Friday, August 29, 2008

The Least of These

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, who’s biblical scholarship this blog has previously noted, was a guest on Tom Brokow’s Meet the Press last weekend and presented her understanding of Catholic teaching on abortion. It seems to be lacking in factual veracity.

MR. BROKAW: Senator Obama saying the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you’re looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, “Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?” what would you tell him?

REP. PELOSI: 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. 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. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child–first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There’s very clear distinctions. This isn’t about abortion on demand, it’s about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and–to–that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. 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. 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. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions.

While I would not comment on her claim to be an ardent practicing Catholic which is between her and God, I really wonder what she, or her research assistant, has been studying for a long time. The Church has always called abortion an evil which is never permissible. This is true no matter what the viewpoints were of individuals over time on secondary issues.

Non-Catholic Irenaeus at Catholidoxy looks at the historical record and fisks the accuracy of Speaker Pelosi’s statement several times over:

That the doctors of the church have not been able to decide when life begins. But if she’d really studied the issue (as she expressly claims), she would know that no doctor of the church in particular and no orthodox father of the church has ever said abortion is OK, as we’ll see at great length. It’s true that some doctors and fathers and theologians of the Church raised the question of “ensoulment,” asking when an unborn baby receives a soul, and given different answers. But in Christian (as opposed to Gnostic) tradition, humans are not only souls but also bodies. And thus no Father ever, ever used the idea of later ensoulment (often borrowed from Aristotle) to excuse or permit abortion. Contrary to what Pelosi expressly says, Augustine never ever said life begins at three months In Christian tradition, until the 1960s, life was thought to begin at conception, regardless of the details certain thinkers put forth about speculative embryonic anthropology..


Amy Welborn of Charollote is Both hits the issue at it’s heart.

Over and over we are told - by bishops themselves - that their primary role in contentious situations like this is to teach.


Here you have a very prominent American Catholic, going on the record with her purported studiousness on this issue, authoritatively declaring something false about the teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is what we call a teachable moment. Monday morning, the USCCB should have a press release, accompanied by a real human being - preferably a bishop - maybe even a Colorado bishop, given the location and the proximity of the press - giving a short, succinct correction of Pelosi’s statement. It wouldn’t take long. Do it right in front of where the convention is meeting.

No 501(c)(3) worries. No threats of endorsement or condemnation. Just…


Do it over and over and over - do not let this moments pass by and the deceptions continue to rule.

Her advice is especially important because as Father John Richard Neuhaus pointed out a few years ago:

. . .when the Democrats had unequivocally become the abortion party and the Republicans unmistakably the pro-life party, it was obvious that liberal Catholics, including most bishops, had chosen, whether they knew it or not, party over principle. Under the tutelage of Cardinal Bernardin and others, consciences had been sedated, and the bishops turned their energies to writing pastoral letters on "peace and justice" issues such as disarmament and economic equality. For which they received the enthusiastic plaudits of the media. Largely because they were not talking about abortion.

But several Bishops have started have started to speak out this time.

Cardinal Egan of New York

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they 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.

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Lori for National Catholic Conference

The Church has always taught that human life deserves respect from its very beginning and that procured abortion is a grave moral evil. 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 has long taught 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 of Washington D.C.

. . .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.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: the current teaching of the Catholic Church on human life and abortion is the same teaching as it was 2,000 years ago. The Catechism 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.” (Catechism, 2270-2271)
The Catechism goes on to quote the Didache, a treatise that dates to the first century: “’You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.’”
From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.

Archbishop Chaput of Denver in a letter wih the delightful title of On the Separation of Sense and State

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.

. . .

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.”

. . .

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.

And many more bishops and laity are joining the chorus.


Perhaps in closing we should listen to the words of Jesus:

. . .I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. 'Matt 25:42-45

I ask:

If the unborn child

even a child at the one cell stage of development,

is not the “least of these”


See Also:
Cause Not Harm
Criss Cross Democrats and Republicans and Abortion
And my:
Social Justice topic


Mark said...

