In counterpoint to the massive anti-abortion demonstration in Washington, D.C., a small group of Protestant and Jewish clergy marched on St. Patrick's Cathedral today to present a petition attacking Catholic leaders' anti-abortion stand.
The Rev. Howard Moody hung a declaration signed by 43 church figures on the upraised bronze hand of Mother Elizabeth Seton, one of the saints carved on the cathedral's seldom-used giant main door.
The declaration denounced "the level of unwillingness to compromise" of Roman Catholic leaders.The tactics and theology of the Catholic leaders, it said, "are a threat to the civil peace if pursued with the same clear disregard for others convictions."
"We cannot accept this," Msgr. Eugene Clark of the New York Archdiocese said later. "Of course we are absolutely unwilling to compromise on the destruction of human life." He compared abortion to the Nazi Holocaust and asked: "Considering what we consider the offense to be, how can our rhetoric be moderate?"
The delcaration accused Catholic leaders of opting for demagoguery "that sows the seeds of bitter religious discord" by comparing hospitals and abortion clinics to Auschwitz and Buchenwald and calling advocates of freely available abortion murderers and Nazis.
In all the debate over when human life begins in the womb, Moody said from the pulpit of Central Presbyterian Church before leading the march, the important question "When is freedom of conscience threatened?" is not being addressed.
Moody and about 30 other church figures led the march out of the church as their noon service dedicated to support of freedom of choice on abortion ended with about 500 people singing "America."
On the steps of St. Patrick's a few picked up the song again, singing "Let freedom ring" as photographers crowded forward to shoot Moody placing his scroll's white ribbon on the hand of Mother Seton.
Moody, who earlier had stressed the significance of the large proportion of clergywomen taking part in the march, was asked if he chose the statue of Seton to receive the scroll because she was a woman or because she was the first American saint.
"I chose her because her hand was raised so I could hang this on it," he replied.
The church service before the march began with Eugenia Lee Hancock, a minister of the host church, saying: "We are here to raise a voice to the voiceless."
The Rev. Beatrice Blair of the Episopalian Church of the Heavenly Rest reminded the congregation that the Hyde Amendment barring federal payment for abortions went into effect Oct. 1, 1976 and said its legacy has been "disease, sterility, enormous physical and psychological damage -- and death."
She cited six cases of women who have died or suffered, and added: "The list is a long and growing one."
Rabbi Sheldon Simmerman of Central Synagogue told the congregation that as a Jew and as a human being he takes offense at comparisons of abortion to Nazi murder. "The right to choose is our basic human and religious right," he said.
One sign with the words Dachau and Buchenwald greeted the marchers as they left their church and there were two anti-abortion protesters waiting for them outside St. Patrick's. "Here come the false prophets," one man remarked as they arrived in their varied church robes.
Their declaration hung on the door as Moody answered reporters' questions and was photographed. As the crowd began to thin out, the heavy door swung open slightly and a man took down the declaration and disappeared inside St. Patrick's.