Updated 11/3/11 - 5:17 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) -- Gov. Pat Quinn was firing back on Thursday, after being attacked by the state's Catholic bishops for presenting an award at an abortion rights group event.
Chicago's Francis Cardinal George and five other Catholic bishops in Illinois called Quinn's plans to present the award "irreconcilable with any honest profession of the Catholic faith."
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine has more on the governor's explanation and a heated response from some of his supporters.
Quinn is on the record as being pro-choice, which is a problem for the bishops, just as it is with all pro-choice elected officials.
But in their view, Quinn has taken it a step further, by planning to give an award at a pro-choice political action group's annual meeting.
Quinn is scheduled to attend an event on Nov. 17 that is sponsored by the Personal PAC, a political action committee that supports abortion rights, and that donated $500,000 to Quinn's campaign last year.
The governor's office confirmed he will be presenting a woman who is a rape survivor and advocate for victims of rape.
George, along with the bishops of Peoria, Springfield, Rockford, Belleville and Joliet, called Quinn's choice to present that award resolutely unacceptable, and suggested that Quinn, himself a Roman Catholic, should face sanctions for his choice.
"With this action, Governor Quinn has gone beyond a political alignment with those supporting the legal right to kill children in their mother's wombs to rewarding those deemed most successful in this terrible work," the letter said.
George, after visiting a parish school to highlight the benefits of Big Shoulders funds, said he thought the governor had crossed a line.
"It's one thing to live in a society where abortion is legal, it's another thing to say that the people who, in fact, kill unborn children are to be praised and to be funded," George said. "And, at that point, you're into an activity that is incompatible with the profession of the Catholic faith."
Quinn, who declined to take questions on anything but the CTA repair and rebuilding grant he announced with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday, released a statement which said he would merely be "presenting a leadership award to a woman who is a rape survivor and preeminent advocate for victims of rape."
Terry Cosgrove, head of Personal PAC, the organization sponsoring the luncheon, shot back at the bishops.
"I think they're crossing the line by attacking the governor and attacking our organization for giving an award to a rape victim who had the courage to stand up and tell her story," Cosgrove said. "Attacking the governor for saying a few kind words about a rape victim is really going just a little too far … even for them."
Cosgrove also said statements like the one the bishops made "engender the kind of heated rhetoric that leads to the killing of doctors, that leads to the violence, the attacks on medical workers who are providing women's health care and the threats that, frankly, a lot of people in the pro-choice movement experience. I mean, there's really a war going on against women and women's health in this country and, unfortunately, it's that kind of rhetoric engaged in by the bishops that promotes that kind of thing."
Conflict between the Bishops and pro-choice Catholic politicians is nothing new.
In 2004, controversy arose over some bishops saying they'd deny presidential candidate John Kerry communion for being pro-choice.
Back then, George wrote, "the question now is whether sanctions of some sort should be applied."
But he appeared to criticize those Bishops who acted on their own, by writing, "it would be pastorally wise for the bishops to act together."
But they still haven't. George indicated it's still up to individual priests to decide whether to deny a person communion for being pro-choice.
"There's an incompatibility between publicly espousing the killing of children and then receiving the Lord in holy communion," George said. "But that's something you wanna work out pastorally and, I hope, sensitively with each person concerned."
There was no indication that the cardinal himself has ever refused anyone communion, but other bishops elsewhere have.
Cosgrove said that, although everyone has the right to oppose abortion, he is disappointed that the bishops also oppose measures that would reduce the number of abortions that are performed each year, such as access to comprehensive, medically accurate sex education and access to contraception.
"They're fighting us every step of the way. And by their actions, they're actually dramatically increasing the number of abortions that take place," Cosgrove said.
Quinn and the bishops have disagreed before – over his support of civil unions and withholding state funds from Catholic adoption agencies which refuse to recognize them. So their condemnation for his presenting an award called the "Pro-Choice Leadership Award" was probably inevitable.
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