AP: Pelosi gets unwanted lesson in Catholic theology

The MSM is finally noticing that Speaker Nancy Pelosi fell into a theological outhouse where she has, so far, remained now for days.

Here is an AP story with my emphases and comments.

Pelosi gets unwanted lesson in Catholic theology

By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer Thu Aug 28, 3:12 AM ET

Politics can be treacherous. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walked on even riskier ground in a recent TV interview when she attempted a theological defense of her support for abortion rights.

Roman Catholic bishops consider her arguments on St. Augustine and free will so far out of line with church teaching that they have issued a steady stream of statements to correct her.

The latest came Wednesday from Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, who said Pelosi, D-Calif., "stepped out of her political role and completely misrepresented the teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to abortion."

It has been a harsh week of rebuke for the Democratic congresswoman, a Catholic school graduate who repeatedly has expressed pride in and love for her religious heritage.

Cardinals and archbishops in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Denver are among those who have criticized her remarks. Archbishop George Niederauer, in Pelosi’s hometown of San Francisco, will take up the issue in the Sept. 5 edition of the archdiocesan newspaper, his spokesman said.

Sunday, on NBC’s "Meet the Press" program, Pelosi said "doctors of the church" have not been able to define when life begins.

She also cited the role of individual conscience. "God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions," she said.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said in a statement defending her remarks that she "fully appreciates the sanctity of family" and based her views on conception on the "views of Saint Augustine, who said, ‘The law does not provide that the act (abortion) pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation.‘"

But whether or not parishioners choose to accept it, the theology on the procedure is clear. From its earliest days, Christianity has considered abortion evil.

"This teaching has remained unchanged and remains unchangeable," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law."

The Rev. Douglas Milewski, a Seton Hall University theologian who specializes in Augustine, said Pelosi seems to be confusing church teaching on abortion with the theological debate over when a fetus receives a soul.

"Saint Augustine wondered about the stages of human development before birth, how this related to the question of ensoulment and what it meant for life in the Kingdom of God," Milewski said.

Questions about ensoulment related to determining penalties under church law for early and later abortions, not deciding whether the procedure is permissible, according to the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Augustine was "quite clear on the immorality of abortion as evil violence, destructive of the very fabric of human bonds and society," Milewski said.

Regarding individual decision-making, the church teaches that Catholics are obliged to use their conscience in considering moral issues. However, that doesn’t mean parishioners can pick and choose what to believe and still be in line with the church.

Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theologian at Boston College, said conscience must be formed by Catholic teaching and philosophical insights. "It’s not just a personal opinion that you came up with randomly," she said.

Catholic theologians today overwhelmingly consider debate over the morality of abortion settled. Thinkers and activists who attempt to challenge the theology are often considered on the fringes of church life.

However, there is a rigorous debate over how the teaching should guide voters and public officials. Are Catholics required to choose the candidate who opposes abortion? Or can they back a politician based on his or her policies on reducing, not outlawing, the procedure?

The U.S. bishops addressed this question in their election-year public policy guide, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

They said that voting for a candidate specifically because he or she supports "an intrinsic evil" such as abortion amounts to "formal cooperation in grave evil."

In some cases, Catholics may vote for a candidate with a position contrary to church teaching, but only for "truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences," according to the document.

It is a complex discussion. The Rev. Thomas Reese, [Why do people still contact this guy?!?] senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, has some advice for candidates who seek to join the debate: Stick to politics — and support programs that truly help reduce the number of abortions.

"It is a big mistake," Reese said, "for politicians to talk theology." [What if they get it right?  ]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. TJM says:

    Has the newspaper of “record”, the New York Times, carried this on its front-page yet? I’m not holding my breath since it cuts
    against the “Agenda.” Unfortunately, Father Z, the mainstream media probably won’t contact you or any other orthodox Catholic priest
    to rebut Ms. Pelosi. Tom

  2. Anne says:

    This is a funny picture w/ Pelosi as an expert on the Church Fathers:

    Thanks Fr. Z for the excellent coverage.

