Catholic Raps Vatican on Abortion : Planned Parenthood Hears 'Too-Hot-to-Handle' Ex-Priest

Times Staff Writer

Daniel C. Maguire, former priest, looked out over his audience, smiled and said what a pleasure it was to be addressing this group--after all, Maguire reasoned, most Planned Parenthood chapters planning annual luncheons don't ask themselves, "What Roman Catholic theologian should we get this year?"

But Maguire, who is both a pro-choice advocate and an outspoken critic of his church's anti-abortion dictate and a professor of theology at Milwaukee's Marquette University, a Catholic school, is himself something of a paradox.

A 'Male Hero' of Ms.

A Milwaukee magazine once named him one of the most interesting people in Milwaukee, which is perhaps a bit of understatement; Ms. magazine named him one of the "40 male heroes of the past decade." Some within his church, he acknowledged, have decided he is simply "too hot to handle."

The annual public issues luncheon of Planned Parenthood-Los Angeles was, in fact, one of the summer speaking engagements still remaining on Maguire's schedule after what he termed a series of "dis-invitations" from Catholic schools that had scheduled him during June and July.

He has been canceled, Maguire said, at Boston College, Villanova University (where, he observed, "they're better at basketball than academic freedom"), St. Scholastica College (Duluth, Minn.) and St. Martin's College (Lacey, Wash.). "In every instance," he said, "it was clearly abortion." He added, "Three of them paid me to stay away."

One institution cited adverse publicity, while another, he said, informed him that the part of the program on which he was to have appeared had been canceled. Interesting, noted Maguire--"that part of the program was the keynote (address)."

For the immediate future, Maguire said, "I expect it to be a lean market for me." He termed it "shunning, Catholic style--'you've sinned on the issue we take seriously.' "

To Maguire, it is censorship reminiscent of "the McCarthyist period" and, he said, he has asked the American Assn. of University Professors to investigate what he perceives as an assault on academic freedom that is "academically damaging" to him.

Meanwhile, at his own school, Marquette, "They are defending my academic freedom," Maguire said, adding that "they've winced a lot. . . .

"They're not saying, 'Good old Dan.' You can be sure they're not cheering. They're saying you've got to put up with this stuff" if academic freedom is to be championed.

Outside the Times Mirror Building where the meeting was held, at 1st and Spring streets, a small band of pickets held up signs protesting both abortion and Maguire's appearance. "Priest of Death," read one. Maguire did not see the pickets, but when told of the placard he said, "Maybe I can get it for my den."

Inside, Maguire had his audience riveted with his commentary on the links between racism, sexism, "rapism" and abortion.

A Sexist Expression

The question that must be asked, he said, is what brings a woman to an abortion clinic. And the answer, he said, is all of the above. Just the term "abortion on demand" is "a sexist expression," Maguire said. "It doesn't say why she can't choose it, why she must demand it."

He told the meeting that Planned Parenthood is "the organization that every year prevents more abortions than all the so-called pro-life pickets and agitators in the United States." (The agency offers both contraceptive and pregnancy termination services.)

For the record, Maguire said, "I am pro-children, pro-family, pro-life and pro-choice."

In American society, Maguire said, the vast majority of all the top ($35,000-a-year and up) jobs "belong to people who look like me." With a little smile, he added, "Not as good looking, perhaps," but white males.

He suggested that one result of this monopoly is sexual relationships based on power vs. powerlessness: "How do you feel about making love to someone inferior?" Maguire's term for it is "the hostile inseminator syndrome."

Maguire views abortion as "a complicated issue," with economic degradation resulting from racism as a major contributing factor.

Another factor, Maguire said, is a military budget that is siphoning money from social programs, a budget that he termed "the greatest abortive agent in the country."

In short, he said, "You have to do more than throw condoms at poverty." He asked, "Stop beating up on the women. . . . Listen to the women. Go after the multiple causes that produce unwanted pregnancies."

To those who would legislate against abortion--legalized within wide limits by a 1973 Supreme Court ruling--Maguire suggested, "You cannot outlaw everything you think is wrong." He noted that both St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, "pretty good Catholics," advocated legalization of prostitution--not because they thought it was right, but because they felt the alternative was far worse.

"As a social policy," Maguire said, outlawing abortion "will lead to greater evils. The abortions won't stop. They'll go underground."

'A Certain Terror'

There are those within the Roman Catholic hierarchy who recognize the complexity of the abortion issue, he added, a fact that has created "a certain terror" in some Catholic circles.

