Newsweek/WaPo’s Stevens-Arroyo takes Planned Parenthood position

For the first time I looked at the blog called Catholic America: A closer look at Church, Culture and Change, by Anthony Stevens-Arroyo which is a feature of Newsweek/Washington Post.

Watch how this writer ascribes to Pelosi a position she didn’t have.  She was talking about "when life begins" and he shifts this to "when conception takes place".  And he does so with vile intent, I think, and consequences.

My emphases and comments.

The Archbishop, the House Speaker and the Abortion Dance [an image which, I think, degrades the issue]

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke about the abortion issue in a television interview, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington issued a clarifying statement. Rather than a put-down as some had expected, however, the Archbishop did a dance with her.

In the interview, Pelosi had said that the Democratic Party’s position reflected the religious pluralism of the country. Uncertainty about when life begins was understandable, she said, because the theological history of even the Catholic Church had produced varying opinions about when exactly the "moment of conception" takes place.  [This is the lead up to the assertion that conception is separated from fertilization.] The Archbishop admitted that there had been changes in opinion about when conception takes place, [Umm… No… he didn’t.  He admits changes in knowledge of embryology, but he doesn’t talk about changes in the view of the moment of conception.  There was a debate, of course, about when human life begins.] but insisted that the teaching of the Church has always safeguarded that moment. [No.  It safeguards human life.  What the Church has always held is that abortion is evil.  Now, that term abortion is applied to what exists after the moment of fertilization.  What the writer is going to try to do is separation fertilization from conception.] The House Speaker had talked about the scientific dimension of the issue: [Right.  Scientific.  Right.  She started out saying she was an "ardent Catholic".  No.  She was talking theology, not science.] the Archbishop emphasized the theological (or metaphysical) definition. They were moving in lock-step but in different directions – just like partners in a dance.  [For pity’s sake: look how far we are from intelligent conversation about this issue?]

Other bishops continue to repeat the theological opinion, [That word "opinion" weakens what the bishops are repeating.] which of course they should do. However, while theologians can speak authoritatively about the need to respect the moment of conception, [Again, watch out for the trap down the line.  He is trying separated conception from the moment of fertilization.] it is "above their pay grade" to put on a biologist cap and define scientifically when that moment occurs.  [HERE WE GO!  Read carefully:] Fertility doctors, who are the experts on this matter, distinguish between a "fertilized egg" and "conception." Only when the embryo is implanted in the womb does it achieve conception, they say. In fact, it would appear that in normal circumstances a significant number of fertilized eggs – perhaps as high as 30% — never reach conception. 

[Several points here.  Whatever it is that exists after fertilization, it is nothing other than a human something.  A deliberate action on our part to kill it directly, or kill it by preventing implantation is wrong.  That is the Church’s teaching.  However, if through natural reasons whatever it is fails to implant properly, there is no moral delict.  Thus a drug or device that prevents implantation of a fertilized egg, a blastocyst, is not and contraceptive.  It is an abortifacient.  But this fellow, who is pushing the line favored by Planned Parenthood, separates the moment of conception away from fertilization.  Thus, those drugs or devices are, in that view contraceptives: they prevent conception which would, in that view, occur from implantation.

This is pushed by Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion, pro-experimentation types.

The consequences of separation of conception from the moment of fertilization?  You can do anything you want to that thing there, that fertilized egg or blastocyst.  So long as it is not implanted, you can kill it, freeze it, experiement on it, clone it, harvest elements of it, morph it into something else by putting genetic matter from say, yaks into it.  There are no moral consequences.

Watch what he does now….]

Now, Catholic teaching instructs us that even if an embryo is not yet conceived, it has that potential. [No.  Conception takes place at fertilization.  The writer has plowed ahead, forcing the Church’s teaching into his own premise that conception and fertilization are separate.]  The embryo is human life, even if undifferentiated cells do not constitute a fetus or a functioning human person. Moreover, the embryo is biologically not part of the woman’s body in its cellular composition, even if it is not viable outside of the woman’s body. While these distinctions might resemble angels dancing [again that word] on the head of a pin to most of the public, they are important to theologians. [They are important to everyone.] It is heavy stuff, not easily reducible to bumper-sticker sloganeering – although there seem to be quite a lot of dummies who try to trivialize Catholic teaching that way.  [How condescending.]

