WASHINGTON (BP)–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Roman Catholic, has been invited by the archbishop of her home diocese to meet with him regarding her recent comments on abortion that contradict church teaching.
San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer announced his invitation to Pelosi in a Sept. 5 column in the archdiocese’s newspaper, Catholic San Francisco.
Niederauer is the latest in a succession of Catholic leaders who have refuted contentions made by Pelosi in an Aug. 24 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the Catholic Church has been unable to define through the centuries when life begins and has only in the last 50 years determined it starts at conception.
In his column, Niederauer discussed the withholding of communion to Catholics who willfully violate the church’s teaching on such issues as abortion. Although Niederauer did not declare a position on the potential discipline of Pelosi, he said it is his responsibility to decide how to deal with the issue and he has invited her to take part in a “conversation with me about these matters.”
Pelosi, who has served as a Democratic representative from San Francisco for nearly 22 years, elicited strong protest from the Catholic clergy and laity when she said on Meet the Press that the church has been indecisive on when life begins. She also argued it doesn’t matter what the correct answer is, because a woman’s right to an abortion trumps an unborn baby’s rights, regardless of when his life begins.
Pelosi, asked about the beginning of life by Meet the Press host Tom Brokaw, responded, “I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.” Pelosi, whose voting record has strongly supported abortion rights, continued, “And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make the definition. … We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.”
Brokaw replied the Catholic Church “at the moment feels very strongly” about life beginning at conception.
“I understand,” she responded. “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. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, plus several members of the conference, firmly rejected Pelosi’s assertions.
She “misrepresented the history and nature” of the Catholic Church’s teaching against abortion, said Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, and Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, in an Aug. 26 news release.
They said the church’s Catechism 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.
“[T]he 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.”
Archbishops who weighed in on Pelosi’s comments and corrected the record on Catholic teaching on abortion included Edward Egan of New York, Donald Wuerl of Washington, Francis George of Chicago and Charles Chaput of Denver.
Niederauer said many Catholics had written him letters and e-mails expressing “their dismay and concern” about Pelosi’s comments.
William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights commended Niederauer and said Pelosi should have announced she would no longer present herself for communion.
“Instead, she chose to defy the teachings of the Catholic Church, misrepresent them in public and continue to insist that she is right,” Donohue said. “Thus has she beckoned her bishop to act.”
Compiled by Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.