The stunt at the Catholics for Choice Basilica was shocking. Sacrilege often is.

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Old pet peeve: When people confuse the Annunciation (when Christ was conceived) with the Immaculate Conception (when Mary was conceived).

New pet peeve: When people project pro-choice messages onto the walls of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Last night, as hundreds of pro-life Catholics gathered inside the shrine to pray for an end to abortion in the United States, Catholics for Choice, an abortion rights group, projected his message onto the bell tower of the basilica. “Pro-choice Catholics, you are not alone,” one message read. “1 in 4 abortion patients is Catholic,” reads another.

Catholics for Choice’s message was certainly compelling. Sacrilege often is.

Catholics for Choice’s message was certainly compelling. Sacrilege often is.

It is appalling to see an organization that claims to be Catholic project pro-abortion messages onto a structure that celebrates the conception of the Mother of God. What am I supposed to get out of this? That Saint Anne should have had the choice to abort Mary?

No doubt most Catholics who see this will be offended, regardless of their position on abortion. Imagine something as innocuous as Coke or Pepsi projecting advertising onto the shrine. It would be offensive. It’s much worse.

Even if one does not consider sacrilege, this farce is childish and crude. Imagine going to the cinema to find someone projecting messages onto the main character’s forehead. Or imagine someone projecting “Trump 2024” onto the Democrat’s garage next door.

It undermines their own cause by potentially alienating pro-choice Catholics who see this stunt for what it is. I imagine such Catholics would feel similar to my conservative family and friends who bemoan the prominence of the QAnon movement in the media. And although I am a Christian, I never want to be associated with the Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful actions against the LGBT community. Not all Christians are like that.

It is appalling to see an organization that claims to be Catholic project pro-abortion messages onto a structure that celebrates the conception of the Mother of God.

And I know that not all pro-choice Catholics are willing to commit sacrilege to get their message across. But what happened last night doesn’t help. The stunt paints a terrible picture of pro-choice Catholics. On their website, Catholics for Choice claims to “honor the best in the Catholic tradition”. Well, that’s not it. If we are all Catholics, regardless of our political leanings, can we at least agree that churches are sacred places? Using a church as a mere backdrop on which to project messages violates a fundamental trust that we must maintain in each other.

It’s no secret that many Catholics are pro-choice, with President Joe Biden being the most prominent among them. But those who gathered inside the basilica for the vigil, praying that our government would respect the sanctity of life, were certainly not likely to be convinced by the antics. Was Catholics for Choice trying to convince Catholic University of America students, who may have passed through on their way to their dorms? Or was it meant to offend Catholics across the country, a protest to please their choir of social media supporters?

Tension in the abortion debate is still high, but especially now that the Supreme Court is considering a case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. It varies depending on how the question is posed, but for the most part Americans are equally divided on the issue of abortion.

Was the purpose to offend Catholics across the country, a protest to please their chorus of supporters on social media?

Repeating church dogma is unlikely to get everyone on the same page. Despite what some may claim, the church’s position on abortion is not changing. Life begins at conception, a sacred moment when a unique set of DNA unites to create a new human being. Church leaders have proclaimed this position for years but have nevertheless failed to convince the many Catholics who support abortion rights.

We need to engage in more productive conversations with each other. It begins, I believe, with a self-examination of our own opinions and biases. We can invite God in there. We must recognize the dignity of the other person who disagrees with us. God can help with that too. We need to shut up and listen to each other’s point of view.

I am not naive. I realize that, in all likelihood, Americans will never fully agree on abortion. This problem will continue to plague our country for years to come. But how we disagree matters. We may participate in childish shenanigans like projecting pro-choice messages onto church buildings. Or we can choose to enter into dialogue with each other and at least try to chart a way forward together.

In the end, we may not agree on a common vision for the future, but just trying to communicate in a spirit of love and understanding will make both sides better Catholics. And it’s worth it.


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