her congressional office seeking help. Rep. Chisholm provided staffers with a directory for the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion so that they could refer each caller to a CCS chapter in their area.

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first black candidate to seek the nomination of a major political party for president, and she was the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination. If only . . .

Legacies of the CCS

A new year’s look back: 40th anniversary of the Clergy Consultation Service

A snowy day in a new year seems tailor-made for looking back–and maybe sorting some of the boxes and boxes of photos we’ve vowed to take care of. Eleven years ago at this time, Judson Memorial Church was planning a 40th anniversary celebration of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. That May brought a mighty gathering of many of the founding and early members of the CCS. Rev. Howard Moody gave a stirring sermon on “The Unfinished Revolution in Roe v. Wade.”

Lorry and Howard Moody
Lorry and Howard Moody, May 2007

Co-founder Rev. Finley Schaef spoke, and Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, founder of the Chicago CCS was also there. Rev. Tom Davis, who had been a CCS member with his late wife, Rev. Betsy Davis, and the longtime chair of Planned Parenthood’s national Clergy Advisory Board, spoke that day. He recently recalled, “I remember Howard Moody and some of the others sitting in the front row looking like bandits who got away with something.  Such brave people.”

Ignacio Castuera and Tom Davis
Rev. Ignacio Castuera, then chaplain of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Rev. Tom Davis, longtime chair of PPFA’s Clergy Advisory Board, May 2007

And the host that day, as for the 50th anniversary, was Rev. Donna Schaper, Judson’s senior minister, who had also served the CCS in Chicago when she was in seminary. Since then, we’ve lost Howard Moody and Spencer Parsons and all too many of the other CCS participants. But their legacy abides in Planned Parenthood’s clergy boards, in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and many other reproductive justice groups.

Rev. E. Spencer Parsons and Rev. Donna Schaper
Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, founder of Chicago CCS, and Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church, May 2007

CCS Participants

Strange bedfellows: Hugh Hefner and the Clergy Consultation Service

Hugh Hefner has died at the age of 91. We’d like to note a connection that not many of his obituaries will mention: that the Playboy magazine empire he founded also helped a group of Chicago clergy to start a chapter of the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies (as it was called there) and to expand throughout the Midwest.

Hefner started the Playboy Foundation in 1965 with the goals of “fostering open communication about human sexuality, reproductive health and rights, protecting and fostering civil rights and civil liberties in the United States for all people, and protecting freedom of expression.” Those were noble liberal causes . . . but one can’t help noticing that they also served Hefner’s own interests in enterprises that sexually objectified women for the gratification of men. It was a paradox for many grant seekers, especially for those who thought of themselves as feminists.

But Playboy Foundation grants went to some very good causes. Illinois Citizens for the Medical Control of Abortion, a legal reform group started in 1966, received one. It was through that group that the founder of the Chicago CCS, Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, first met University of Chicago doctoral candidate Ronald L. Hammerle. In 1968, the Chicago CCS received a Playboy grant that allowed Parsons to hire Hammerle as a full-time administrator for the group. Nationally, the CCS had almost no direct employees; only the Chicago CCS and the national group in New York seem to have found the means to hire a full-time (though temporary) employee through a grant.

Hammerle not only organized and administered the Chicago CCS but also reached out to organize CCS chapters in other Midwestern states and to find capable doctors. He collected follow-up reports from women about their experiences with doctors.  Hammerle also kept statistics for the group and wrote his dissertation on the work of the CCS. His research provided statistics used by CCS clergy as they testified at state legislative hearings around the country. Women counseled by the Chicago clergy would never have dreamed that the referral service was partially funded by a Playboy Foundation grant.

When Hammerle’s year of full-time employment was done, Parsons and Hammerle decided not to reapply to the Playboy Foundation for funding. Hammerle moved on to work with the CCS’s New York City abortion clinic, Women’s Services, and then for Planned Parenthood in Chicago and Iowa. The CCS owed a great deal to Hammerle–and it was the Hefner business empire that had enabled the CCS to hire him.

 

CCS Participants

Remembering Howard Moody

It was five years ago now that Rev. Howard Moody died. He was a founder of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. He was always its spokesperson, chief motivator, trainer, defender, and conscience, and yet always modest about the role he had played. In administering the group, he and Arlene Carmen made sure that the safety and dignity of women came first.

