John Allen on the papal audience and Pelosi

My friend Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., the nearly ubiquitous fair-minded columnist for the ultra-lefty NCR posted his analysis of the meeting pro-abortion Catholic Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House, had with Pope Benedict.

My emphases and comments.

Pope’s meeting with Pelosi a classic Vatican ‘both/and’

February 18, 2009


Pope Benedict XVI’s much-awaited encounter this morning with U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most prominent pro-choice Catholic in America, amounted to a classic Vatican “both/and” exercise, striving to balance the demands of external diplomacy and internal church discipline.  [This is a good way to start.  The distinction between external and internal is useful when looking at anything Holy Church does.  I will often speak of ad intra (for her members as Catholics) and ad extra (for the world, the public square).  This is, I beleive, a dimension of what Pope Benedict is doing in his project of revitalizing Catholic identity.  We have to know who we are before we can contribute properly to the discourse of the public square and fulfill our role as light, salt, leaven in the world.]

By meeting Pelosi, Benedict signaled that he wants lines of communication to remain open with the new American leadership, even if the Vatican has deep differences with its policies on the “life issues.” The Holy See is a sovereign state with diplomatic relations with 177 states around the world, which, among other things, means the pope can’t always act like the head of a special interest group. [Which is how the Church is perceived on a political level in many places.]

Yet by issuing an unusual public statement after the session with Pelosi — which insisted that all Catholics, including legislators, [ehem… "especially legislators", Mr. Allen.] are obliged to work for the defense of human life from conception to natural death — the pope also made clear there will no let-up in the pressure on pro-choice Catholic politicians to change their ways[When will that pressure become proportionate to the serious dissent, I wonder.]

While the Vatican typically puts out brief declarations after the pope meets with a head of state, encounters with lower-level officials are generally considered private. Doing so in this case thus suggests that the pope wanted to make a point.

Benedict XVI spoke briefly with Pelosi and members of her entourage at the close of his regular Wednesday General Audience this morning in Rome.  [So it seems they did not go off to some room, but perhaps just met briefly directly afterward.]

Benedict’s willingness to meet Pelosi had frustrated some pro-life Catholics in the States, who felt it was untoward for the pope to grant a “photo op” to a politician who drew a rare public rebuke from the U.S. bishops last summer after suggesting on “Meet the Press” that the church’s position on abortion has been fluid and ill-defined.  [I can’t agree with those who say we should never meet with those who differ with us.  Pope Benedict has given a good example of how to engage serious people at a serious and new level.]

“Over over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition,” Pelosi said, referring to when life begins. She said the position that life begins at conception had arisen within the last “fifty years, or something like that.”

A late August letter from Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Lori, chair of the Committee on Doctrine, bluntly asserted that Pelosi had “misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic church against abortion.”

In the run-up to the encounter, Judy Brown, the president of the ardently pro-life American Life League, issued a statement asserting, “The only photo-op I hope to see out of Rep. Pelosi’s meeting with the Holy Father Wednesday is the House Speaker in the confessional line.”  [Yes… that would be nice, but how actually to attain that moment is hardly going to be easy to accomplish on our own.]

Exacerbating this drumbeat was a rumor circulated on some pro-life web sites that Benedict would be presenting Pelosi with some sort of award – speculation that was quashed early this week by the Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi.

Facing criticism about mixed signals, the Vatican issued its statement immediately after the meeting broke up.

“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” it read, “which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”

Not only was it unusual to issue a statement after a meeting with an official who’s not a head of state, routine Vatican declarations after diplomatic meetings also generally sum up the range of issues discussed rather than concentrating on a particular point.

In that sense, the statement can only be read as a rejection of Pelosi’s statements last summer, [D’ya think?] and, in general, of her argument that it’s acceptable for Catholics in public life to take a pro-choice position.

Seen through the lens of Vatican diplomacy, this combination of public welcome and after-the-fact rebuke covered all the bases. Whether it will leave activists and partisans in any camp fully satisfied, however, is another question.

Pelosi was in Rome as part of a six-day visit to Italy, meeting with various Italian officials as well as American servicemen and women. Pelosi is also reconnecting with her own roots, as her paternal grandfather was born in the Italian region of Abruzzo and her grandmother in Liguria. On Monday, the Italian Chamber of Deputies presented Pelosi with her grandparents’ birth certificates to commemorate her visit.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. dark_coven says:

    Hate to break the ice but. Is this news really true? Msgr. Williamson will be kicked out of the SSPX? Sad if true. I’m sure the sedevacantists would be waiting to take the spoils.

