When progressive Catholics list their heroes in the church hierarchy, most would include Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington.
When preparing their own lists, most conservative Catholics would include Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco.
Thus, it's important to note how these two shepherds reacted to the spectacular protest staged by Catholics for Choice during the 2022 National Prayer Vigil for Life inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
While worshippers gathered for overnight rites and prayers before the Jan. 21 March for Life, pro-abortion-rights Catholics -- using a nearby projector -- displayed their own beliefs on the 329-foot tower and facade of America's largest Catholic sanctuary. "Catholics for Choice" appeared inside a glowing cross, accompanied by a litany of slogans, such as "Stop stigmatizing; start listening," "Mi cuerpo, mi decision" ("My body, my decision" in Spanish) and "Pro-choice Catholics, you are not alone."
Archbishop Cordileone released this response via Twitter, using language implying the actions of Satan: "The attempted desecration is enormous. Diabolical. Mother Mary, pray for them, now and at the hour of death. Amen."
Cardinal Gregory's press statement pointed readers to a specific scripture to find the context for his words: "The true voice of the Church was only to be found within The Basilica. ... There, people prayed and offered the Eucharist asking God to restore a true reverence for all human life. Those whose antics projected words on the outside of the church building demonstrated by those pranks that they really are external to the Church and they did so at night -- John 13:30."
That verse describes the moment when Judas exits the Last Supper to betray Jesus: "So ... he immediately went out; and it was night."
Catholics for Choice offered no apologies on Twitter: "Our faith teaches us that EVERY person, including the 1 in 4 abortion patients who are Catholic, should be able to make their own decisions about their lives and bodies without interference from the church or the state. #AbortionIsEssential!!" The group's communications director, Ashley Wilson, added: "I am tired of feeling shame and stigma for being a pro-choice Catholic. And I'm not here for people to judge my own personal relationship with God."
At the same time, Catholics for Choice President Jamie L. Manson acknowledged that there was more to this clash than a stereotypical argument with religious conservatives.
"Some moderate Catholics are unhappy we projected our messages on a church," she said on Twitter. "But where in our church is the place to present facts, ask questions & tell abortion stories? This dialogue isn't welcome inside its walls, so we really had no choice but to project on the outside of them."
It's hard to imagine where these tactics could lead, given the bitter political and religious divisions present in American life, argued J.D. Long-Garcia, senior editor of the Jesuit magazine America, an influential forum on the Catholic left.
How would Catholics respond, he asked, if a powerful corporation -- Coca-Cola or Pepsi, perhaps -- projected advertisements onto the National Shrine? What if Republicans began projecting "Trump 2024" images onto the homes of Democrats living next door?
"Catholics for Choice's messaging was certainly arresting. Sacrilege often is," wrote Long-Garcia. "It is appalling to see an organization that claims to be Catholic project pro-abortion messaging onto a structure that celebrates the conception of the Mother of God. What am I supposed to take from this? That St. Anne should have been given the choice to abort Mary?"
It is logical to ask who Catholics for Choice hoped to sway with this culture-wars gambit.
After all, President Joe Biden released this statement after the March for Life and in anticipation of a looming U.S. Supreme Court judgment: "The constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade 49 years ago today is under assault as never before. We must recommit to strengthening access to reproductive care, defending the right established by Roe, and protecting the freedom of all people to build their own future."
Meanwhile, Catholics gathered inside the basilica, "praying for our government to respect the sanctity of life, certainly were not likely to be convinced" by the Catholics for Choice display, noted Long-Garcia. "Was ... offending Catholics across the nation the point, a demonstration to please their choir of supporters on social media?"
Terry Mattingly leads GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.