Unfortunately, this avoids the real issue for bishops and politicians alike: [Okay… what does he think is the real issue?] Does Catholic teaching bind non-Catholics?  [That’s the real issue?!?] For instance, the United Church of Christ – Senator Obama’s denomination – has a different teaching about abortion than the Catholic Church: Are Catholic voters obliged by their bishops to take away the right of Protestants (or Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.) to practice their religion (or atheists to be atheists) in the U.S.? I am sure that there are some Catholics who will cite Pope Pius IX that "Error has no rights."  In that interpretation, Catholics in America are bound in conscience to be subversive, to undermine democracy and impose a religious test on candidates, officials and legislation even if in so doing they contradict the Constitution of the United States[This is absurd.  Whatever the teachings of other religions or denominations, the issue of the moment of conception (fertilization) can be discussed simply on a natural basis.  Also, when Catholics practice their religion, adhere to their views, and act on them, they are not subverting the Constitution.  The Constitution upholds the rights of people, even Catholics!, to practice their religion.  If a Catholic, bound in conscience to accept the the Church’s (and common senses) teaching that human life begins at the moment of fertilization, votes for candidate X because he is pro-choice, that is not a subversion of the Constitution, just because someone disagrees with the Church’s teaching.  When Methodists pushed prohibition, did any say that the Constitution was being subverted because for German Catholics beer was a part of a normal diet?  Does anyone give a damn that when Roe v Wade or Doe v Bolton affect the laws of the land, Catholic taxpayers were affected?  Did anyone complain that the Constitution was being undermined when those SCOTUS opinions came down even though clearly Catholics think abortion is evil?  Moreover, if a person decides to impose a religious test on a candidate, he is free to do so.  What the Constitution prevents is that the State impose a religious test.   Voting, either at the ballot box or on the bench of the Supreme Court, results in victory for some, loss for others.  But the expression of religious views in the public square is not subversion of the Constitution.  My view and vote does not take away the rights of a secular humanist or indistinct Protestant.

And… btw… the real issue is the sanctity of human life.  The Constitution is just fine.  What this guy is really suggesting is that Catholics shouldn’t say anything in the public square that might contradict the side that wants to be able to kill or experiment on unimplanted embryos, whether in the womb or in a dish.]

Speaker Pelosi and Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Biden clearly do not interpret their Catholicism in ways that would be anti-American or be subversive of civil rights of non-Catholics[No, but that is not the point.  Is he just being obtuse?  They are a) dead wrong about their interpretation of Church teaching and b) not competent to interpret that teaching for others, much less competent to change that teaching.  Stating that has nothing to do with civil rights.] (We could add names of other Catholics and Republicans like Rudolph Giuliani to this list of pro-American Catholics.)  [I think he just suggested that expressing a religious view that abortion is wrong from the moment of fertilization onwards is… un-American.  Is that what just happened?] I have read the bishops’ statement on Faithful Citizenship and it clearly settles this issue in favor of small-d democrats everywhere. However, so as long as the bishops give theological answers to political questions, they expose our faith to confused charges of infidelity to the American way. [Which is… I think… what this guy just did.] Speaker Pelosi is no dummy: [QED] she spoke correctly from her perspective, [I love it.] just as the Archbishop did from his. [Even better.  Picture two Catholics: one is a Catholic lay woman who is a public figure, and one is successor of the apostles, the officially appointed pastor of the diocese in which the other has some sort of domicle, the Archbishop.  The Archbishop lays out what the Church teaches.  The laywoman responds: "Well, that might be true for you. I have a different view."]  It would be a service to Catholics everywhere if the bishops articulated more clearly the need to distinguish between theological teaching and political decision-making. Keep Catholic political leaders and bishops on the dance floor of the public square, I say! [Notice that dances, though interesting and even energetic, don’t go anywhere but in circles?]  The public needs to see the careful intricacy we undergo in living within our shared Catholic conviction. I think the two concerns of theology and democracy can make beautiful music together.

