“On the Separation of Sense and State”
(Sorry for the lousy formatting – copied it from the pdf file.)
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.
Bishops respond to House Speaker Pelosi’s misrepresentation of Church teaching against abortion
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.
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.
“Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper”:
On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist
On Meet the Press this past Sunday, August 23, 2008, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made statements regarding the teaching of the Catholic Church, human life and abortion that were incorrect.
Speaker Pelosi responded to a question on when life begins by mentioning she was Catholic. She went on to say, “And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition…” After Mr. Tom Brokaw, the interviewer, pointed out that the Catholic Church feels strongly that life begins at conception, she replied, “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.”
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.
Update: Archbishop Chaput on Biden:
Archbishop Chaput, who was scheduled to lead a pro-life candlelight vigil Monday night here in front of Planned Parenthood, called Mr. Biden’s support for abortion rights “seriously wrong,” said archdiocese spokeswoman Jeanette De Melo.
“I certainly presume his good will and integrity,” said the archbishop, “and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion.”