By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Instead of correcting erroneous statements made on NBC’s Meet the Press last weekend about the Church’s position on when life begins, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement acknowledging the mistake but excusing the Speaker by claiming she is like many other Catholics who routinely skirt “clear Catholic teaching” on abortion.
“While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not ascribe to that view,” wrote Pelosi spokeswoman, Brenda Daly.
“The Speaker is the mother of five children and seven grandchildren and fully appreciates the sanctity of family. She was raised in a devout Catholic family who often disagreed with her pro-choice views.”
Daly went on to explain the basis for Pelosi’s mistaken beliefs on when life begins.
“After she was elected to Congress, and the choice issue became more public as she would have to vote on it, she studied the matter more closely. Her 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).”
Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, clarified the teaching of St. Augustine on this subject.
“St. Augustine ‘believed that the embryo was ensouled at 46 days. Nevertheless, he also believed that it was gravely wrong to kill a formed or unformed fetus.’ It is instructive to note that philosophical discussions about the soul, and research on embryology, continue to advance beyond the knowledge available in the 5th century.”
He added: “In any event, Pelosi will find no relief for her bizarre reasoning by citing St. Augustine, or any other Church Father. Nor does her argument gain strength by pointing out that not all Catholics agree with the Church on this subject. So what? There are plenty of Catholics living a life rife with sin that seek to justify their behavior by saying they disagree with the Church on the source of their delinquency. “
Since making the remarks on Sunday morning, Pelosi has been reprimanded by numerous church officials at the U. S. Council of Catholic Bishops, including 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.
Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Lori wrote Pelosi a letter explaining the fact that scientists are certain 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.”
Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput also responded publicly to Pelosi’s remarks. “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,” he said in a press release.
New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan issued a statement clarifying that the unborn are “human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.”
Religious leaders were not the only people to condemn Pelosi’s remarks. Eighteen Catholic lawmakers also wrote a letter to Pelosi asking her to publicly rectify her misrepresentation of Church teaching, something she has thus far refused to do.
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