Rhode Island Bishop: Mandela’s Support For Abortion ‘Shameful’

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South African President Nelson Mandela poses with former heavyweight boxing champions Michael Spinks, left, and Joe Frazier, right, at his official residence in Pretoria on Dec. 6, 1997. (credit: WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

South African President Nelson Mandela poses with former heavyweight boxing champions Michael Spinks, left, and Joe Frazier, right, at his official residence in Pretoria on Dec. 6, 1997. (credit: WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence weighed in on Nelson Mandela’s death by calling his support for abortion “shameful.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin, in a statement posted Sunday on the diocesan website, said that while there is much to admire in Mandela’s life and public service, there’s a part of his legacy that is “not at all praiseworthy, namely his shameful promotion of abortion in South Africa.”

Tobin’s comments stand in contrast to those of Pope Francis, who in a telegram to South African President Jacob Zuma last week praised Mandela’s steadfast commitment to “promoting the human dignity of all (his) nation’s citizens.”

The bishop in his statement took issue with Mandela’s decision in 1996 to sign legislation liberalizing South Africa’s abortion laws.

“While we pray for the peaceful repose of President Mandela’s immortal soul and the forgiveness of his sins, we can only regret that his noble defense of human dignity did not include the youngest members of our human family, unborn children,” Tobin wrote.

Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid icon, died last week at age 95. His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday and is expected to draw nearly 100 world leaders and tens of thousands of mourners.

Tobin has frequently taken on public figures over abortion, including elected officials, and even Pope Francis. The bishop in September said he was “a little bit disappointed” the pope had not addressed the topic of abortion during his first six months as pope. He also asked then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy not to take Holy Communion because of his support for abortion rights, and withdrew two hospitals sponsored by the diocese from membership in a Catholic hospital group that supported health care reform because of fears it would allow for public funding of abortion.

In his telegram, Pope Francis focused on Mandela’s work to forge a South Africa “built on the firm foundations of non-violence, reconciliation and truth.”

“I pray that the late president’s example will inspire generations of South Africans to put justice and the common good at the forefront of their political aspirations,” Francis wrote.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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