There are many inspirational and revolutionary global figures who have challenged the power structure committed to a passionate belief in non-violence—Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, or—if you want to really go back—Jesus Christ. However, Nelson Mandela—who died at the age of 95 last week—was not one of those figures. Yes, he did bring about the end of apartheid, but during the fight to end the hateful practices of the government, Mandela left the option of violence squarely on the table.
Still the former President—some call Mandela “The Father of Africa”—and his feelings on the use of violence did not stop prominent Christians such as Billy Graham and Pope Francis from extolling the man’s accomplishments and calling him a champion of peace. However, one Catholic Bishop Rhode Island has released a statement critical of Mandela, not for his position on violent protest but instead regarding abortion.
In his statement, Bishop Tobin praises Mandela’s “personal courage and his stalwart defense of human rights.” Only, he doesn’t just have kind words for the former South African president, adding a criticism of “his shameful promotion of abortion in South Africa.” Hardly an advocate either for or against abortion, while he was president, Mandela signed into law the bill which governs abortion in the then-newly-formed country. The law was challenged as unconstitutional, but was upheld by the South African courts who determined that a fetus was not a person.
Bishop Tobin’s statement echoes others he’s made that are focused more at Pope Francis than Mandela. According to a Boston Globe article, Bishop Tobin attended a prayer vigil outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic saying, “If it’s an obsession to protect unborn life, then it’s a very important obsession.” These comments seemed to be a direct response to Pope Francis’s statement that Catholics were too focused on political issues like abortion and homosexual rights and not focused enough on the teachings of Jesus Christ.