Baker, OR: Bp. Vasa – forceful statement about Pelosi’s persistent errors on life

In The Catholic Sentinel His Excellency Most Reverend Robert Vasa, Bishop of Baker, Oregon, has interesting comments in the wake of the erroneous remarks of Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Meet The Press about the beginning of human life and the Church’s teachings on abortion.

You will recall that Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) asserted that the Catholic Church is somehow uncertain about when human life begins, citing, incredibly, St. Augustine’s 5th century understanding.

Modern look at abortion not same as St. Augustine’s

By Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND — It is not possible this week to write about things related to the Catholic Church without making special note of the comments of a high-ranking U.S. official regarding abortion. This official, drawing from the rich tradition of the teachings of Saint Augustine, implied that he would have permitted abortion up to three months after conception. [You will want to go here to review what Augustine’s actual thought on abortion was.] As has been well reported by others, Saint Augustine was working from the defective science of his day and he was trying to reconcile what he understood from science with the philosophical views of his day.  [And also was interpreting a LXX passage of Exodus.] It should be noted that Saint Augustine died in 430 AD.

In order to give a fair treatment of Augustine’s view I turn to an entry by John C. Bauerschmidt, Abortion, in Augustine Through The Ages: An Encyclopedia. He writes:  [Hmmm… looks familiar…. yes, I believe I posted that!  Excellent choice, Eccellenza!  See the link I provide above.]

“Abortion: Augustine, in common with most other ecclesiastical writers of his period, vigorously condemned the practice of induced abortion. Procreation was one of the goods of marriage; abortion figured as a means, along with drugs which cause sterility, of frustrating this good. It lay along a continuum which included infanticide as an instance of ‘lustful cruelty’ or ‘cruel lust.’ Augustine called the use of means to avoid the birth of a child an ‘evil work:’ a reference to either abortion or contraception or both.”

According to a spokesperson, [See, again, this page.] the public official’s “views on when life begins were informed by 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.’” (Saint Augustine, On Exodus 21.22) Clearly Augustine believed, according to the science of his day, that the “body” of a pre-born child “lacked sensation” and from this he concluded that the child likewise lacked a human soul. Since the creature in the womb of its mother seemed to lack both sensation and soul, at least until the 40th day after conception, he had questions about the full humanity of the child. If Augustine had access to ultrasound images or if he had seen the film, “Silent Scream,” he would have had no doubt about whether the child “lacked sensation.”  [Well said.]

Precisely because of the lack of scientific precision, Augustine distinguished between a vivified and unvivified fetus, (a fetus before or after ensoulment). Since he could not conceive of an ensouled person without sensation, he concluded that the abortion of a “pre-vivifed” fetus, while a grave evil, could not be considered, in the strict moral sense, a murder. [But that is not the end of the story of Augustine’s thought, as that abovemention and cited article on abortion explains.]

I certainly commend the public official for going to Saint Augustine, a great theologian and philosopher, for views on morality but Augustine’s views need to be read and adopted in context. It is highly disingenuous, deceptive and intellectually dishonest to take this ecclesial sound bite from 1,500 years ago and treat it as if it is the last definitive word on the subject. [Note the reference to a 1500 year old sound bite.] This is particularly true since Augustine himself “vigorously condemned the practice of induced abortion” despite the unavailability of accurate scientific information. Furthermore, according to Bauerschmidt, Augustine also called the use of means to avoid the birth of a child “evil work.” It would appear that the public official conveniently missed that part and thus does not allow Saint Augustine to form any part of her understanding of the evil of either abortion or contraception while boasting that this is precisely what she has done.

The spokesperson also attempted to further blur the concerns about the public official’s stand on abortion by indicating that the public official “has a long, proud record of working with the Catholic Church on many issues, including alleviating poverty and promoting social justice and peace.” I, too, could commend the pubic official for “working with the Catholic Church” on these issues but if the views on these issues are formed by the teachings of the Catholic Church, which are quite current, why does the public official seemingly work so hard to reject the teachings of the Catholic Church, as they are currently stated, regarding abortion and contraception? [A good question.  Also, I don’t think there is a true moral equivalence between the sanctity of human life, that is the right to be born, and, say, working to feed and clothe the homeless.  The one is more important and fundamental than the other.]

If I were to think a bit more critically I would be inclined to conclude that the public official accepts the views of the Church which agree with her view and rejects those views which do not. [Given that this has been going on for years, I think we have to conclude the same, until other evidence presents itself.  I don’t think that would be rash judgment.] In other words, she is not formed by either Augustine or the Catholic Church on any of these social or moral issues, but simply happens to agree on some points. This then would have nothing to do with any true conviction about the goodness, beauty or truth of the teachings of the Catholic Church but rather pure political expediency[Is this one of the strongest statements we have seen from a bishop to date?]

