An Abomination and A Desecration
Yesterday was the 48th anniversary of Roe v Wade. The Central Ohio community commemorated it in much the same way that we always have. Last Sunday, many churches that we partner with observed Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Monday through Friday, some of our volunteers went to pray and sidewalk counsel at a local abortion clinic. Yesterday, we participated in the annual Respect Life Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Brennan and concelebrated by Bishop Edward C. Malesic and several priests. Following the Mass, those in attendance processed over to the West Lawn of the Statehouse where they were joined by others for our event, the Roe Remembrance.
We typically hold the Roe event inside the Atrium. Because of restrictions due to the coronavirus, we held the event outside this year. We applied for and were granted a permit for the West Lawn of the Statehouse. In observance of Statehouse rules, we also applied for and paid for the availability of two Ohio State Highway Patrol officers to provide security. Finally, we arranged for use of Statehouse audio equipment, chairs, etc., knowing that if the day were deemed too cold we would not be able to use that equipment. On Thursday, we were notified that it was going to be too cold, and so we brought the small sound system that GCRTL owns. It is typically able to project to a crowd of 200-300 without difficulty.
As many of you have now heard, a small group of disruptive, hateful, and obscene abortion advocates stormed past the special duty police officer providing security and into the Cathedral during the last part of Bishop Brennan’s homily (a homily is the sermon that follows the reading of the Gospel). They rushed to the front of the Church, shouting explicit and hateful things, frightening families and children, and attempting to reach the altar. As Bishop Brennan noted in his statement, participants in the Mass responded with some seeking to protect the priests and the altar and others kneeling in prayer. The Columbus police responded immediately, and the group was taken outside. Allegedly each had “forgotten” their identification and they were released by the police. Identification will not be difficult, however, as we and our events are frequently the objects of their vulgar, disruptive, violent, and threatening behavior. Please do not think that this is outlier behavior. It is not only tolerated but encouraged by the local abortion industry. One of the group leaders is employed by WHO, a local organization that raises money to pay for abortion; it is reasonable to believe that yesterday’s behavior was used to excite their volunteer and donor base. That same person has been a guest on NARAL Ohio’s podcast and been highlighted by local media for her social justice advocacy work. I hope, but am not confident, that these organizations and the media will immediately repudiate and disentangle themselves from people who would knowingly and intentionally violate the sacred space of a Church during worship.
I left the Mass just after the start of the homily, exiting at the side and (probably) not seeing the group, to set up the Roe Remembrance. From a block away, I saw the numerous squad cars at the Cathedral and communicated with someone inside who called me to let me know what happened. I immediately notified our Ohio State Highway Patrol team of what had happened at the Cathedral and that because the group was not arrested they would likely proceed to the Statehouse to continue their disruption. Because we at GCRTL are very familiar with their behavior, I let the officer know that as I understood it, our permit granted us exclusive use of the grounds, that if protestors want to stand in the background and hold signs, we should let them, but if they became disruptive, I would like them to be removed from the permitted area of the Statehouse grounds and removed to the public sidewalks. There was no dissent to that plan voiced, and I went back to preparations.
Right before the program began, the group attempted to block the access to the West Lawn by blocking the path. I notified the OSHP officer, who dispersed them. Then they began running through our event with voice amplifications and loud noisemakers (sirens, etc.). I asked the OSHP that they be removed, and was told that wouldn’t be possible but that they would be gathered in a grassy area and kept quiet. We began the program a little late, and they used the loud sirens and voice amplification to shout obscene, vulgar, and demeaning things. At one point, they laughed that their sound system was louder than ours. I approached a OSHP officer and noted that Columbus City ordinances prohibit the use of voice amplification that can be heard more than 50 feet and that they should be removed from the grounds we had been granted a permit for. The patrolman indicated that they had not been enforcing the noise ordinance since the summer protests, that they could not remove the group, and that his supervisor was now on scene and talking to them. I was very disappointed in this determination, as I do not think it accurately reflects the terms of the permit we were granted and instead was more applicable to spontaneous or planned, but not permitted, protests. We paid no small amount to host the event at the Statehouse going through the proper channels. I will, however, address that situation separately with the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board. Our streaming team notified me that because of our microphone system feeding directly to video, those watching via the stream could hear our speakers clearly. Our in-person participants had to listen extra carefully and perhaps did not catch every word, but we were able to go forward, ignoring the chaos and hate and violence of the world.
