(Editor's Note: Includes attribution for various quotes and passages to The Illinois Leader)
(CNSNews.com) - Rev. Al Sharpton's speech at St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago on Sunday, Feb. 9, attracted a standing-room-only crowd of 1,200 people, as well as sharp condemnation and protests from pro-life and Catholic leaders and groups because of Sharpton's pro-abortion views.
Sharpton was invited to speak by Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of the predominantly African-American congregation, as part of its Black History Month Celebration.
During the week before Sharpton's appearance, area Catholics flooded Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Chicago, with angry calls and e-mails demanding that he cancel the invitation.
Late Friday afternoon, the cardinal issued a press release indicating his support for the celebration of Black History Month but stating that he did "not approve of the invitation because of the Rev. Sharpton's present political candidacy and his pro-abortion stance."
However, Cardinal George's statement concluded by saying that "making a case of this invitation at this time would be a futile gesture and a waste of effort."
Catholic and pro-life leaders expressed shock and outrage over the cardinal's refusal to cancel Sharpton's appearance.
Among those was Karl Maurer, vice president and treasurer of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, who claimed the Sharpton visit was "in violation of canon law, IRS regulations, and [the cardinal's] own diocesan policy on pro-abortion speakers."
Chicago parishioner Tina Mahar left several messages with the archdiocese and received no response. "This is a clear violation of canon law," noted Mahar. "Al Sharpton should not be speaking at any time in any Catholic Church!"
Mary Anne Hackett, president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, was also disappointed. "We want this pro-abortion preaching in our Catholic churches to stop. It is already 30 years late."
Also disturbed by the cardinal's lack of action was Judie Brown, president of the pro-life American Life League (ALL).
"This man - Rev. Sharpton - is one of the strongest advocates for abortion in the entire country," Brown said, "and Cardinal George is supposed to be one of the strongest proponents for respect for human life from conception in the country. And one man exercised gall, in my opinion, to even show up at a Catholic Church, while the cardinal should have acted immediately to say: 'No, that man will not be in that church.'"
Chicago-based Friends of the Unborn (FOTU) issued a press release critical of Sharpton's abortion record. "He was honored by NARAL Pro-Choice America at their Washington, D.C., 'celebration' of the Roe vs. Wade (anniversary) in January." The release also noted that Sharpton responded to pro-life protesters at that event by saying that he normally did not cross picket lines but was happy to cross the pro-lifers' line.
The FOTU release went on to list some statistics on abortions. "Black Americans make up 13 percent of the population, yet 33 percent of abortions are performed on black women. These numbers are tantamount to genocide, and the leaders in the black community should be up in arms."
'Love Me 'Til I Die'
On Sunday morning, the event drew approximately 20 protestors. As originally reported by the Illinois Leader, church ushers initially told the demonstrators to leave, but the protesters reminded them they were on public property and had a First Amendment right to free speech.
The police were then called, but the officers concurred that the protestors had a right to picket Sharpton's visit. Ushers remained outside, as did the police, while the demonstrators handed out hundreds of pro-life handbills to parishioners arriving for the morning service, according to the Leader.
Initially, Pfleger's introduction of Sharpton centered on the protestors outside.
The church pastor was quoted by the Leader as saying to the protestors "Welcome. I'd love to have them come in and hear Rev. Sharpton." As parishioners applauded, Pfleger asked ushers to go outside and invite the protestors in. None accepted the invitation, according to the Leader.
Pfleger also referred to "hundreds" of e-mails and calls he received "of hate and threats" but said he loved those people anyway, adding that those who sent the messages "are going to have to answer for that some day, the Leader reported.
"I also know that if Martin Luther King was alive today and going to speak," said Pfleger, "they would oppose him, too."
Pfleger said he was pro-life but was quoted by the Leader as saying his concern was not just for unborn children "in the womb, it's in the classroom and the boardroom. You gotta take care of them after they come into the world, 'til they leave the world."
Sharpton began his remarks by acknowledging the pro-life protest as well, and was quoted by the Leader as saying "We may be on different sides of the pro-life/pro-choice question, but one thing we can agree on is that it is a sin not to love me after I'm here and not to love me 'til I die."
Sharpton was critical of George W. Bush's foreign and domestic policies, and he even accused Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, of ignoring domestic problems and waging a war with Iraq that few in America wanted.
He also accused the current president of taking advantage of "preferences" to get into college, due to his influential family, yet attempting to deny blacks the same advantage. President Bush recently spoke out against the University of Michigan for using racial quotas to determine the composition of its student population.
Sharpton also used the opportunity criticize efforts to determine the whereabouts and fate of Osama bin Laden, and was quoted by the Leader as saying, "Explain to me why the CIA with all the pictures they take can't find one criminal in Baghdad."
See Earlier Story
E-mail a news tip to Randy Hall.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.