(Maguire exacerbated his persona non grata status with this group as a signator to a full-page ad that appeared late last year in the New York Times, paid for by Catholics for a Free Choice, stating that "a large number of Catholic theologians hold that even direct abortion, though tragic, can sometimes be a moral choice" and deploring penalization of Catholics, lay and clergy, who publicly dissent from the official church position.

(Of that controversy-inciting ad, Maguire said, "We got our money's worth.")

As Maguire was speaking, a woman, who later identified herself as Margaret Levinson, 28, of Hollywood, came forward, quoting in loud voice from the book of Genesis: "And God . . . said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply. . . ."

At the podium, Maguire paused and quietly told the heckler, "I've never interrupted any of your meetings." (A Planned Parenthood member said later this was the first interruption of a public meeting in its 20 years here.)

Exit on 'a Nice Thought'

Before Levinson was escorted out of the auditorium, she took a parting shot at the assemblage: "Snotty liberals. . . ."

"That's a nice thought, too," Maguire responded.

(Contacted later by telephone, Levinson said she is Jewish and was there as a member of the Club of Life, which she described as an international organization "dedicated to the idea that human life is sacred." She is opposed to abortion under any circumstance, she said, but "that's not the issue. We are opposing the economic policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank" because, in club members' view, their policies prevent technological progress in Third World countries and result in mass starvation and epidemic disease. "The issue is not overpopulation," Levinson said. "That's a fraud.")

Maguire, meanwhile, assailed what he termed the right wing's "belated discovery of the value of embryonic life" and suggested that it was instead "a shield covering something up," that something being "a South Africanization" of America.

A society in which "some are polysaturated and others are starving" is, Maguire said, completely counter to the biblical concept of justice, which was absolute elimination of poverty: "The biblical folk would laugh at our notion of justice. . . . They'd say, 'Sister, get the blindfold off and see who's fussing with the scales.' "

Finally, Maguire said, "What you need and what I need and the lady recently exited needs" is "imagination, appropriate anger, courage and mirth. . . . God, do we need a sense of humor."

Daniel C. Maguire became more widely known during the 1984 campaign when he was quoted by Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who went on record as personally opposed to abortion but in support of freedom of choice. He is a self-described "critical loyalist" in his relationship to his church.

Maguire was a diocesan priest in Philadelphia in 1971 when, after 15 years, he left the priesthood "to perpetrate matrimony." But as far back as 1962, he said, in counseling young Catholic couples against birth control, "All of a sudden it hit me that we were wrong. It was just a stunning moment."

But it was after Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical reaffirming the church's opposition to artificial birth control, Maguire said, that he became "embarrassed to be seen in a collar, to think anyone could identify me with any such ideas."

Maguire and his wife, Marjorie Reiley Maguire, also a theologian, are authors of a guide to making ethical choices on abortion for Catholics that is widely used by pro-choice advocates. In it they argue that even if the fetus is considered a "person," abortion can be justified if the woman's life or values "are seriously threatened by continuing the pregnancy."

Maguire expressed concern that the Vatican, which recently condemned birth control in Third World countries, has become preoccupied with rejecting reproductive freedom while the majority of Catholics simply do not accept that rigid "pelvic orthodoxy." One result, he said, is an "Italianization of American Catholicism. The Italians always took it with a grain of salt--'Catholico' but not 'Fanatico.' "

The apathy and hostility displayed by Catholics during Pope John Paul II's recent visit to The Netherlands "meant something," suggested Maguire, who saw the visit as "a missed chance to address the issues of war and peace and social justice. The credibility of the Papacy has been squandered."

'The Real Issues'

But even if the Pope were to reverse his position, Maguire said, "it wouldn't make too much difference" in Roman Catholic Third World countries in Latin America and in the Philippines, where the real issues are poverty, lack of medical care and illiteracy, all of which merge to create "an atmosphere of having to hedge your bets with multiple kids." In Africa, he said, the more important question is loss of productive land.

Maguire is outspokenly critical of the lack of ecumenical support from Protestant moderates in the Catholic moderates' fight for changes. While these Protestants say nothing, he said, "The right-wing Protestant groups are chiming in and saying, 'Yeah, Catholics.' And tough criticism does not come from the liberal Catholic press.

"Religion is being used in this country to dignify right-wing mean-spiritedness" directed toward minorities and women.

It is time, he said, for people of religion to put aside their differences and get on with the task at hand, which is to raise the public conscience to the plight of the have-nots.

Meanwhile, Maguire the dissident said, his church is "still giving red hats to people and making princes in the 20th Century"--which, he suggested, does not "represent its genius."

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