To get an idea of how Chicago-area Catholics are processing the end of Roe v. Wade, consider two statements issued just after the ruling.

The first came from Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision that found abortion is not a constitutionally protected right. Echoing the church hierarchy, he said it offers the chance for “a national conversation on protecting human life in the womb and promoting dignity at all stages of life.”

The second came from the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a priest who leads St. Sabina Catholic Parish on Chicago’s South Side.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear of their future direction,” he tweeted. “Biden needs to expand the court NOW.”

Some commenters took that as an endorsement of abortion rights and a betrayal of Catholic teaching — “You are a heretic,” one wrote — but in an interview, Pfleger, an activist who has clashed with the Chicago Archdiocese numerous times, said his views are more complicated than that.

He said that while he is against abortion, he believes the court is on a slippery slope that will endanger a host of human and civil rights. He also said he regards other societal ills, such as poverty, racism and gun violence, as forms of abortion in their own right.

“Until (the justices) can address all the abortions taking place, they need to step back,” he said.

The landmark decision has shaken all corners of American life, but it has particular resonance among Catholics. Four of the five justices who voted to reverse Roe v. Wade are Catholic, and the fifth, Neil Gorsuch, was raised in the faith. (Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented from the decision, is also Catholic.)

Justices like Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett have said religion does not influence their legal analysis, but that hasn’t stopped some from venting their anger at Catholicism in the wake of the court’s decision.

State Sen. Sarah Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, posted an image on her Facebook page showing a figure in papal garments holding a gun to the head of a pregnant Statue of Liberty. Though she soon took it down and apologized, the Archdiocese of Chicago called the meme hate speech.

“The embrace of anti-Catholic tropes at this moment is just as objectionable as the embrace of caricatures of other faiths which have stained our national history and continue to do so today,” it said in a statement. “An elected official should know better than to publish an image that could incite violence against a group of people on the basis of their religious belonging.”

Others, conversely, praised the justices for what they saw as a divinely inspired decision.

“(It) was courageous, faithful Catholics that delivered the end of Roe,” conservative activist Charlie Kirk, who got his start in the Chicago suburbs, tweeted after the decision. “Spirit-filled Christians should be thankful for such clear moral teaching and bold action.”

Rank-and-file Catholics have long held convoluted views on abortion. Church catechism calls the procedure a “moral evil,” and polling from the Pew Research Center has found that a majority of Catholics say it is wrong. But the same proportion wants it to remain legal.

Meanwhile, about 1 in 4 Americans who receive abortions are Catholic, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that advocates for abortion access.

Jamie Manson of Catholics for Choice, a Washington-based organization that formed in the wake of the Roe decision in 1973, said those who back abortion rights are still marginalized in the church, even though her group argues that pro-abortion rights views are bolstered by Catholic teachings on the individual conscience and social justice.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, she said, her organization has seen a surge of interest in its webpage and social media. She said the decision has forced Catholics to confront the issue of abortion in a new and more urgent way.

“Abortion has been in the closet of Catholics’ minds but now you can’t look away from it,” she said.

Catholic groups that oppose abortion also feel momentum. WeDignify, a Champaign-based organization that puts on the annual March for Life Chicago, is planning a July 9 rally in the city to mark the Supreme Court’s decision and show opposition to what it calls “Illinois’ extreme abortion laws.”

Anna Kinskey, the group’s associate director, said she detects a newfound sense of optimism in the movement.

“We do see a lot of young people who are energized,” she said. “Many people never thought Roe v. Wade would be overturned in our lifetime. There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of joy that there’s a path forward to protect life through our elected officials.”

Loyola University Chicago presents a microcosm of the post-Roe atmosphere for Catholics. The school has one student organization that opposes abortion and another one — not recognized by the administration — that provides information about abortion and makes referrals to clinics that perform the procedure.

Junior Grace Shallal, co-president of Loyola for Life, said her group has faced hostility on campus. Once, she said, after they set out an information table that included figurines showing fetal development, a student cursed them and said she wanted to eat a figurine for breakfast.

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She said relations became even more fraught after the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision in May. She was only half-surprised to face such vitriol at a Catholic university, given its location in a deep blue city, and said she doesn’t expect things to improve in the fall.

“It will probably be the same way we left it, if not worse,” she said.

Senior Payton Winterhof, Shallal’s counterpart at Students for Reproductive Justice, said she has focused on fundraising for emergency contraception and other birth control (the group doesn’t pay for abortions but directs students to funds that offer financial assistance for the procedure).

The group’s founder, Lauren Morrissey, went on to help form an umbrella organization called the Student Coalition for Reproductive Justice that covers 10 Catholic schools, including the University of Notre Dame. None of the schools have disciplined students for their work, she said, which she took as a sign that administrators tacitly understand the groups are providing an essential service.

“The majority of Catholics are already with us,” she said. “Now it’s about empowering students at Catholic universities to be loud and proud about their support of reproductive justice.”

Twitter @JohnKeilman

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