    Instavrare Omnia In Christo

  2. Mitchell says:

    I think Ms. Pelosi probably “yes-ed” the Holy Father the entire time and it will be business as usual when she returns to Washington. It is doubtful she will address the situation publically and let us in on her enlightenment or what she has learned. It is only her incorrect interpretations that she so boldly defends and states on TV. Humility we will see no sign. She offended many and mislead many. It would be in her arrogance not to address the same people with a correction. ( I will give her the benefit of the doubt and wait til she gets back and makes her public statement within days)

  3. ED says:

    So Nancy Pelosi can advocate the murder of millions of children and still recieve communion,while Archbishop Lefbrve consecrates 4 bishops and is excommunicated. Hmmmmmmmmmm, seems like the Vatican more concerned about their institutional power than those children.

  4. ED says:

    Dont expect the Bishops to refuse communion to Pro-Abortion “catholics” when the Pope didn’t ask for a public repudation of her views.

  5. Christa says:

    News stories coming out that the Vatican did not release a photo of the meeting, which is a bit of a slap in the face and also denies Speaker Pelosi the use of a photo for her nefarious publicity plans.

    I think she will avoid interviews for a while, as someone is bound to ask her about her position vs. that of the Pope, and she cannot now pretend that she doesn’t understand the Church’s teachings.

  6. Tominellay says:

    …good points above, by Christa (10:53 am)…

  7. TJM says:

    I just saw on Fox News that there are no photos of the meeting. Thank God. No publicity that can be used to dishearten practicing Catholics. Tom

  8. Tominellay says:

    …thinking it was a very good idea for the Vatican to have published its account of this meeting before Pelosi publicizes her version…

  9. I suspected this AM that this news has everything to do with why we have not heard on the Big Apple’s new appointment. It makes sense for the Vatican to have held off to let this news on Pelosi circulate before letting it get diffused with news of a new archbishop for New York.

    Am I giving them too much credit? lol

    Fr. Z – see the email I just sent. Abp Niederauer did meet with Pelosi on Feb 8th. We just learned about it today.

  10. Paul M says:

    Not only was it unusual to issue a statement after a meeting with an official who’s not a head of state, routine Vatican declarations after diplomatic meetings also generally sum up the range of issues discussed rather than concentrating on a particular point.

    I’m encouraged that Fr. Lombardi and the Vatican press office issued this statement so quickly. It seems they may have learned a bit from the Williamson flap. Regarding Ms. Pelosi, the less said the better.

  11. ssoldie says:

    I don’t believe this will change Ms. Polosi’s political stand one iota, it’s about her power,and her pride. What is that.. ‘pride goeth before a fall’.

  12. RBrown says:

    Paul M,

    I’m not surprised. After more than 40 years of popes who emphasize international politics at the expense of propagating the Catholic life (un papa politico), we now have one whose emphasis has been returned to the proper order (un papa religioso).

  13. Jim says:

    Pelosi’s post-audience statement talks about peace and justice issues; the Holy Father’s, about the duty of legislators to protect life at all stages. Pelosi evidently has chosen to ignore Peter’s message and focus on her own.

  14. tertullian says:

    “A small number of bishops around the world may have a different view but that does not mean that the bishops are right. There can be no question about the right of Catholics to hold these views (pro-choice), be in full communion with the church and receive Communion and the other sacraments.”

  15. GOR says:

    From the AP: “Pelosi could not immediately be reached after the 15-minute meeting, which was closed to reporters and photographers. The two met in a small room of a Vatican auditorium after the pope’s weekly public audience.

    So, no photo-op. Sorry Nancy…

  16. Ken says:

    I love Mrs. Brown of American Life League — great thought/quote. But her first name is Judie, not Judy.

  17. When will that pressure become proportionate to the serious dissent, I wonder.

    That’s what I’d like to know. I have no expectation that the Speaker will moderate her full-throated support of abortion. But what will the Holy Father, and Archbishops Niederauer and Wuerl do when she doesn’t, and continues to present herself for communion?

  18. Eric says:

    fair-minded columnist

    What part of Allen\’s use of the term pro-choice is fair-minded? The pro?

  19. Maureen says:

    Reporters use the terms their editors tell them to use.

    Now, why any Catholic magazine would use that term as part of their style guide, I don’t have a clue.

  20. RBrown says:

    What part of Allen’s use of the term pro-choice is fair-minded? The pro?
    Comment by Eric

    Excellent point. The use of “pro choice” concedes the argument to the pro abortionists.

  21. nathan says:

    Well, it looks the Vatican press office is being more timely and proactive with high-visibility events. It did a great job of setting the tone of the meeting by not allowing photos and making a statement very quickly before Pelosi’s team did any spinning. Maybe they are learning something from the SSPX media debacle.

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