Posted by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo on September 2, 2008 9:55 AM

A couple things.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t asked questions about when "conception" begins or what the relationship is between fertilization and conception.  She was asked when human life begins.  She effectively responded that it didn’t matter, that it is okay to kill whatever is there anyway, and that right to kill is should be a matter of choice, human life or not.

The Church’s leaders are clear that human life begins at the moment of fertilization, which is not to be separated from conception.

The writer things Archbp. Wuerl was in on some kind of dance.  I don’t think so.  I was disappointed that His Excellency did not make a clear statement about Catholic pro-abortion politicians, but he was not fuzzy on the beginning of human life.

In his statement he wrote, he quotes CCC 2270 which speaks about "the moment of conception".  Fine so far.  That could go either way.  But then he writes:

"the biological evidence today that human life – a human being – begins at conception. Whatever the theories and embryology from ealier centuries may have been, today all of the sceintific reasearch clearly confirms that the coming together of a human sperm and egg begins a new human life.  The scientific position concerning the embryological origins of humans has become clearly elucidated during the past century in a manner that provides overwhelming empirical evidence of the contunity of the life of a human being.  that continuity extends from the joining of a sperm and eff through its stages as an embryo, a fetus, an infant, a child, an adolescent, and adult and a senior on to natural death.

Human life begins at fertilization.  Fertilization is the moment of conception.  What has been conceived is a human being.  And so the "continuity" Wuerl writes of must be extended to implanted or not-yet-implanted blastocysts.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Chironomo says:

    Only outright fear can bring forth this kind of hard work from someone in the media! The only “intricate and obtuse” arguments presented here are his, trying to find a way to justify treating the viewpoints of the Archbishop and Nancy Pelosi as “equally Catholic”. There is a very strong rhetorical theme going through his article that leads the reader to conclude that the Catholic “position” can be reduced to a mere Catholic “opinion”. This is relativism at it’s most insidious, and I’m not sure that the writer even realizes he has been taken in….

  2. Oremus says:

    When you are taught there is no authority in the church but only
    opinions this is the kind of “thinking” that occurs. He is demonstrating
    why we in America need a good cleansing of all our “moral theology” books and
    other CCD materials.

  3. John says:

    Father Z,

    Perhaps you didn’t realize that the distinguished scholar with whom you
    are disagreeing is the professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and the possessor of a doctorate (what kind is not stated) in “comparative religions” from Fordham.

    Seriously, I read that article on the Wash. Post web page and was appalled by the deficient reasoning. He’s a jolly old elf, but I don’t
    think they taught him logic at Fordham, or at the seminary he attended
    previously. Where do they find these people?

    John Pierce

  4. John says:

    didn’t mean to shout. The bold must be set

  5. Gordon says:

    Have been keeping clear of this debate, but a few points ought to be made . To begin, I do think it deplorable that most democratic minded or “socialist” minded politicians seem to have pro choice opinions or votes as some sort of badge of honor, and that many traditional minded church poelpe, especially some in the clergy seem to have right wing views as a badge of honor. I have very little time for many pro life politicains who at same time would have many of us working for slave labor wages when after working 40 hours a week, after the bills and rents are paid, a mere bar of chocolate is an absolutre luxury. Don’t see that as being pro life. Oppression of the poor is also a sin. Main point on the abortion debate is that we can’t expect the likes of Pelosi or whoever, to fully accept Church teaching when the very clergy and bishops reject it, or at very least don’t explian it.I had a dispute with a well know Scottish priest once who got himself in an English jail for the weekend after protesting outside an abortion center. As if saying the rosary in his church wouldn’t have more effect. He rejected the veiw that the soul of the unborn child does not see the beatific vision. That is the real reason the Holy Church has always condemned abortion. Even if St. Augustine was unsure when the “human” began he alawys insisted the soul was created at conception. If the bishops start talking more about the souls then perhaps we might just begin to influence the minds of some of these politicians. All this sentimental talk of the “innocent unborn”, clearly is having no good effect. And in the minds of some, if the soul of the child goes direct to heaven, is that no bad thing? If this is what the clergy believe happens, how can we expect lay people to think otherwise? Most people reject the limbo idea today. Thus the priests and bishops don’t speak about it. Perhaps the heirarchy ought to review how they handle the teachings on abortion, by concentrating more on the spiritual and less on the sentimental side of things.

