An ardent, practicing Catholic?

Archbishop Charles Chaput leads the Denver Archdiocese, and mysteriously, was not invited to the Democrats’ convention. I suspect it’s because he’s an orthodox Catholic, not a cafeteria Catholic, and has said many things like this:

But [Catholics who support pro-choice candidates] also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life—which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.

Nancy Pelosi seems to think herself a theologian these days, to judge from her idiotic statements on Meet the Press.

REP. PELOSI: 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. . . . 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.

Note that this was after she described herself — and I quote — as an “ardent, practicing Catholic.”

Astounding. Carol Liebau, a Protestant, knows more about the teachings of the Church than Pelosi:

Remarkable. After all, I’m not even a Catholic — much less an “ardent” one — and yet I’m crystal clear that abortion rights and the sanctity of life haven’t really been too “controversial” in any segment of the Catholic Church. Ever.

Ms. Liebau, unlike the Speaker of the House, can even find the official statement from the U. S. Council of Catholic Bishops.

Since its beginnings, Christianity has maintained a firm and clear teaching on the sacredness of human life. Jesus Christ emphasized this in his teaching and ministry. Abortion was rejected in the earliest known Christian manual of discipline, the Didache.

Early Church fathers likewise condemned abortion as the killing of innocent human life. A third century Father of the Church, Tertullian, called it “accelerated homicide.” Early Church councils considered it one of the most serious crimes. Even during periods when Aristotle’s theory of “delayed ensoulment” led Church law to assign different penalties to earlier and later abortions, abortion at any stage was still considered a grave evil.

Indeed, the Didache, the first written catechism, dating from 70 AD (that’s just a bit more than 50 years ago) unambiguously condemns abortion.

The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child.

I could go on and on, because the Church has repeatedly over the last two thousand years condemned abortion. Unconditionally. Unambiguously. But Pelosi has gotten herself into serious trouble with her ignorant statements. The first to respond was Archbishop Chaput (the original is a pdf file, so I’ll reproduce it all here).

Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Addresses Archbishop of Denver


Denver, CO Monday, August 25, 2008

To Catholics of the Archdiocese of Denver:

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. Interviewed on Meet the Press August 24, Speaker Pelosi was asked when human life begins. She said the following:

“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 . . . 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.”

Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue “for a long time,” she must know very well one of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery’s Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here’s how Connery concludes his study:

“The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemnation of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time of fetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was based on the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whatever one would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in the strict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time of animation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abortion.”

Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

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.

The duty of the Church and other religious communities is moral witness. The duty of the state and its officials is to serve the common good, which is always rooted in moral truth. A proper understanding of the “separation of Church and state” does not imply a separation of faith from political life. But of course, it’s always important to know what our faith actually teaches.

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Denver

+James D. Conley Auxiliary Bishop of Denver

The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also responed (sorry, no link; it came from a mailing list).

WASHINGTON–Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have issued the following statement:

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.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “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.” (No. 2271)

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 teaches 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.

Archbishop Wuerl has issued a stinging response:

He said, “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.”

Wuerl pointed out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear, and has been clear for 2,000 years. He cited Catechism language that 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.”

[ . . . ]

The Speaker recently said she, unlike other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, has not clashed with her church about receiving communion.

I suspect that may change.

Hugh Hewitt has more. And Father John has chimed in.

Pelosi is by no means alone, here, and that’s what’s sad. One continually hears otherwise well-meaning Catholics claim that they can vote for pro-abortion candidates because of the “other Church issues.” This betrays a regrettable lack of understanding of fundamental Church positions.

The Church does not, in any way, state or imply that we should take care of the less unfortunate by creating welfare programs instead of, say, charity. No, the Church does not teach that we should be a welfare state.

The Church only condemns unjust wars, and has a list of criteria for determining whether a war is just. One may use that list and determine that any given war, say, Iraq, is unjust, but the Church has never claimed that the war is unjust.

The Church condemns the unjust application of capital punishment, not capital punishment.

The Church does condemn abortion, without condition, qualification, or exception.

With the exception of birth control, none of these issues is of the same importance as abortion, nor can a conscientious, practicing Catholic vote for a pro-abortion candidate, no matter what that candidate’s stances are on other issues. Period. The end. That’s all, folks.

Some of these people are cafeteria Catholics, certainly, but not all. Many misunderstand the position of the Church. It is best to gently inform them, not rail at them.

I suspect Pelosi might consider going to catechism classes.

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2 Comments on “An ardent, practicing Catholic?”

  1. Sam Says:

    Nancy Pelosi is confused about when life begins,but surely even she can see that when a baby starts kicking, and its heart starts beating,it’s alive, and yet she promotes abortion across the board. Thank God our Bishops are FINALLY beginning to speak. Now, when will they have the courage to refuse holy Communion to public figures who publicly promote abortion. Nancy Pelosi said her Bishop hasn’t done that so it must be a geographical thing but if it were done, it would devastate might also be a catalyst for conversion so why isn’t her Bishop telling her she cannot receive the Sacrament until she makes a public renunciation of her pro abortion stand? He could be a barrier to her conversion and salvation. Let’s pray our Bishops will have the courage to do the right thing…Sam

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