I was disappointed that we were not able to have them removed from an event, an event which is not a rally and not a protest but a somber memorial of the unborn who have died. This was, in essence, a eulogy that was interrupted for over and hour by loud and vulgar protestors. I do want to commend the officers, who took a great deal of abusive and belittling behavior from the protestors calmly and without malice. You may have noticed that their shouts and signs were equally against pro-life activities, faith, and the police. This has also been a consistent theme of their group and organization.
I took some time last night to rest, to pray, to reflect, and to respond to the many people who reached out, either to express shock and outrage, to see if we are ok, to volunteer, and even to donate.
Now, I want to share a few things for those whose hearts are troubled today.
First: Watch our stream of the event. You can see and hear some of the disruptions happening. You should see what it is that they most desperately wanted to drown out and disrupt. If you have original footage or photographs that you are willing to let GCRTL use to document what happened at the Cathedral or the Statehouse, you can email them to us.
Second: I think it is very tempting for many of us to go down the “rabbit hole” to find these people, consume their content on social media, and even share the despicable nature of what they do. There is plenty of it; they are proud of what they do. My recommendation is that you do not do so. The practical reason is that they enjoy and thrive on the attention that their behavior gets. They also profit from it as your searching them out and sharing them gives them more social media visibility and reach. On a more spiritual level, I have long told my volunteers not to be tempted to consume their evil content for the peace of their own souls. They openly profess witchcraft and the occult, and their content is not only shaped by it, but they casually drop references subtle and explicit. Don’t be tempted to open yourself up to that by the desire for more knowledge or seeking to consume the drama. At one point in my speech, they were screaming “Elizabeth, Betty, Beth” hoping that hearing my name would distract me. Don’t let evil distract you.
Third: Don’t back down. They have two goals. The first is to gain infamy and the second is to scare the faithful pro-life into backing down. This was not a protest designed to rally the pro-choice community, it was not geared at passing legislation or promoting public policy, it was not an invitation to the undecided to join them, and it wasn’t a response to an incident. It was intended to terrorize people into staying away from pro-life activities. Unfortunately, it has been somewhat effective. There are a great number of people who have stopped coming to pray and counsel because this is what they face, not only at pro-life events, but in any public setting. For example, another pro-life leader was with his children at a local park and one of these people harassed and filmed him and his children. The good news is that the more people who are prayerfully and peacefully praying, the less likely they are to act out in obscene and ridiculous ways. If you would like information on our sidewalk counseling program, you can sign up here. For our part, we are also not backing down. If anything, we are more confirmed in our efforts to continue with vigorous legal strategy and prayer.
Fourth: Hold those that violate our institutions and churches accountable and insist that the media hold anyone who violates and desecrates accountable. Christians are often quick to forgive this kind of behavior. In general, that is a good thing. We should pray for them and forgive them, irrespective of if they seek forgiveness and prayers. That, however, does not mitigate our responsibility to hold them accountable for willful, organized, and intentional actions that harm or terrorize. The group has publicly proclaimed that they will continue doing this type of thing because it worked. Greater Columbus Right to Life has continued to document interactions and we have made numerous police reports about unsafe, illegal, and inappropriate behavior by pro-abortion activists. We have also worked with legal counsel to respond to and defend our volunteers from harassment and unequal treatment. This can be an expensive and time-consuming prospect. If you have original footage or photographs that you are willing to let GCRTL use to document what happened at the Cathedral or the Statehouse, you can email them to us. If you experienced any physical contact from one of them, please also let us know.
Fifth: Pray. Fast.
On a personal note, over the past few hours, there have been several things that have come to mind. One that is sticking is the words of Jesus in Matthew 24. Usually, in times like these many of us hold fast to Jesus’ words that the world will hate us for the sake of God. Indeed, it is hard not to think of these words when a group storms the Cathedral screaming “I hate you.”
While we welcome any person to join us in pro-life work, I am deeply committed to my own Catholic faith, and a majority of our volunteers are Catholic. I’ve been trying to process my own thoughts and feelings on what happened yesterday, as a pro-life organization leader, as a Catholic person who loves her faith, and as a parishioner at the Cathedral. Some recent restrictions due to the virus and health notwithstanding, I attend Mass 6-7 days a week at the Cathedral. I thought it appropriate here to share them, but with a note that these are my views and sentiments. My initial response to those who are upset or shocked by what has happened is that they have, unfortunately, experienced a small sample of what we regularly experience. It is probably a testament to the way that Bishop Brennan has been outspoken on the need to defend the dignity of all life, including the unborn, that he and the Cathedral and the Respect Life Mass were targeted this year as well. I have great respect for Bishop Brennan, and I appreciate his professional and personal support and prayers. My second response was a frustration that for whatever reason, likely revised city policies on arrests, the perpetrators were not arrested and charged. They instead were released to come target our event, and they have publicly indicated they will continue to target Masses for protest.
