Monday, August 25, 2008

Prelates v. Pelosi: As DNC Opens, Speaker Taken to Task

Hours into a week the Democratic leadership's sought to script down to its most minute detail, the party's "Catholic problem" roared to the fore today as, in an unprecedented move, the opening of the Blue bloc's Denver convention saw four senior hierarchs publicly blast the event's chair -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- for "misrepresent[ing] the history and nature" of the church's teaching on abortion in the California congresswoman's latest defense of her pro-choice stance.

Barely a day after presidential nominee-in-waiting Barack Obama tapped another pro-choice Catholic, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, as his running mate, and as the party approved a platform declaring its "unequivocal" support of abortion rights "regardless of [a woman's] ability to pay," church pro-lifers launched into action following this exchange between Pelosi and Tom Brokaw on yesterday's Meet the Press:
MR. BROKAW: Senator Obama [said] the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you're looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, "Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?" what would you tell him?

REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There's very clear distinctions. This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided...

MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it...

REP. PELOSI: I understand that.

MR. BROKAW: ...begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take--you know, we have to handle this as respectfully--this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been--and I'm not saying Rick Warren did, because I don't think he did, but others will try to.
In response, late today the following statement was released in the name of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by the chairs of the body's Committees for Pro-Life Activities and Doctrine, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport:
In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

The Church has always taught that human life deserves respect from its very beginning and that procured abortion is a grave moral evil. In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church has long taught that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.
In addition to the conference's pamphlet on "a pro-life church," the USCCB release included as supplemental documents its prior statements on the responsibilities of Catholics in public life and, even more notably, the worthy reception of the Eucharist.

A further Washington response came from the capital's Archbishop Donald Wuerl:
On Meet the Press this past Sunday, August 23, 2008, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made statements regarding the teaching of the Catholic Church, human life and abortion that were incorrect.

Speaker Pelosi responded to a question on when life begins by mentioning she was Catholic. She went on to say, “And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition...” After Mr. Tom Brokaw, the interviewer, pointed out that the Catholic Church feels strongly that life begins at conception, she replied, “I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.”

We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops. Given this responsibility to teach, it is important to make this correction for the record.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: the current teaching of the Catholic Church on human life and abortion is the same teaching as it was 2,000 years ago. The Catechism reads:

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception…Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (Catechism, 2270-2271)

The Catechism goes on to quote the Didache, a treatise that dates to the first century: “’You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.’”

From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.
And from Denver -- where the weekend interview took place -- a statement addressed to the Catholic commuity there was issued by the host-city's lead prelates, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. and Auxiliary Bishop James Conley (emphases original):
Catholic public leaders inconvenienced by the abortion debate tend to take a hard line in talking about the "separation of Church and state." But their idea of separation often seems to work one way. In fact, some officials also seem comfortable in the role of theologian. And that warrants some interest, not as a "political" issue, but as a matter of accuracy and justice.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them....

Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or "ensouled." But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.

Of course, we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Thus, today's religious alibis for abortion and a so-called "right to choose" are nothing more than that - alibis that break radically with historic Christian and Catholic belief.

Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it - whether they're famous or not - fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.
As of press time, no public comment had been made by Pelosi's hometown ordinary, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, and the speaker's spokespeople declined several outlets' early requests for a statement.

A product of Catholic schools, the Baltimore-born speaker admitted in a C-SPAN interview earlier this month that, as a "regular communicant," denial of the Eucharist would be "a severe blow" to her were the boom ever to be lowered.

"It depends on the bishop in a certain region," she said of the possibility of ecclesial sanction, adding that "fortunately, for me," it hasn't been an issue.

Speaking at length during the hourlong sit-down on the role faith plays in her life, the first woman to head the House noted that "it’s easy for me to talk about being raised Roman Catholic."

While her "very devout" Italian parents "would be so proud" of her political accomplishments, "they really never raised me to [be] Speaker," she said.

"But they did raise me to be holy."

First elected to Congress in 1987, Pelosi's record on abortion votes has garnered a 100% rating from both the choice lobby's leading advocacy groups, Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

PHOTO: Getty Images