  3. Anne says:

    I forgot the credit – here:

    Now I gotta run to Mass. I hear the bell.

  4. Fr. Guy says:

    You know, the framers of the Constitution inserted the anti-establishment clause into the Constitution to keep the government from creating a state religion. This is what has become known as the so-called “separation of church and state” in the US Constitution. So, religion is not supposed to be banned from public life but the government is supposed to steer clear of trying to manipulate the worship and religious practices of citizens. So, bishops who instruct the members of their own flock on Church teaching to assist them in their voting during an election year are NOT violating the Constitution. In addition, clergy, who do not give up citizenship when being ordained, expressing their beliefs publicly do NOT violate the Constitution. Then we have the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I realize she was answering a direct question from Mr. Brokaw. However, to so manipulate (or attempt to manipulate) Catholic teaching to advance a political agenda and then, when rightly rebuked and rebutted for doing so instead of simply apologizing to issue a statement attempting to re-justify the argument and lecture Church leaders on the theology of their own Church IS, in fact, a violation of the separation of church and state.

    What Pelosi did is precisely the thing the founders of our nation were trying to prevent when writing the Constitution!

  5. Deusdonat says:

    Anne – well, I\’m sorry. But when it comes to the church fathers, I\’m very much a purist! So, if Pelosi is going to assume the part, then she might as well look it…

  6. Aelric says:

    “It is a big mistake,” Reese said, “for politicians me to talk theology.”

  7. Oremus says:

    Fr., you know theologian Cahill was in one of Obama’s commercials.
    So what she says there makes me want to choke. She claims, I suppose out of the other side of her mouth, that Obama ” understands the pressures families are under. And what it takes to help families thrive”.

  8. SC says:

    Fr. Z,
    Am I the only one who thinks that if priests and bishops had been teaching the truths of our faith from the pulpit during my lifetime (40+ years) that maybe this public display would not have happened? It is heartening to see them speaking up now at any rate. My 16-year old and I were counting the Catholics on stage at the Dem convention and we discussed how things would be different if all Catholics (ourselves included) simply knew the truths of our faith, were able to articulate them and lived them. We agreed we would soon be martryed in this climate!

  9. Rudy B says:

    What got me about this story was that it didn’t take the side of liberaldom, i.e., vs. the Church, that abortion is a choice, that Christianity is accepting, etc. No! In the sections by the author, outside the quotes, it’s rather fair! We need to keep this issue alive; no doubt “liberals/progessives” w/e you want to call them – cafeteria Catholics – will want to bury this ASAP.

  10. Larry says:

    One good, and it is a good, that has come from this episode is the chance for bishops to “re-create ’68” in a good way. For the first time the American public including the Catholics have a chance to hear the truth about the Church’s teaching on abortion. The AP story seems almost incredible. They actually have done the work and printed the truth. That is truly remarkable in the context of the week of the Democratic National Convention. I find it also icredible that I am in agreement with Fr. Reese. Even if they are correct I would prefer that politicians speak about how the gospel applies to life and not get involved in any Theologocal discussion. I do believe that theology is “above their pay grade” even as practicing the gospel is their undenialble duty.

  11. Deusdonat says:

    What??? Nothing for my Pelosi pic??? Nuttin’??? Geeze! I’m spinning gold for you people!!

    : P

  12. Trevor says:

    Someone should inform Fr. Reese, SJ that its a big mistake for “dissident theologians to talk theology” as well.

    Notice his words “reduce abortions” this is Pelosi’s goal as well. Catholics cannot be content with “reducing abortions”, because it implies that the procedure will still be allowed for some cases.

  13. BCatholic says:

    Oremus, please pray for Professor Cahill. She and I have mutual friends and what I know is that she is a good woman, although wrong on some things.

  14. Anne says:

    Thanks Deusdonat. You did good. :)

    Larry: “One good, and it is a good, that has come from this episode is the chance for bishops to “re-create ‘68” in a good way.”

    Well said.

Comments are closed.