Rabbi defends priest under fire for showing pro-life film to students in religion class

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WILKES-BARRE, PA, March 20, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Did you hear the one about the priest and the rabbi?

A northeastern Pennsylvania rabbi has come to the defense of a Catholic priest after a radio talk show host excoriated the priest for allowing his middle school students to view a pro-life film.

Fr. Leo McKernan, the pastor of St. Monica Roman Catholic Church in West Wyoming, Pennsylvania, allowed his religion teacher to show students the movie To Be Born. The 15-minute-long film features an unmarried mother dreaming of the baby girl she is being pressured to abort. There are a few brief depictions of blood in the otherwise atmospheric film.

In February, opinion columnist and WILK radio talk show host Steve Corbett heard about the viewing from outraged parents and wrote a column blaming Fr. McKernan's “rabid anti-abortion views” for exposing “sixth-grade innocents” to “grotesque intensity” that depicts “an overwhelmingly safe medical procedure.”

The local newspaper, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, ran the story on the front page – alongside a story about mass murderer Hugo Selenski – without any form of disclaimer that the author was an opinion writer and not a straight journalist.

During the spat, the CCD teacher – whom sources told LifeSiteNews had previously received criticism from parents for teaching children that not everyone goes to Heaven, as well as presenting the Catholic Church's teachings on Purgatory – resigned.

Fr. Leo confessed to Corbett that he was guilty of “poor judgment.” And a spokesman for Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said, while they were addressing parishioners' concerns, “The diocese will continue to offer educational programs that are appropriate for their intended audiences.”

Into the fray stepped Rabbi Larry Kaplan of Kingston, defending Fr. McKernan's right to express views the rabbi doesn't hold.

“I do not share the same view as the Catholic Church on abortion. Judaism has what I might call a more nuanced view on the matter,” Rabbi Kaplan, the rabbi of Temple Israel in Wilkes-Barre, wrote in a printed response to Corbett's column. "But I defend and applaud the Church’s steadfast and universal commitment to all human life, and in particular to nascent human life.”

“I have no idea why Corbett wrote that the members of St. Monica’s will have to consider forgiving Father Leo 'for his rabid anti-abortion views.' Perhaps it’s just the way bullies write,” he wrote.

“The last time I checked the Catholic Church still is adamantly opposed to abortion…Why any member of a Catholic Church would need to forgive the priest for holding such views or inserting such basic doctrines regularly into his sermons is equally inexplicable.”

As for the claim that the mild depiction of bloody gloves had traumatized a generation of church-goers, Rabbi Kaplan wrote, “I only wish my 11-year-old were innocent enough to be shocked by anything she would have seen in that video.”

The rabbi explicitly likened opposition to abortion to opposition to the Holocaust perpetrated against Jews by Nazi Germany.

“I count myself as lucky that parents haven’t thought to call Corbett if I show a movie about the Holocaust, which some might consider age-inappropriate,” noting that they “can be pretty gory, as well.”

“Maybe I should just stop teaching about the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II,” he said. “Perhaps, as an 'enemy' of the Nazis, which undoubtedly leaks into some of my sermons, I’ll be seen as a rabid hater, and then I, too, might be tacitly compared to a criminal on trial for double-homicide on the front page of the newspaper.”

Local pro-life and conservative leaders welcomed the rabbi's ecumenical call for freedom of speech.

Local radio talk show host David Madeira replied, “Thanks to Rabbi Kaplin for reminding us that we can disagree without being disagreeable and that listening is a gift that is better to give than to demand.”

Gary Cangemi, a local pro-life leader who draws life-affirming cartoons starring a comic strip character he calls Umbert the Unborn, said: “I saw the film in question and found it to be a touching, brilliantly made piece of pro-life commentary. As a creator of such commentary myself…I thought this film to be very appropriate for high school age and above…like a Hitchcock film you never actually see any carnage. The only blood you see is where it belongs, on the hands of the abortionist.”

However, he felt the film was “not appropriate for sixth graders,” and that the school bore the responsibility of “first informing parents and giving them the choice to opt their children out of the presentation.” But he called this “a minor infraction,” something that “had no business on the front page of the Times Leader.”

You may watch the movie in its entirety below:

The film was produced by Spirit Juice Studios

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Ben Johnson is U.S. Bureau Chief of LifeSiteNews.com, the guest host of Nothing But Truth with Crane Durhamon AFR Talk Radio, and the author of three books. His personal website is TheRightsWriter.com. Connect with him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

(Published on Friday, March 20, 2015, on LifeSiteNews.com.)