The pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church said yesterday that he was ordered by archdiocesan officials not to provide space for a hearing on the role of women in the church because the archdiocese contended the session's sponsor is "prochoice" on abortions.
The Rev. John Mudd, pastor of St. Augustine's, said that last Sunday, Auxiliary Bishop Eugene Marino directed him to cancel an agreement to rent space to the Committee of Concerned Catholics for the hearing. Mudd said he was told by Marino that "the archbishop James A. Hickey felt that it was prochoice and seemed confrontational," because it was scheduled to coincide with hearings by a committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Marino was unavailable for comment yesterday and Hickey is on a fact-finding tour in Central America and could not be reached.
Both Concerned Catholics and next Monday's hearing, which has been moved to the nearby Augustana Lutheran Church, grew out of the continuing controversy over the Vatican's disciplining of 24 nuns who last year signed a newspaper ad calling for dialogue on the church's stance on abortion.
The unofficial session was scheduled to coincide with hearings by the bishop's committee preparatory to the drafting of a pastoral letter on the role of women in church and society.
Frances Kissling, a member of the steering committee for Concerned Catholics said the group is "a broad-based committee" with a range of concerns.
"We feel it essential that the subject of reproductive rights be discussed," she said, but pointed out that that was only one of four topics on the agenda. The others are exclusion of women from church structures, repression of women's freedom in the church, and the church's response to justice issues involving women.
She denied that the hearing would be "confrontational." "We are not trying to avoid the fact that there are problems; if there weren't, why would the bishops be writing a pastoral?" she challenged. "But the problems are not going to be solved by banning discussion of them from Catholic churches," said Kissling, who also heads the unofficial Catholics for a Free Choice.
The Committee of Concerned Catholics was formed last month as an effort to counter the Vatican's crackdown on the 24 nuns who had signed an Oct. 7 advertisement defending differing views on abortion in the church and calling for dialogue. They were ordered last November to recant or face expulsion from their religious orders.
The incident here brings together two of the most troublesome issues in the church today: the authority crisis on the abortion question and the growing unrest over the church's attitude toward women. It also comes in the wake of increasing Vatican pressure for orthodoxy on the church in this country.
According to a flier advertising Monday's hearing, no church officials are slated to be present but the testimony of those who participate "will be directed to the entire church . . . . We want to provide a forum for the whole church to hear and weigh the experiences of women."
The bishops' official session next week will run for two days, but will not be open to the public. Their hearings here will be the first of seven to be conducted around the country to prepare for their pastoral, which is expected in 1986.