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Bishop Challenges Governor Davis on Abortion

Oppose Abortion Or Stop Receiving Holy Communion, Bishop William Weigand Says

By Pamela Martineau, Jennifer Garza and Christina Jewett—Bee Staff

(The Sacramento Bee: January 23rd 2003)

Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand, leader of 500,000 Catholics in Northern California, called on Governor Gray Davis on Wednesday to renounce his support of abortion rights or stop taking Holy Communion.

Speaking at a morning Mass on the 30th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, Weigand told congregants at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament that Davis should refrain from taking communion while he continues to support abortion rights.

"As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone — politician or otherwise — who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk, and is not in good standing with the church," Weigand said. "Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart."

Receiving Holy Communion is one of the most sacred rites in the Catholic faith. Weigand said afterward that "in general, we do not refuse communion to anyone; we try to instruct people as to when it would not be appropriate."

Russ Lopez, a spokesman for Davis, said the bishop was "trying to make an example and that’s sad; but Governor Davis has said repeatedly that he is proud of the legislation he has signed giving women the right to choose. He will not back down."

Lopez criticized the bishop for "telling the faithful how to practice their faith."

Lopez said that Weigand’s comments could alienate members of the Catholic Church who support abortion rights. "There are a lot of Catholics who are pro-choice. Does the bishop want all Catholics to stop receiving Holy Communion?" asked Lopez. "Who’s going to be left in church?"

Weigand said Wednesday evening that he did not contact the Vatican before deciding to publicly chastise the governor. He acknowledged that he was motivated by Davis’ response to a challenge by a Sacramento parish priest before Christmas, and by a doctrine by Pope John Paul II criticizing politicians who say they are good Catholics but support abortion rights.

Weigand’s homily quoted from the papal doctrine released in advance of the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. "Those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life," he said.

The cathedral is a short walk from the Capitol, where abortion-right supporters held a daylong conference. At UC Davis, students rallied in support of abortion rights, while opponents shouted at them.

Demonstrators on both sides of the issue spoke of a new urgency to the debate, saying the election of George W. Bush to the presidency and a GOP majority in Congress could swing the pendulum toward judicial appointments and laws that restrict abortion. In Washington, thousands of anti-abortion activists marched to the steps of the Supreme Court, where they called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

At the morning Mass, Weigand praised Monsignor Edward Kavanagh, who last month told Davis’ staff that the governor was not welcome to deliver gifts to Saint Patrick’s Orphanage. (The children received their gifts from Davis at the Capitol.) Kavanagh asked Davis to renounce his abortion-rights views before visiting.

The governor’s response to Kavanagh was blunt: "I’m unapologetically pro-choice and I’m not changing my position."

Weigand said Wednesday evening that the confrontation forced him to confront Davis.

"Ever since the little incident last month, people have been asking questions. They asked, "how can a Catholic be in good standing and still hold that point of view? I’m saying you can’t be a Catholic in good standing and hold that point of view. The governor’s position is very public and contrary. ... You can’t have it both ways."

In a press release Wednesday marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Davis administration claimed credit for California being "the most pro-choice state in America."

It cited laws Davis signed that require HMOs to cover Food and Drug Administration-approved methods of contraception, and that crack down on those who threaten the safety of pro-choice clinics. He signed legislation last year that ensures women will continue to have the right to an abortion, regardless of whether the U.S. Supreme Court continues to uphold Roe v. Wade.

The governor attended a Planned Parenthood event Wednesday in Los Angeles, issuing a proclamation acknowledging Roe v. Wade. "During my entire career in public service, I’ve supported a woman’s reproductive freedom. When it comes to a woman’s right to choose, as long as I’m governor, California will not concede one inch."

The governor is an active Catholic. He and his wife, Sharon, attend Mass in Southern California. The Davises, who were married originally in a civil ceremony presided over by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird, were married again in the late 1990s in the Catholic Church for their 15th wedding anniversary. The ceremony recognized the marriage in the church’s eyes and allowed Davis to resume taking communion.

"He goes to church and he says his prayers and that’s good," said Weigand. "But he’s been aggressive on this issue, even boastful. I’m just trying to clarify that he is not in line with the Catholic Church on an issue that the Pope has said is the most important issue of our day."

The Bee’s Pamela Martineau can be reached at (916) 321-1074 or

Priests for Life
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Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 •