The spokesperson’s statement also implies that, as has often been posited by politicians of one stripe or another, because they hold and support properly Catholic views on the social issues of race, poverty, justice and peace that they should not be held accountable for their rejection of the Catholic teachings on the more direct life issues such as abortion, assisted suicide and embryonic stem cell research. This is an inappropriate and unjust application of the U.S. Bishops statements concerning a “consistent ethic of life.” This consistent ethic is sometimes interpreted to mean that life issues as divergent as capital punishment and abortion, or assisted suicide and the loss of life in the war in Iraq, are equivalent. [Right!  There is no moral equivalence.] Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly in each of these instances, regrettably, a human life is at stake but the difference is that only in the case of abortion or assisted suicide do we deal with the direct and intentional taking of the life of a completely innocent person.

A person may work very admirably to alleviate poverty but this does not justify ignoring the greatest poverty which is the one which fails to recognize the value of life. A person may work very admirably to promote social justice but this does not justify turning a blind eye to the greatest injustice openly operative in our society which is the unjust deprivation of the pre-born of their most basic constitutional right, the right to life.

WDTPRS kudos to Bp. Vasa for this strong statement.

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  1. TomG says:

    Come on, Father. Bishop Vasa of Bend, Oregon? Podunk town, populated by hicks obsessed with their religion and guns, probably churning out way too many babies. Clearly a man incapable of sophisticated, *nuanced* thinking!

  2. Dan says:

    Excellent statement by His Excellency.
    I would have also mentioned, since His Grace emphasised giving assent of obedience to everything that Holy Church puts forward for our belief, that one of the primary reason’s that abortion is evil is that it, in most cases deprives the child of Sacramental Baptism and therefore these aborted babies are murdered with Original Sin on their souls and cannot enjoy the Beatific vision.
    God bless Bishop Vasa!

  3. Deusdonat says:

    Tom – I think you were being sarcastic. But regardless, Bend is an odd place, as is Oregon in general. Anything 15 miles outside of Portland is almost backwater. I remember driving up to Vancouver Canada via Oregon some years back seeing billboards along Hwy 5 saying in huge black block letters: “The Pope is the Anti-Christ”.

    However, in case you weren’t being sarcastic, I would say the Bishop’s letter was nuanced, scholarly and spot-on historically and theologically.

  4. Johnny Domer says:

    Could someone cite examples of ways in which Pelosi actually “promoted social justice and peace”? I notice that Bishop Vasa here doesn’t actually admit that her policies have promoted social justice and peace, which is different from other episcopal statements. I suppose her act of voting against the Iraq War at its beginning would be one example. I’m very suspicious, however, of this term “social justice” when liberals use it, because I fear it means something a little more sinister than just ending racism and helping poor people.

  5. Johnny Domer says:

    Well, Vasa said he “could” commend her…perhaps I stand corrected. I would still appreciate examples of anything she’s actually done.

  6. David says:

    Bishop Vasa: Another example of Lincoln, NE sharing its Catholic wealth!

    May Bishop Vasa’s work with the orthodox Catholic Medical Association and his recent venture to World Youth Day, Sydney, Australia, bear fruit in the northwestern USA!

  7. Jerry Boyd says:

    No need for me to defend my Bishop. His statement speaks for itself. I will, however, defend the Diocese which he serves. He is headquartered in Bend, Oregon which, BTW, has as residents a significant number of leftists transplanted from other places–quite a number from the area Pelosi represents. The Diocese, however, is the Diocese of Baker and geographically is one of the largest in the nation though, admittedly, small in population. Tom’s labeling of Bend as a small (conservative) town is incorrect these days thanks to the migration from California. The rest of the Diocese, like Baker City where I reside, well deserves (and is proud of I might add) its reputation for clinging to its guns and religion. Our strength rests in that and is what motivates us to oppose the Pelosi(s) of the world.

  8. James the Less says:

    Phrased another way: she would rather win than be Catholic.

  9. Nick says:

    Just a minor correction–Bishop Vasa is the bishop of the diocese of Baker, Oregon, not Bend, Oregon. There is no diocese of Bend, Oregon.

  10. JohnE says:

    Deusdonat, I grew up in backwater Eastern Oregon, an hour or so from Bend and later went to school in the “big city” of Portland. Also spent time in Dallas, Seattle, Detroit, and Denver. There are marked difference between backwater areas and the city. I knew all the kids in my high school and some in the junior high. Other drivers give you a wave (all 5 fingers) as they pass by each other on the road. Despite less opportunities for cultural entertainments, museums, plays, etc., people enjoy the God-given entertainments of nature more than they can in the city — don’t even have to go to the zoo, and seem to have a much better time at get-togethers than city folk do, because the city folk are more apt to get bored unless some sort of entertainment is provided. Not much road rage in backwater either.