I am trying to comment on your "Least of Them" post. Don't know where so will try here.

I am Catholic but the Church has been known, even by many of its members,to engage in rather blatant sophistry.
The Church has changed its position on abortion. Chaput and others are playing word games. An example : in early 19 century your hand could be cut off for stealing a sack of apples. Today, such punishment would be considered absurd. So the position on stealing apples has changed in my opinion. The Church has changed the punishment for abortion over the years; showing to any reasonable person its position on abortion has changed. The Biblical injuctions are mixed.

See how Chaput is clever. The Church has always opposed abortion as it has heresy. You were once burned for heresy; now the Church, I assume, I'm not sure of Wiegel and Chaput, opposes any physical punishment for heresy.
So the Church's position has not changed? Ah, you clever Catholics!! No wonder we have a bad reputation with many.

I have explored this issue at length on my blog. So a short version. The Catholic primitive does not understand that the issue is not life vs. murder. The issue is, is one cell a person? Not is that one cell life. My hair is life, human life, but not a person. A heart waiting to be transplanted is human life; it is not a person.

Frank you are into polls. The OVERWHELMING majority of catholics do not believe a few or one undifferentiated cell(S) is a person. OK, the usual response: The Church hierarchy is right and the opinion of the majority---well, pitch it!

Of course, I have explained all this before but one further observation. The Church for over 1900 years taught that sexual intercourse was only for procreation. A few decades ago they slipped in the "unitive" principle not to look crazy.

In sum them. Yes, the Church has always considered abortion wrong; just as heresy. But Ms. Pellosi is right, maybe not technically. But in a real sense she is right: we no longer burn for heresy. I am not sure, but I suppose Chaput and Wiegel, and the other primitives do not favor the death penalty or life imprisonment for destroying one cell. But maybe they do.

I am Catholic but not a blind follower of word game players who play such games to protect the superiority of their celibate/virtual eunuch status.

hank_F_M said...


This is the right place. Thanks for leaving a comment. I will post a few points to this evening or tommrow. I have to run now.

hank_F_M said...

Joe you bring up a lot of points, some of which go well beyond what I was trying to say.

Readers should check out Liberal Catholic News Sports Music where you make your case very vigorously.

Ignoring the central issue, which, but for the grace of God, we will never agree on, there are several other points that I should have brought out better.

Amy Wellborn’s comments are worth considering. We are not talking about displinary action, we are talking about teaching. That is one of a Bishop’s primary duties. As Paul told Timothy “in season and out.” I know, it is out of season, which means it is more important than ever. How many of the people in the pews who disagree with Church teaching never had it properly explained to them?

As a number of people have commented the Bishops in the US for the last thirty years or so have not been the most forceful in making public statements that are not politically correct... Well golly shazam, they are speaking on something that might get them disinvited from in-crowd events. I think we can agree there are several other areas to which they should extend their teaching.

Speaker of the House Pelosi is not just another blogger. If she were another blogger maybe some one would object in her comment section but no one would feel obligated to give her comments any weight that did not come from facts and logic. But she is a senior government official two heart beats (Bush and Cheney) away from being the President. When she appears on a public forum such as Meet the Press, where she was invited because of her official status, not her charm, it is incumbent on her to remember she is a senor government official.

When she speaks of any group of citizens she should strive to be accurate. She made a factually incorrect statement that could have been prevented if her research assistant had done thirty minutes worth of work. Because she is a senior government official, with a government paid research staff, in many circles her comments will be assumed to be correct. It is incumbent on the leaders an effected group and knowledgeable persons to publicly correct mis-statements of this type so that they do not be come accepted general knowledge and effect government policy.

As Archbishop Chaput wisely pointed out there is a Church and State issue and the separation of Church and State goes both ways. Remember Thomas Jefferson used the term “wall of separation” in a letter to the Danville Baptist Church to assure them the government would not interfere in the church. If the government tells a church what it’s doctrine should be it is “establishing religion” in a far more substantive manner than Zion Illinois having cross on the city shield recognizing the cities origin. You think the doctrine is incorrect but it is not the role of the government to change it to something you like. She didn’t cross the line but she is close. Speaking out now will save many problems later.

