Diocese Bars Area Right To Life Group From Churches

(NEWPORT, Ky.) -- A northern Kentucky Catholic diocese has barred an anti-abortion group from its churches and forbidden its priests from handing out the literature from the organization.

Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Ky., issued a note to priests last week saying priests should have "no involvement" with Northern Kentucky Right to Life and to remove all of the group's materials from diocese facilities and churches.

"There are many good people involved in NKRTL who are being misled," Foys wrote, without giving specifics. "We cannot give any semblance that the Diocese approves of the tactics of some of the leadership of NKRTL."

The move has angered and confused the leadership of Northern Kentucky Right to Life. Fred Summe, a Newport attorney who is the group's vice president, said Foys has not spoken to the group about what tactics the church finds objectionable nor about how he feels people are being misled.

"If we're doing something wrong, why doesn't he approach us," Summe said. "That's just Christian charity."

The unusual split among longtime associates in the Cincinnati suburbs comes just days after the diocese hosted its annual "Pro-Life Mass," which included representatives from Northern Kentucky Right to Life. Northern Kentucky Right to Life distributed its literature at the Cathedral Basilica of The Assumption and at a reception following the services, along with other anti-abortion groups.

Chester Gillis, chairman of the Department of Theology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who has studied the Catholic Church, said the Catholic Church wouldn't normally ban a group like Northern Kentucky Right to Life, mainly because they have the same goals. In the past, the church has stopped groups from meeting in its facilities or posting fliers on cars during Mass, Gillis said.

"Usually, with people with contrarian views, the church will bar them," Gillis said. "There must be something offensive about this group."

The diocese and the politically active anti-abortion group have had run-ins before. The group has been known for its harsh criticisms of candidates who do not meet the organization's standards in opposing abortion, stem-cell research and emergency contraception. Northern Kentucky Right to Life puts out annually a questionnaire to Kentucky candidates and makes endorsements partially based on the answers.

In 1990, then-Bishop William A. Hughes created the diocesan "Pro-Life Commission," which is still in existence, and issued a statement saying Northern Kentucky Right to Life isn't sponsored by the diocese and "...does not speak for the Catholic Church." Foys' note to the priests used similar language and noted "confusion" about the relationship between the two.

"His message was meant to clarify," said Tim Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the Diocese of Covington, which covers 14 counties and 89,000 people in northern Kentucky.

No one is saying exactly what caused the split. Fitzgerald declined to make Foys available for an interview. Fitzgerald said the note to priests was not meant to be public.

Fitzgerald said there were some concerns about Northern Kentucky Right to Life's "tactics" and methods, including "inaccuracies" in the groups' newsletters and talks with the group couldn't resolve the differences. When asked for specifics about the tactics or inaccurate statements, Fitzgerald declined comment.

"Northern Kentucky Right to Life has been more adamant, more reluctant to engage in dialogues," Fitzgerald said. "Northern Kentucky Right to Life has not taken advantage of this opportunity to collaborate."

Summe said the move -- just weeks before the Nov. 7 elections --  is hurting both the organization and the cause they both believe in.

"We're out doing what the Holy Father tells us to do, educate the public on the ultimate issue," Summe said. "You'd think the diocese would encourage us. They need to be specific in what they think we're doing wrong."

Gillis said it's likely the reason for the dispute will eventually be made public.

"You probably haven't heard the last of this," Gillis said.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)