    Regarding the “The Pope is the Anti-Christ” sign — would this have been when you were driving up to Vancouver to see JPII some years ago? Oregon is not a very religious state, and is fairly liberal (assisted suicide), but that’s in Western Oregon where you also saw the sign — Portland, Salem, Eugene — where the “big city” folk live. You wouldn’t likely find a sign like that in backwater Eastern Oregon where people have a better sense of community.

  11. JohnE says:

    ‘doh! Thanks for the correction Nick. I meant we lived an hour or so from Baker. Bend’s nice too though.

  12. Deusdonat says:

    JohnE Backwaters can be very nice places, and please forgive me if you got the impression I was inferring otherwise. It’s interesting you made the whole “east/west” analogy, because the same thing is true in Washington State and even here in California. The further east you go, the less big cities there are, and the more the accents of the people change (I was in North Eastern California once near Redding and from the way people looked and talked I’d have sworn I was in Oklahoma or Arkansas).

    Incidently, I wave and smile to people a lot when I drive. When I see someone else with a rosary hanging from their mirror or other Catholic symbols I just give a quick nod and smile in their direction. Sometimes I get puzzled looks, but more often than not I get smiles back (they probably think I’m crazy or that I think they are someone else). But it helps the commute go by faster.

  13. JohnE says:

    Deusdonat, no offense taken. Often when I hear “backwater” it’s used in a derogatory way by the well-educated cultured people from the city who look with pitiful disgust on backwaters who could possibly think they could have an interesting or meaningful life without the rich assortment of cultural amenities offered by the city. I use the term myself occasionally though when describing where I’m from.

  14. Deusdonat says:

    I hear ya. And according to most of my countrymen north of Rome, I’m from a backwater myself.

  15. Jerry Boyd says:

    Having lived in big California cities all my life until moving to rural N E Oregon 6 years ago my only regret is not having made the move much sooner. In this ranching/farming country there is almost no such thing as a stranger when help is needed. Everyone waves (the right way) when you pass them on the road; folks in businesses are downright helpful; love of God and country are part of the fabric of local society. The community takes care of itself in times of need. I’ve never heard this country referred to as “backwater” but if such a reference is the price to be paid for living here so be it. Fr. Z’s Sabine farm is beautiful from the pictures he’s posted…but, no offense, I’ll take the natural beauty of the Elkhorns and Wallows any day. No gardener needs to mow or prune them!

  16. TJM says:

    Unfortunately what some folks think is “sophisticated” is actually evil. Being raised in a metropolitan, urban area does not make one sophisticated. It’s a state of mind. One can be sophisticated in Rome or on the Sabine Farm. Many Manhattanites have many things in common with
    Adolph Hitler – a disdain for the helpless, i.e. children in the womb. Tom

  17. TomG says:

    I corresponded briefly by email with Bishop Vasa a couple of years ago. (I knew he was from Lincoln, NE, BTW.) He is *exactly* the kind of bishop the Church needs in this country. A prince of man.

    Also BTW, I thought my use of the word *nuanced* would make my sarcasm obvious: it’s become urban-elitist-speak to inform the plain people of this country that they just don’t get it.

  18. JohnE says:

    TomG, your sarcasm was obvious to me. I also took it as a sarcastic reference to Sarah Palin. Check out this post (especially point 4):

  19. to Deusdonat,
    How can you state that the further east you go, the ‘less big cities there are’. Would you like to rephrase that? Or maybe you are not from California?

  20. Dob says:

    Love the last paragraph. Sums it up really. It has a certain gong booming, cymbal clashing Pauline ring to it. Well done and God bless this bishop. I hope and pray Nancy Pelosi repents and returns to the faith.

  21. Ed the Roman says:

    “Phrased another way: she would rather win than be Catholic.”

    And yet, she’ll get neither with this course of action.

  22. Paul Murnane says:


    to Deusdonat,

    How can you state that the further east you go, the ‘less big cities there are’. Would you like to rephrase that? Or maybe you are not from California?
    Comment by David Vandemore — 5 September 2008 @ 5:44 pm


    Please note the phrase prior to the one you cite: and even here in California. He is correct that, within California, the further east you go, the less big cities there are.

  23. Joseph says:

    I hope this guy is on PBXVI’s shortlist to take on the LA diocese when our beloved Cardinal retires. Would be nice.

  24. Carolina Geo says:

    How can you state that the further east you go, the ‘less big cities there are’. Would you like to rephrase that?

    I would hope that he would rephrase that. It’s supposed to be “the fewer big cities there are.” Come on, people – let’s try to maintain some grammatical dignity around here. :-)

    As to the bishop’s comments, they were spot on. Bishop Vasa has long been one of the few prelates in this country who has spoken forcibly on the need for Catholics to believe and behave like Catholics, especially in the public eye.

  25. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Just a small correction to the introduction of this entry: There is no Bishop of Bend. Bishop Vasa is the Bishop of Baker, or we could say that he is the Bishop *in* Bend.


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