But he was first and foremost a prophetic preacher and pastor, and the CCS was only one of the many causes he championed. Under his ministry, Judson Memorial Church was a home for progressive people of many faiths, a haven for avant garde art, and the birthplace of modern dance. He worked for civil rights, fair housing, healthcare for sex workers, and the reform of drug laws, and many other causes, and he inspired generations of ministers and activists. His New York Times obituary gives a quick overview; you can get a better sense of his vision and work from his memoir, A Voice in the Village.

Even in retirement, Moody was so busy that it was always hard to pin him down. Both of us suffer from phone phobia, and it took many phone calls to arrange our first meeting with him. But once we finally met Howard and Lorry in person, we immediately wished to be adopted into their family–and, no doubt like everyone who met them, we felt that we had been. We visited with them whenever we were in New York City, and when we met them at their home in Santa Barbara, they took us out to a wonderful brunch. Howard was generous with his time and recollections, and with us. He was compassionate, a passionate advocate on behalf of others, charming, funny, bold, inspiring, and prophetic. How lucky we were to know him.

With the Moodys in Santa Barbara
Pat Relf, Howard and Lorry Moody, D.A. Dirks in Santa Barbara, 2006

 

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‘Criminal’ podcast features CCS

Episode 70–titled “Procedure”–of the always fascinating podcast “Criminal” features several Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion members talking about their experience. Rev. Finley Schaef, Rabbi Harold Kudan, Rev. Barbara Gerlach, and Rev. Robert Hare are interviewed, as is scholar Gillian Frank, who is researching the CCS. You can download the podcast via iTunes or other service, or listen to it here. “Criminal” is a part of the Radiotopia network, and was created by Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer.

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The resurgence of religious liberals

A June 10 article in the New York Times“Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game,” by Laurie Goodstein– overlooked the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion–a pivotal religious progressive movement of the 1960s that is undergoing a revival today. Actually, pro-choice clergy never really “sat out”; over the last 40 years, a small but active contingent of clergy, some of them original CCS members and others who have took up their cause of compassion, have worked with Planned Parenthood, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and other groups to advocate for reproductive rights. Over those years, although they remained active as pro-choice policy advocates, their voices have often been drowned out by the louder voices of religious anti-abortion activists. But clergy and people of faith—such as Rev. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church in New York City (a CCS member when she was a seminary student in Chicago) and Christian physician Willie Parker–are now reclaiming a religious voice for the reproductive justice movement, and there is discussion of reviving the CCS for this new era. A new, more diverse CCS is likely to emerge, emphasizing the way reproductive rights intersect with related concerns–racism, gender, poverty, immigration, and healthcare in general.

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NPR observes the 50th anniversary of the CCS

In observance of the 50th anniversary of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story on the group. NPR reporter Sarah McCammon spoke with two former CCS counselors, Rev. Barbara Gerlach and CCS co-founder Rev. Finley Schaef, both of whom were present at Judson Memorial Church’s celebration on May 21. McCammon also interviewed Rev. Loey Powell, who was a college student when she consulted the Clergy Consultation Service. Powell told NPR, “. . . to be with someone who was non-judgmental, who was not making assumptions either about the circumstances of how I got pregnant or what the consequences are of that situation, it was very positive for me to go through that.”

Listen to the full story here.

Photo: Rev. Finley Schaef speaking at Judson on May 21

Abortion Access Today, Links

How clergy can offer compassion today

Latishia James writes for Rewire: “I’ve had the privilege of sitting across from someone who was about to or just had an abortion, and I can attest to the impact of hearing that story. Listening to someone who’s had or is considering having an abortion share their hopes and fears goes a long way in shifting perspective. But perhaps more importantly, it goes a long way in helping you separate your own personal feelings from your ability to simply be present for someone else in a time of need.”

And she goes on to describe the many practical ways clergy–and other people of faith–can show compassion for women in need of reproductive healthcare, from public advocacy and preaching to simply being present, supporting and listening to women, one to one. Read the full article at Rewire.

Follow Rev. James on Twitter @PurposefullyLJ.