Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger M. Mahony has declined an invitation to engage in a public debate over the issue of offering birth-control services on high school campuses, indicating that he has said all he wishes to say on the matter.
Furthermore, a spokesman for the archbishop in Los Angeles said Monday that neither Mahony nor the archdiocese will actively organize any protest over the Los Angeles school board's plan to offer birth-control counseling and contraceptives at three high school clinics scheduled to open next year. Father Joseph Battaglia, director of communications for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said Mahony will not take the issue any further than his call Friday urging Catholics and others "who value the family" to pressure school officials to drop their plans to offer the services at the clinics.
Mahony said in a four-page pastoral letter last week that school-based birth-control clinics would send a message to teen-agers "legitimizing behavior contradicting our Judeo-Christian ethic" and would seriously undermine parents' rights to guide their children's decisions about oral contraceptives, abortion and treatment of venereal diseases.
Los Angeles school board member Roberta Weintraub then offered to debate the archbishop "anytime, anywhere" on the clinic proposal.
The archbishop, who is attending a national conference of U.S. Catholic bishops in Washington, said in an interview Monday that it would be "far more effective" for a group of parents with children in district schools to debate Weintraub if they wished.
Battaglia added that the archbishop "wishes to make it clear . . . that certain moral issues touching on the basic principles of the Judeo-Christian ethical code are non-debatable, period."
Weintraub said Monday, however, that her offer to debate still stands and urged Mahony to reconsider.
"I think when someone comes out with a statement as strong as he had in that pastoral letter, that he ought to stand up" and publicly defend his views, she said.
She and board member Jackie Goldberg proposed the clinics last year, saying that such clinics have proven effective not only in reducing teen-age pregnancies but in detecting and treating common adolescent health problems.
About 79 school-based health and birth-control clinics are in operation nationwide, officials said. Opposition has come largely from conservative and religious groups, such as in San Diego, where the school board recently rejected a clinic proposal after a one-day boycott of district schools by local Catholics.
Times Staff Writer Russell Chandler contributed to this article from Washington.