Archdiocese: Pro-choice speaker can’t talk about torture at Minneapolis church


by Paul Schmelzer, 5/3/08 • Dr. Steven Miles, an internationally known expert on medical complicity in torture at places like Abu Ghraib (and professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics), was scheduled to speak at St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis before tomorrow’s mass. But when the anti-choice lobbying group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life got wind of it, they called on the Catholic archdiocese to shut it down. They did — on grounds that, while Miles’ work on torture is exemplary, he doesn’t toe the church’s pro-life line. St. Joan’s, a church I attend, welcomes everyone “wherever you are on your journey.” I take that to mean, saint and sinner, pro-choice, pro-life, somewhere — like many of us — in between. And that motto has applied to speakers as well: The church has welcomed a range of controversial figures from, famously, Gloria Steinem, to Creation Spirituality theologian (and former Catholic priest who was kicked out of the Dominican order) Matthew Fox, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and peace activist Cindy Sheehan.

Miles told me, “The position the MCCL is taking is that no voice can address any subject within the church unless that voice is anti-abortion, which would seem to cut the church off from a fair amount of social dialogue.” In fact, that’s the church’s stated policy too: 100% conformity. The bishops’ statement on such issues bars speakers who “act in defiance of our basic moral principles.” (Talking to Miles, it sounds like the archdiocese or MCCL dug up something he either wrote or said many years ago; is that an “action”?)

There’s a happy, if ironic, ending: St. Joan’s excellent social justice coordinator Julie Madden got on the phone and arranged a new place for the talk: It’ll be held this Tuesday night at the Carondelet Center in St. Paul, owned and operated by another Catholic institution, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Read my piece at Minnesota Monitor, and Nick Coleman’s followup at the Strib, in which he describes what happened as: Miles got Tutu’d.