The Roman Catholic bishop of Scranton, Pa., who last month denounced Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-N.Y.) for her views on abortion, subsequently wrote the Democratic vice-presidential nominee an apologetic letter, saying his comments had been distorted and pledging his friendship.
"After the election -- win, lose or draw -- you still have a friend in Scranton, Pennsylvania, one whom you may have thought is an enemy," wrote Bishop James C. Timlin in the Sept. 25 note obtained by The Washington Post.
On Sept. 12, during a three-hour campaign stop by Ferraro in Scranton, widely considered the heart of the American right-to-life movement, Timlin held a long news conference. The bishop characterized Ferraro's position on abortion as "absurd" and contrary to the behavior of a good Catholic.
In his letter, Timlin also acknowledged that the sharp tone of his denunciation gave the impression of urging a political rejection of Ferraro.
"I was quoted in the national press as 'blasting' you and 'attacking' you, etc., etc. I want you to know I did not do these things," Timlin wrote.
"I did not judge your personal relationship with God or the church. It disturbs me to think that you might think that I did. As you well know, we have little control over what the press does with what we say," he continued.
The view from within the Ferraro camp is that the letter indicates how ambivalent the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is toward the vice-presidential nominee.
She has become a lightning rod not only for Catholic clergymen distressed at her refusal to endorse the church's dogma on abortion, but also for laymen who appear at nearly every public appearance with signs like the one seen in Allentown, Pa., Monday that read: "15 Million Aborted Babies Will Never Hug a Teddy Bear."
Virtually since she was selected in July to run on the Democratic ticket, Ferraro has had a running feud with Archbishop John J. O'Connor of New York, who preceded Timlin as bishop of Scranton. Ferraro personally opposes abortion but supports other women's right to make their own choice on the issue.
In comments that seemed to be aimed in part at Ferraro, O'Connor said Monday that the church expects officials and candidates for office to publicly oppose "abortion on demand" and to "work for modification" of legalized abortion.
Asked during a news conference Tuesday in Cleveland whether the archbishop's pronouncements had altered her views, Ferraro quickly and sharply replied, "No."
Two weeks ago, during a talk with auto workers in Belvidere, Ill., Ferraro elaborated slightly on her intransigence when she said, "I was asked to change my views on the abortion issue. I can't. And the reason I can't is because I believe that I'm right."
In his Sept. 25 letter, Timlin told Ferraro he still considered her views on abortion to be "ill-advised" and "indefensible."
Nevertheless, he added, he "didn't expect the national press would get in on it and then try to turn it into an attack on you personally."
In closing his letter, the bishop told Ferraro that he was "asking God to bless you."