Bishop asks Holy Cross not to rent space to teen pregnancy alliance

WORCESTER, Mass. (CNS) -- Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester has asked Jesuit Father Michael C. McFarland, president of the College of the Holy Cross, to revoke the college's agreement to rent space on campus for an Oct. 24 conference sponsored by the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.

The bishop in an Oct. 10 statement said that the conference "involves workshops presented by members of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. Both organizations promote positions on artificial contraception and abortion that are contrary to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church."

Father McFarland said in a statement also released Oct. 10 that Holy Cross "has determined it will honor its contractual obligations." He said the college "regrets any confusion that in renting space, the college is supporting the mission of individuals or organizations participating in the conference."

He said Holy Cross has no affiliation with the alliance, the college is not taking part in the conference and "no Holy Cross administrators, faculty members or students are involved in developing conference content."

Bishop McManus said that as bishop of Worcester, it is his "pastoral and canonical responsibility to determine what institutions can properly call themselves 'Catholic.'"

"This is a duty that I do not take lightly," he continued, "since to be a Catholic institution means that such an institution conducts its mission and ministry in accord with Catholic Church teaching, especially in cases of faith and morals."

The bishop said he has received numerous complaints from people "who are shocked and outraged that a Catholic institution like Holy Cross would have anything to do with such groups."

He said they appealed to him to ask Father McFarland to revoke the rental agreements. "I have done so," the bishop said.

Father McFarland said that the college "in no way supports or endorses Planned Parenthood, NARAL or other organizations that engage in or promote practices contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

"Holy Cross fully affirms and promotes Catholic teaching on abortion and the sanctity of all human life," he said, and it "respects and appreciates" Bishop McManus' duty "to uphold the teachings of the church."

Bishop McManus said the church teaching on respect for life "at all stages of its development is manifestly clear. Life is a fundamental good that must be protected and respected from the moment of fertilization to natural death."

"This teaching is so basic and important that it provides the foundation upon which much of the church's moral and social doctrine rests. It is beyond modification and compromise," he said.

Bishop McManus said that both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice "are notorious for their policies and practices that directly reject the church's teaching on artificial contraception and abortion."

He said Holy Cross "should recognize that any association with these groups can create a situation of offering scandal understood in its proper theological sense, i.e., an attitude or behavior which leads others to do evil."

He said confusion flowing "from the perception" the college administration "supports positions contrary to the moral teachings of the church must be avoided."

"To deny Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice a forum in which to present their morally unacceptable positions is not an infringement of the exercise of academic freedom but a defensible attempt to make unambiguously clear the Catholic identity and mission of the college of the Holy Cross," Bishop McManus said.

He said it was his "fervent wish" the college administration would "unequivocally disassociate itself from the upcoming coming conference" so that it can "continue to be recognized as a Catholic institution committed to promoting the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church."

Father McFarland said the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy is an organization "of nearly 50 schools, social service agencies and health care organizations dedicated to the promotion of services for pregnant and parenting teens through policy analysis, education research and advocacy."

He said the college entered into a contractual arrangement with the alliance a year ago "on good faith that a variety of perspectives would be presented at its conference."

"Despite the recent objections by many to the presence of Planned Parenthood and other organizations, as well as the withdrawal of at least one Catholic organization from this meeting, after careful and judicious deliberation, Holy Cross has determined it will honor its contractual obligation to the alliance," the priest said.

He said the college also believes that the meeting will be "a beneficial way of grappling with pressing issues related to the health and well-being of Massachusetts teenagers and children."

"As an institution of higher learning, we are dedicated to the open exchange of ideas," Father McFarland said. "As a Jesuit college, Holy Cross is committed to its mission of engaging with the larger culture on even the most problematic and divisive of moral and spiritual issues."