Mark said...

Frank, you are a real nice guy. Unfortunately in this case you did not respond to anything I said. But have a good day. Jack

hank_F_M said...


I really hate those discussions that go on for thirty posts alternating repeats of the first two posts. I try to avoid them.

Of course things change. But there is an irredeemable level of doctrine that cannot change. Abortion is an evil and must not be committed is one of them. The unanimous teaching of the early Councils and Fathers of the church who the addressed the subject is that abortion is not permissible. While sometimes they mention it in passing sometimes it is “fire and brimstone” preaching but any way there is no opposition in the Church. What to do to prevent abortions and how deal with it when it happens is not a doctrine and has changed many times over time and will change again. See the full Cathlidoxy link above He traces that repeated denunciation of abortion from the first century. Supporting the idea that abortion is possibly permissible would require statements from several orthodox Fathers of the Church or better yet recognized orthodox Councils establishing that at least it was an issue of contention. In the forty years this has been a hot issue no one has been able to do so, despite a strong incentive in some quarters, so I think it can’t be done.

Thomas Aquinas’s review of matrimony in his Summa Theologica. I skimmed through it. The items that concerned him are not exactly those of today, he talks of the procreating, raising, and educating children as the principle goal of marriage, which means he would recognize other lesser goals. More inference than exact statement but his comments seem to imply that a “unitive principle” is a legitimate goal. It does not seem one can find grounds to reject a “unitive principle.” Of course that is only 800myears or so not a thousand.

Note the arguments proposed inthe quotes in my main post. They are saying that while some persons had inadequate view of human embryology they still rejected abortion. I would think that if, for the sake of argument, we take your understanding of human embryology, the undifferentiated one cell embryo still has enough human potential to fall under the "no abortion" doctrine.

Mark said...

Ah, my friend, we agree basically. I oppose abortion as you do. But you agree that the one cell embryo has "potential" not actuality.

If you have one more minute.
Poll A has McCain 51%, Obama 49%
Poll B has McCain 42%, Obama 58%

Actual election totals:Obama 51% McCain 49%

Poll B got the winner. Is it "Better."?
Thanks. John

hank_F_M said...

A thing to remember about polls is they are a snapshot in time, not a predictor, but that stops no one from using them as a predictor.

People change their minds, so today’s true values may not be tomorrow’s or next weeks.

We will assume in your example the polls were taken the day before the election and no one changed their mind.

The true value of the population as a whole is

Obama 51% McCain 49%

With a three per cent margin of error a poll taken a sample would produce results in the following range.

Obama 48 – 54 % McCain 46 – 52%

Poll “A” is better because it’s answers are in the margin of error and thus a closer snap shot of the true value.

That poll “B” got lucky in predicting is irrelevant, since it is nowhere near a snapshot of the true values.

This is why averaging from several polls and running polls are important. Even the best poller can have a bad day and produce bad numbers.

Often the poller will tell you the difference is statistically insignificant. Meaning they are polling so close together you can’t be sure who is ahead on the true values.

Mark said...

Thank you. I thought what you thought but needed to be assured by an 'expert.' Jack

Anonymous said...

they read this in church this past weekend.
i sort of surprised me that the responses were so rapidly forthcoming. i thought the bishops would respond next summer this time.

hank_F_M said...


Submit a Nomination

Mark said...

Typical hierarchy hokum. The issue is not does the hierarchy oppose abortion; but when does a cell become a person? Seeing they have lost the latter(personhood)they switch the battle to "does the church oppose abortion?" I might point out that Slattery protected, and had as his assistant a priest accused of sex abuse, which I believe is true because I saw this priest looking at pictures of nude teen-age boys in a bookstore.What would old Slattery know of the family since he has sworn never to have children? They get in the way of his holiness. Jack

Copyright 2004-2012 - All rights reserved. All opnions are mine, except comments or quoted material - who else would want them. Site Meter