Above all of this has been my horror at seeing the Cathedral, a sacred space, desecrated by such evil and hate. It is a small consolation that the perpetrators did so during the homily (sermon) and not the consecration. However, it is also my observation that the Bishop’s homily, while beautiful, went a little longer than normal, and I wonder if the disruption was plotted and intended to disturb the consecration and mercifully did not.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, verse 15, speak of the “abomination of desolation.” I have always understood that Jesus’ words were most likely referring to something known to his audience, words taken from the prophet Daniel to describe the Greek King Antioch’s replacing the Jewish twice daily temple sacrifices in Jerusalem with pagan sacrifice. Other traditions have different interpretations of that, and I will leave the theology debates here to the theologians and stick with my own understanding.
This obviously is the exact opposite of what happened at the Cathedral. The faithful were gathered for a Mass lovingly and faithfully concelebrated by two Bishops and several priests with a special pro-life intention. The Respect Life Mass is an opportunity for prayer that hard hearts are softened, a prayer for those who mourn from a past abortion, a prayer for those who have been lost to an abortion, and even a hopeful reminder that we can trust in God’s promises. What happened, however, was an abomination. It was a desecration. Today, many are angry and mourning not just the weight that we share in because of the legacy of Roe v Wade in our broken world, but because the space in which we profess our faith and profess our grief was desecrated by evil and destructive forces.
Our faith will see us through. My Church has long embraced that it, and we, will suffer in this world. It has also told us that our suffering is not without purpose or merit, and that we can lift up that suffering for the salvation of souls. If, like me, your hearts have broken seeing the vulgarity and violence and evil that carried out the attack on the Cathedral and the Roe Remembrance, please allow them also to be broken for the ultimate victims of that evil: our unborn brothers and sisters who, imago Dei, bear the image and likeness of God. Let our hearts break, too, for the fact that evil continues to carry out the carnage of abortion each day and that it is now the moral and policy position of the President of the United States who claims his Catholic faith as he justifies an expansion of abortion in the US and abroad. In our brokenness, let us then resolve, through prayer and fasting, to continue to work to end this great evil and to soften hearts hardened by hate and vitriol.
I have long championed that Columbus should hold a Eucharistic Procession for the end the evil of abortion. For those who may not be familiar with what this means, a very simplified explanation is that Catholics believe that Christ is truly present: body, blood, soul, and divinity, when bread and wine are consecrated during the Mass. We call this the Eucharist or Communion. A Eucharistic Procession, then, is a prayer and procession whereby we take Jesus, present in the form of the host, to another place. Usually it begins and ends at a church or chapel. Note: If you are interested in debating this topic or understanding it better, I would request that we defer those conversations to my free time our of respect for our pro-life mission.
In 2020, I shared this hope with Bishop Brennan. I made this request on the behalf of my Catholic volunteers and the community who are daily attacked by evil for our pro-life work in the way that was made visible to many of you this week. This is no small undertaking, and I trust the discernment of Bishop Brennan in his discernment of the appropriateness of this request. This is obviously something that would appeal more to those who are Catholic, both on our team and the greater Columbus community. I constantly look for ways to invite more faiths to be united in our effort to end abortion, and I am open to ideas from other faith backgrounds; if you have one, send it my way. Several years ago, we worked with the Jewish pro-life association who sent a leader to pray the Jewish prayer of the dead. It was powerful to all gathered.
It is not uncommon to re-consecrate a sacred space after it is attacked. I have already heard from some that they are urging the Bishop do so at the Cathedral. I do not know the guidelines for that to happen, but if it does, I would faithfully attend. I do know that come tomorrow I plan to be sitting in my normal pew at the Cathedral, seeking spiritual healing for the events of this past week, asking forgiveness for the things I have done and failed to do, asking for the strength and the wisdom and healing in the days to come, and worshipping an all-powerful, all-knowing, and always-present God. I hope that each of you are able to do the same in your own churches. Then, on Monday, I will get back to work to continue protecting the most vulnerable.
Photos from the Respect Life Mass or the Roe Remembrance, can be accessed here.
LOOKING FOR MORE INFO ON THE CATHEDRAL AND ROE ATTACKS?
GCRTL Statement (1/23/21)
Update with LTE and Statehouse Complaint (1/28/21)
Response to RCRC (1/29/21)