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J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 21, 2022
Supporters of legal abortion project a message on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington as pro-life advocates attend the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 20, 2022, inside the shrine's Upper Church. (CNS photo/Ashley Wilson, courtesy Catholics for Choice)

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, while 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 advocacy group, projected their messaging on to the basilica’s bell tower. “Pro-Choice Catholics You Are Not Alone,” read one message. “1 in 4 Abortion Patients is Catholic,” read another.

Catholics for Choice’s messaging was certainly arresting. Sacrilege often is.

Catholics for Choice’s messaging was certainly arresting. Sacrilege often is.

It is appalling to see an organization that claims to be Catholic project pro-abortion messaging onto a structure that celebrates the conception of the Mother of God. What am I supposed to take from this? That St. Anne should have been given the choice to abort Mary?

No doubt, most Catholics who see this will be offended, whatever their stance on abortion. Imagine something as innocuous as Coke or Pepsi projecting advertising on the shrine. It would be offensive. This is far worse.

Even if we do not consider the sacrilege, this prank is childish and rude. Imagine going to the movies only to discover someone projecting messages on the lead character’s forehead. Or imagine someone projecting “Trump 2024” on the garage of the Democrat next door.

It undercuts 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 while I am a Christian, I never want to be associated with the Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful actions against the L.G.B.T. community. Not all Christians are like that.

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

And I know that not all Catholics who are pro-choice are willing to commit sacrilege to get their message across. But what happened last night isn’t helping. The stunt gives a terrible image of pro-choice Catholics. On their website, Catholics for Choice claims to “honor what is best in the Catholic tradition.” Well, this isn’t it. If we are all Catholics, whatever 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 we must maintain in one another.

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

Tension in the abortion debate is always high but particularly so now as the Supreme Court weighs a case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. It varies depending on how the question is asked, but for the most part, Americans are evenly split on the question of abortion.

Was offending Catholics across the nation the point, a demonstration to please their choir 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 evolving. Life begins at conception, a sacred moment when a unique set of DNA unites to create a new human being. Leaders of the church have proclaimed this position for years but have nevertheless failed to convince the many Catholics who support abortion rights.

We need to enter into more productive conversations with one another. That begins, I believe, with a self-examination of our own opinions and biases. We can invite God into that. We must recognize the dignity of the other person that disagrees with us. God can help with that, too. We need to be silent and listen to the other person’s point of view.

I am not naïve. I realize that, in all likelihood, Americans will never fully agree on abortion. This issue will continue to be a scourge on our nation for years to come. But how we disagree matters. We can partake in infantile shenanigans like projecting pro-choice messages on church buildings. Or we can choose to enter into dialogue with each other and at least try to chart a path forward together.

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

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

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