ROCKFORD, Ill. - Dozens of anti-abortion protesters at an annual rally Sunday said they support the devotion - if not the alleged actions - of a Catholic priest accused of crashing into an abortion clinic here and chopping away at the building with an ax.
''I don't agree with his methods, but I appreciate his heart,'' said the Rev. David Broom, 25. He carried a sign that said ''Adoption: The loving option'' and joined a human chain of about 1,000 protesters outside a Catholic church forming the shape of a cross.
The rally at Holy Family Church in Rockford had been scheduled long before Saturday's attack. Amid the singing, people could be heard along the chain talking about the Rev. John Earl, who is charged with burglary and felony criminal damage to property for the attack Saturday morning at the Northern Illinois Women's Center. He was freed after posting $10,000 bond.
Earl, 32, was stopped inside the building by its owner, who fired two shotgun blasts to scare him away. The clinic wasn't open and there were no injuries.
''It's hard to support those kinds of actions when you stand for life, but we definitely do support him in standing up for life,'' Jeff O'Hara, 37, said at Sunday's rally.
Police have not disclosed a possible motive for the attack on the clinic. It came two days after government approval of the RU-486 abortion pill and was at the office of Dr. Richard Ragsdale, who successfully challenged Illinois abortion laws in the 1980s that he claimed were so strict they limited women's access to the procedure.
The Diocese of Rockford said the priest's activities have been restricted while it investigates the allegations. A message left at the church, St. Patrick's Church in Rochelle, about 30 miles south of Rockford, was not returned.
At the church's evening Mass on Saturday, the Rev. Aaron Brodeski discouraged parishioners from gossiping among themselves or with media.
''Father John has a lot of young ideas and a lot of old ideas from 40 to 50 years ago,'' said church member Joe Ryan. ''You might believe in why he did what he did, but do you want him teaching your kids to do that?''
Gay Bruhn, president of Illinois chapter of the National Organization for Women, said Sunday that the church and anyone who supports individuals associated with acts of violence are hypocritical.
''It's a complete denial of responsibility by those in the movement that encourage people to go out and do this stuff,'' Bruhn said. ''We've had some victories and some losses, but we've never driven a car into a building. I'm appalled by the violence.''
A local restaurant owner who started a legal defense fund to assist Earl said that although he sympathizes with the priest, he wishes he would have adhered to nonviolent protest.
''It is a war,'' said restaurant owner Frank Giammarese. ''It is a war on our culture and our humanity.''