Following Pope John Paul II's recent visit to the United States, Vatican officials said they saw a new opportunity for the pontiff to exert a "moral authority" in the world.
I don't doubt it. And I think a swell place for the pontiff to start would be in Magnolia Springs, Ala.
There, the Rev. David Trosch, a Roman Catholic priest, is the pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
Not long ago, Father Trosch, 57, tried to place an ad in the Mobile Press Register that showed a man pointing a gun at the back of an abortion doctor. The ad contained two words: "Justifiable Homicide."
Father Trosch's parish is about 30 miles west of Pensacola, Fla., where Dr. David Gunn was shot to death on March 10 outside a clinic where he performed abortions. Abortion foe Michael Griffin has been charged with the murder.
The Press Register refused to run the ad, but it printed a news story about it and ran the ad as part of that.
Father Trosch then gave several interviews to local and national news media to explain his views.
"Michael Griffin used a method which is very unfortunate, to say the least," Father Trosch said, "but I can't go against him for doing it. If 100 doctors need to die to save over one million babies a year, I see it as a fair trade."
Father Trosch said people opposed to abortion were "fed up with getting no place" and this was the "very reason" there would be more violence against abortion doctors in the future.
"In a relatively short period of time," Father Trosch said, "there will be a sufficient number of people who will have picked up on what Michael Griffin has done and start a national -- perhaps international -- holocaust. Everything is in position for it to happen."
And, indeed, a few days after Father Trosch's comments made national news, an abortion doctor was shot and wounded in Wichita, Kan.
Father Trosch had "casually acknowledged" to one interviewer that his ad could have "incited people to kill."
"It doesn't bother me," he said.
Father Trosch also "wouldn't say with absolute certainty he'd never kill a doctor," the Press Register reported.
Ironically, Father Trosch's opinions were printed the same day -- Pope John Paul II was in Denver denouncing "urban violence" as a "failure to respect God's image and likeness in our neighbor, in every other human person without exception."
And after returning from Denver, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., denounced Father Trosch as being "in serious error as a teacher of Catholic moral theology."
"He does not speak for the church," Archbishop Lipscomb said and then called Father Trosch in for a meeting.
Father Trosch told the press that he'd show up for that meeting but wouldn't change his beliefs.
"I believe in authority," Father Trosch said. "Sometimes we're subjected to unjust authority, but we have to follow it."
He then said he "would not back down on his opinions."
So last Tuesday, Archbishop Lipscomb met with Father Trosch, and afterward the archbishop had this to say:
"While recognizing the great evil of abortion and the destruction of innocent human life as a result of it, the Catholic Church cannot espouse the teaching that abortionists are to be killed in defense of human life. I have given him [Father Trosch] the alternative of publicly abiding by my judgment . . . or relinquishing his public position in the church. He has indicated to me that he chooses the former and will so conduct himself publicly in the future."
Some thought that statement and its emphasis only on what Father Trosch could espouse "publicly" fell short of what was required.
George Gilmore, a theology professor at Mobile's Spring Hill College, said he was "surprised Lipscomb did not require Trosch to recant his statements."
And Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said Father Trosch "should be suspended and sent for mental health treatment."
Which seems like an awfully good idea to me.
And if Pope John Paul II personally got involved in the matter, it might have the potential not only of saving lives but also of sending a clear message.
The message that exerting "moral authority" begins at home.