Roman Catholic bishops throughout the United States are planning a massive postcard campaign days after the inauguration as part of an attempt to block the Freedom of Choice Act, known as FOCA, a reproductive health initiative supported by President-elect Barack Obama. But one Minnesota priest is breaking ranks with the national campaign, raising the ire of local and national pro-life Catholics, including some who are calling for his excommunication from the church.
“Our nation and new president will be challenged by ongoing wars, an economy in severe recession, ballooning deficits, high unemployment and an environment and health care system in crisis,” wrote the Rev. Michael Tegeder of St. Edward’s Church in Bloomington. “Yet at this very moment the Catholic bishops have declared that they have this more pressing need.”
That need is to organize a postcard campaign targeting legislators and Obama over abortion legislation.
FOCA will stir a heated debate in upcoming months. Obama pledged to sign it if Congress passes it. “The first thing I’d do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing that I’d do,” he told Planned Parenthood supporters at a campaign event in 2007.
FOCA would essentially codify the reproductive rights that were interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
The bill reads:
“A government may not deny or interfere with a woman’s right to choose to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability, or to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.”
Tegeder penned his opinion in a letter to the Star Tribune, targeting the bishops’ intent to pressure Obama on FOCA. Tegeder said that among the many problems with the postcard campaign, the bishops are attacking Obama instead of finding common ground.
“We can do many positive things. Indeed, Obama has stated that he wants to reduce the number of abortions. We should work with him on doing this,” Tegeder wrote. “During this season of goodwill, let us offer our new president some and hold back on the confrontation. And to the bishops: Your Graces, remember grace.”
Tegeder’s words directly confront his boss, the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, John Neinstedt.
“When I signed up 35 years ago to be a priest, little did I realize that postcards would be an essential tool of ministry in the Catholic Church,” said Tegeder. He pointed to Neinstedt and his postcard campaigns pushing a Republican-led same-sex marriage ban several years ago.
“To someone who did not see this as necessary, it seemed a waste of time and money. It also generated some unnecessary ill will,” wrote Tegeder.
Neinstedt recently weighed in on the FOCA debate and seems to be enthusiastically in support of stopping the legislation. “In effect, FOCA would certainly be a boon to the abortion industry with the government forced to condone and promote such procedures,” Neinstedt wrote on the Archdiocese Web site. “It is hard to imagine a more radical piece of pro-abortion legislation.”
While the Archdiocese hasn’t publicly commented on Tegeder’s letter, members of the laity have. One Catholic blogger called for his excommunication.
Another is initiating a postcard campaign of her own, directed at Tegeder. “Reducing abortions is not an acceptable goal. Stopping abortion entirely is,” wrote a St. Paul Catholic blogger. “Education is a large part of the effort. Father [Tegeder] may need some help understanding this.”
Another Minnesota Catholic blog wrote that Tegeder “not only endangers his own immortal soul, but also those of his parishioners.”
Tegeder has been a controversial member of Minnesota’s Catholic hierarchy. He has supported moves toward inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, opposes the church ban on priests marrying, and once called Neinstedt “self-righteous” and “a bully.” The Minnesota Independent