Church-goers who attended Mass at Baltimore's St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church over the weekend found themselves in the midst of an anti-abortion demonstration.
As parishioners entered the York Road church, activists who oppose abortion stood outside the building, picketing one of the candidates in the parish council election.
The candidate, Susan Hughes Gray, 38, supports abortion rights and last year campaigned for Question 6, a statewide referendum that held abortion legal.
However, as they were handed neon-yellow fliers with the headline "St. Pius X Parish in Crisis," many church members said that they were unaware of any controversy over Ms. Gray's candidacy or views on abortion. And one or two shouted at the demonstrators, "You're not members of this parish," or "You don't belong here."
The five protesters, members of Defend Life, a Baltimore-based, ecumenical organization, picketed St. Pius X Church during the Saturday evening's Mass and before each of the four Sunday morning Masses.
"We are here because the Catholic Church has always condemned abortion," said Eileen Bolgiano, a Defend Life member who is Catholic but is not a member of St. Pius X. "We feel that someone who believes in abortion has no right to represent [Catholics]."
Although none of the five demonstrators questioned yesterday was a member of St. Pius X, one said that they had been contacted by concerned parishioners but would not identify them because they weren't present.
Ms. Gray, who converted from the Episcopalian church to Catholicism five years ago because her husband is Catholic, said the debate surprised her.
"Being pro-choice is not my main focus. I am pro-choice but to call me pro-abortion is slanderous because I don't know anyone who is pro-abortion," said Ms. Gray, who has two children.
The Rev. Thomas Golueke, pastor of St. Pius X, said the issue of Ms. Gray's candidacy for the council was discussed among members of the parish's "Respect for Life Committee," but the decision to allow her to run was left to him.
"This is an in-house situation. This is not a pro-abortion issue. This is an issue of whether or not to elect Sue to the council," he said.
Several parishioners, some of whom said they did not agree with Ms. Gray's views, expressed anger that nonparishioners were picketing their church services.
"Who are they to come here casting stones and hollering at our priest?" asked one man who declined to give his name.
Dr. Elias Gouel, who is running against
Ms. Gray for a council position, said that voting must remain a personal decision for each church member.
"I would not vote for [Ms. Gray] because I don't believe in abortion, but I don't agree with the picketers either," he said.
But one woman said that although she was unaware of the debate until she received a flier, she didn't know how a Catholic "could be pro-choice and still be Catholic."
Still another parishioner, who came to Mass with his teen-age son, said that the protest had "highlighted who is pro-choice, and I'm going to vote for her immediately."
The council election, which was to end today, was extended for seven days because of a misprint on the ballots.