  6. Xpihs says:

    Stevens-Arroyo holds the same premise as Pelosi and “[so called] Catholics for Free Choice”, that the Institutional Church is not the Church, the people are the Church. Since the people (Catholics) believe and do all sorts of things without having any qualms, then there really isn’t any binding teaching.

    A scandal, in addition to Pelosi and the like, are those Catholics that have not been given the opportunity to leave the Church for believing as they do and doing as they will against the Magisterium of the Church. These nominal Catholics should be given the choice to leave or become what the name Catholic should imply. I know that priests have many challenges before them, I pray that they accept those challenges.

  7. Doc Angelicus says:

    “Anyone who refuses to protect innocent life lacks the wisdom to lead and the moral authority to speak on war and poverty.”

    Everyone should copy and paste that line into every combox you can find, and encourage others to do the same. And just keep repeating it whenever abortion and Obama comes up in conversation.

    What does Obama (or any pro-abortion politician) say about war? Who cares?! He calls his own hypothetical grandkids a punishment and is willing to kill them. His views on war and anything else are highly suspect.

    This is the real heart of the election, and if the Republicans don’t make the connection that defending innocent life is a qualification of leadership, then they will lose a magnificent opportunity.

    Thanks Fr. Z for giving that fellow a sound thrashing. When life begins is not a religious issue or a constitutional one: It is a scientific one: Anyone who refuses to protect innocent life suddenly loses all credibility on other issues!

    Copy and paste, folks. I am.

  8. The other David says:

    An amazing misrepresentation by Stevens-Arroyo to make it seem the Bishops were intruding into Politics when in fact Pelosi was trying to portray her beliefs as acceptable as Catholic. Either he is grossly misinformed as to what Pelosi said (which makes him incompetent) or else he is seeking to create a Strawman argument to create pro-abortion propaganda.

    So, are you incompetent or a heretic, Mr. Stevens-Arroyo?

  9. This whole issue surrounding Pelosi is making my head hurt. Can we agree that if the Bishops were walking in Christ’s footsteps, by excommunicating the errants instead of granting them audience which has only tempted and confused the faithful, perhaps we wouldn’t be talking about this issue today. Groups such as Catholics for a Free Choice have been tolerated as have those who espouse the ordination of women priests are doing the devil’s work for him, further confusing the faithful. Let’s support the Holy Father’s call to reinstitute the usus antiquor and take it one step beyond, to return to the Church that had God’s favor before Vatican II. The devil hates God and his favored people. I would pray that churches everywhere put back the confessionals that have been torn out, just maybe that would facilitate the call of some within the Church for Catholics to go to confession before receiving the Lord in the Eucharist. Just my opinions, sorry for being verbose.

  10. Subvet says:

    Gotta hand it to him, when Stevens-Arroyo shovels it he uses both hands.

  11. Domenic Di Girolamo says:

    The issue that conception does not take place until the embryo is implanted in the womb is the argument created by Barr Pharmaceutical (BRL) to get the morning after pill approved as a contraceptive item and not as an abortificiant.

    Looks like the bishops will have to issue a third letter to address these counter arguments from 2006.

  12. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Absolutely outstanding.

    I have to admit that I’ve always understood conception to be synonymous with fertilization, but as I look at the Oxford English Dictionary, there are unmistakable instances where conception is not exactly the same as fertilization, e.g.

    1615 Helkiah CROOKE Body of Man 232 Conception is nothing els but the wombs receiuing and imbracing of the seede.

    Concipere in Latin does mean “to take to one’s self, to take in, take, receive” (Lewis and Short). There are other quotes (though none from a recent textbook, vel sim) of the same period that seem to use conception in a way more like fertilization, but the scientific knowledge back then was not much better than Aristotle’s. Pro-lifers should look at pre-Roe embryology textbooks and see what language they use. All the same, it still strikes me that the differentiation of fertilization and conception is recent revisionism within the last 5 years.

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