The appearance of feminist leader Gloria Steinem as the homilist at two Sunday masses of a parish church here has stirred protests by hundred of Roman Catholics and has been denounced by Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Packed congregations - including many non-Catholics - heard Steinem, whose major topic was the repression of women throughout history, plead for a time when women "can control simply our own bodies . . . to no longer be controlled by patriarchal institutions."
It was an allusion to abortion rights. But the cofounder of Ms. Magazine and women's rights leader never mentioned the words "birth control" and "abortion," both condemned by the Catholic Church.
Steinem also stated that "a recent election shows that there are "remnants of efforts to force one group's ideas on another." The reference was to Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer Labor Party senatorial primary in which Robert Short, an avowed foe of abortion, defeated Rep. Donald Fraser, who has a "pro-choice" view on abortion.
Steinem was invited to be the homilist by the Rev. Harvey Egan, pastor of St. Joan of Arch Parish.
Hundreds of telephone calls and letters of protest swamped the archdiocesan chancery office.
In a statement issued here, Roach said he wanted to apologize "in the name of this local church for the scandal caused by the extremely poor judgment used by Father Harvey Egan.
"Rarely have I felt such a sense of sorrow as I did when I saw the picture of Ms. Steinem preaching before the altar and the news description of her message.
"Ms. Steinem's position on abortion is public," he continued, "and to give her a platform, particularly during the Eucharist, in a Catholic church is an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as to those generous people who have worked so hard to protect life.
"Father Egan," Archbishop Roach said, "is a priest of this archdiocese and I am forced, though painfully, to deal with him as I would any priest so publicly defiant of church law . . .
"It is in the homily that the Gospel is proclamed and the church is very clear about the homily and about who is authorized to preach during the Eucharist. . . .It is an opportunity for the preacher to lay before his congregation the saving message of Jesus Christ.
"To asume that there is any reason for giving that precious time to Ms. Steinem is contrary not only to church law but to the church's deep tradition that the homilist must keep in mind that the mystery is being celebrated."
In two 20-minute addresses, Steinem had said, "Until women control out lives from the skin in, we cannot control our lives from the skin out.
"Women have never been able to see the god in themselves," she said. "We have been made to doubt our own strength and wisdom.
"We will defend always," she said, the right of every woman and man to reproductive freedom. That is as important as freedom of speech or freedom of assembly - at least as important. Without that, there is no freedom of choice. . . ."