Abortion Clash Difficult for Ridge

BY: Peter Jackson

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) June 12, 2000-- Tom Ridge, a one-time altar boy, a churchgoing Roman Catholic and the staunchly Republican governor of Pennsylvania, is at odds with both his church and his party on the emotional issue of abortion.

Ridge, mentioned often as a possible vice presidential running mate for George W. Bush, defends his position as "where I want to be." But he adds that it can make his public life awkward.

"I understand my party is the pro-life party,'' Ridge said recently as a state plane whisked him from Harrisburg to events at new high-tech plants in this western Pennsylvania city. "One day I hope that this pro-life party will ... just be a little bit more tolerant of people with different points of view."

Ridge supports abortion rights.

He also supports Pennsylvania's laws regarding the procedure, which are among the most restrictive in the nation, and that has kept some abortion-rights groups at arm's length. But it is his refusal to embrace his church's anti-abortion doctrine that is causing him the worst headaches, both in his religious and political life.

"It's obviously pretty difficult for me because it puts me at odds with my faith community," said Ridge, 54. But he added, "`I realize the church hasn't created the problem. I have, because I've parted company with my church on this."

By order of the bishop in his home city of Erie, Ridge -- like other Catholic politicians whose views on abortion conflict with the church -- is barred from speaking at Catholic events in northwestern Pennsylvania. He is free to participate in church functions, however, and regularly attends Sunday Mass with his wife and two children at Harrisburg's St. Catherine Laboure Church.

Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who remains a personal friend of Ridge, said his directive was not aimed at the governor. However, he said, "I have to fulfill my role as the shepherd of the diocese."

"I think we have to point out that there is a higher law, which is the law of God, and no human law can contradict the commandment 'Thou shall not kill,'" said Trautman, Erie's bishop for the past decade.

Although the abortion issue did not seriously impede either of Ridge's successful campaigns for governor, he was embarrassed when 900 anti-abortion activists protested his appearance at a Catholic fund-raiser in Altoona in May 1998. Ridge was permitted to speak, but he soon began turning down invitations to speak at church-sponsored events.

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