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Elders Apologizes to Catholic Clergy : Appointment: Surgeon General nominee says she's sorry for remarks about the church's stance on abortion she made while she was director of health in Arkansas.

September 04, 1993|From Religious News Service

Surgeon General nominee Dr. Jocelyn Elders has sent a letter to U.S. Catholic leaders apologizing for any offense that was caused by controversial statements she made about the church while director of the Arkansas Department of Health.

The comment came during a news clip in a televised interview with Elders that appeared July 13. In that news clip, she is shown saying, "Look who's fighting the pro-choice movement, a celibate, male-dominated church."

The comment provoked a letter from Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, to President Clinton. In his letter, Keeler wrote that Edlers' "characterization of the Catholic Church as a 'celibate and male-dominated church' is contemptuous and implies that Catholics do not have a right to contribute to the debate on this issue." Elders will be up for confirmation when the Senate returns to Washington in early September.

In an Aug. 5 letter, Elders responded: "I never meant to malign or blaspheme the Catholic Church. If my statements have caused any offense, I sincerely apologize."

She said she was distressed that her remarks were taken as "bigotry against particular religious denominations."

"As a deeply religious person myself, I am respectful of sincerely held religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are at odds with my own convictions about the wisest policy choices."

Clinton also responded to Keeler on Aug. 5, welcoming Catholic participation in the abortion debate. "I have personally known Dr. Elders for many years, and I can assure you that, as a religious person herself, she respects the deeply held beliefs of others."

Keeler had also criticized Elders' characterization of the anti-abortion movement as consisting of people who care about children only before they are born. That suggestion, he wrote, "flies in the face of your own recognition during our March meeting of the church's many contributions to life at all stages."

The bishops do not endorse or oppose nominees for appointed office, so the correspondence was not initially released. But they decided the letters "should now be on the public record" because of the growing controversy surrounding the remarks, and the public interest in Elders' nomination, said William Ryan, a spokesman for the bishops.

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