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Abortion Protesters Disrupt Inaugural Church Ceremony

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight anti-abortion protesters were arrested Sunday morning after they disrupted an inaugural religious service, denouncing Gov.-elect Pete Wilson’s pro-choice stance as they were led out of the church by state police officers.

The standing-room-only congregation of 1,300 was startled when, during a stirring rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by the choir of the First AME Church of Oakland, several protesters seated near the front sprang to their feet yelling.

As she was led out, a gray-haired woman screamed: “Shame on the people who participated! Shame on the Catholics who participated!”

As the benediction concluded, another protester jumped up, declaring that the pro-choice view of Wilson, a Protestant, made the ceremony in a Roman Catholic cathedral “a sacrilege.”

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State Police Capt. Glen Glaser said the arrestees were booked at Sacramento County Jail for investigation of disrupting a church service, a misdemeanor. He said they likely would be cited and released.

After the 75-minute service, Francis A. Quinn, bishop of the cathedral, confronted about 35 placard-carrying protesters outside the cathedral. He tried to state his position and was all but drowned out by those calling him a disgrace to his church and screaming, “You sold out!”

Asked by reporters how he felt about Wilson’s pro-choice views, Quinn said, “I pray for him,” as he does for all others who believe as Wilson does.

“We believe we can persuade and educate,” the bishop said. As for having the ceremony in the cathedral, he said, “I honor the office (of governor).”

Dan Schnur, a spokesman for the Pete Wilson Inaugural Committee, said the protest did not come as a surprise and that the committee and state police had decided on a plan of action in the event of a disruption.

“We had hoped the sanctity of the church would be respected,” Schnur said. Given the theme of promoting diversity that the governor-elect is stressing throughout the inaugural weekend, he said, “we were disappointed” with the disruption.

Despite Sunday’s protests, Wilson was triumphant in his return to the state Capitol, 25 years after he first arrived as a freshman assemblyman from his adopted hometown, San Diego.

His fellow Republicans are staging the Pete-and-Gayle show, a three-day whirlwind of festivities honoring the governor-elect and his wife and family that will culminate with today’s inauguration ceremony and black-tie inaugural ball.

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Diversity is the theme. Wilson wanted an inaugural celebration that would reflect the kaleidoscope of colors, languages, religions, nationalities and cultures of California’s 30 million people.

There was a Mexican fiesta. There were bagpipers and folk singers and a dancing Chinese lion. There were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlton Heston.

Sunday morning’s nondenominational church service preceded an afternoon community welcome at the Sacramento Railroad Museum in historic Old Sacramento during which Wilson was presented a key to the city, and an evening Inaugural Gala at the Arco Arena sports complex.

Priced at $100 and $125, about 5,000 tickets were sold for Sunday night’s inaugural gala where Wayne Newton, who was a high school classmate of Gayle Wilson in Phoenix, had top billing.

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Gov. and Mrs. Deukmejian entered to a standing ovation. Then came the Wilsons, she in an eye-catching red dress with a draped, knee-baring skirt.

The Sacramento Symphony played a medley of themes from Hollywood films. Then came folk songs by The Kingston Trio. Schwarzenegger and Heston were billed for special appearances late in the evening. Another Wilson campaigner, actor and martial arts expert Chuck Norris, presented the governor-elect with an honorary black belt.

Schnur said the three days of festivities would cost about $2 million, all privately funded through ticket and souvenir sales, and that the state would be reimbursed for all services it provides. Any monies left over from the various ticketed events will be donated to charity.

Sunday was cold and drizzly. Schnur said today’s 11 a.m. swearing-in ceremony, scheduled for the Capitol steps, would be moved inside if there is even light rain. But he emphasized that the decision had nothing to do with the prospect of another anti-abortion protest.

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Saturday evening was party time for celebrating Republicans, who gathered at the California Exposition, site of the state fair, for “La Fiesta de Pedro,” Pete’s party, which was largely a big San Diego house party. The majority of the 1,500 fiesta-goers had flown in from San Diego, where Wilson was mayor from 1971 to 1983.

The San Diegans drank “Pete’s Wicked Ale” from a small Palo Alto brewery and ate food prepared by Wilson’s favorite Mexican restaurant, the family-owned El Indio in San Diego.

Wilson spoke of his pride in San Diego and its people and emphasized California’s Latino tradition. He noted that he was the first governor from San Diego, then added, “the first Anglo, anyway.”

Fiesta guests included San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, a Democrat who served on the City Council when Wilson was mayor, and John Seymour, the Orange County Republican who Wilson chose as his successor in the U.S. Senate.

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