Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Catholic Democrats vs Catholic Democrats

How divisive is the abortion debate? We now have Catholic democrats attacking Catholic democrats:

Speaker's war with the Catholic Church has now spilled over to the Congress.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has challenged when life begins. The Roman Catholic Church says life begins at conception. The Speaker, who claims she is an ardent Catholic, says down through the years the Catholic Church has not been able to agree when life begins. Church authorities have hotly disputed her view. Now a group of Mrs. Pelosi's fellow House members has weighed in with a sharply worded letter, organized by U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, of Michigan.

Mr. McCotter is part-theologian, part street-fighter. Clearly he is one of the most articulate members who have graced the floor of the House of Representatives. Mr. McCotter's letter begins by pointing out that Mrs. Pelosi claimed she had studied the abortion issue "for a long time. "The letter says, "As fellow Catholics and legislators we wish you would have made a more honest effort to lay out the authentic position of the Church on this core moral issue before attempting to address it with authority.

"The letter cites Mrs. Pelosi's interview with Tom Brokaw, which the letter said mangled Catholic Church doctrine regarding the inherent sanctity and dignity of human life. The legislators stated that they are compelled to refute her error. The legislators said that Tom Brokaw reminded you that the Catechism of the Catholic Church professes the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. The Catechism says the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

To this Mrs. Pelosi responded, "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 in controversy." (Maybe I'm misunderstanding Nancy Pelosi, but I understand her to be referring to the teaching about life beginning at conception. In this case she is correct. While abortion has been condemned, there most certainly has been dispute as to when life begins, or when it is fully human.)

The members told Mrs. Pelosi that her statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of Catholic teaching and belief regarding abortion. They told Mrs. Pelosi, "From the apostles of the First Century to Pope John Paul the Great, the Church has reaffirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. The 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."

They cite the Catholic catechism, Item 2271, as their source. They went on to say that the speaker's erroneous claim about the Church's opposition to abortion is false and denigrates "our common faith. ...For example, during the reign of Pope Innocent XI in 1679, the Church unequivocally stated it is an error for Catholics to believe fetuses do not have a soul..." confirming the teaching that abortion constitutes an unjustified taking of innocent human life.

Members of Congress concluded by telling Mrs. Pelosi, "To reduce the scandal and consternation caused amongst the faithful by your remarks, we necessarily write you to correct the public record and affirm the church's actual and historical teaching that defends the sanctity of human life.

"The congressmen told Mrs. Pelosi that they hope she will rectify her errant claims and apologize for misrepresenting the Church's doctrine and misleading fellow Catholics. Among the 18, Mr. McCotter colleagues who signed the letter are House Minority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio; veterans such as Peter King, of New York; Steve King, of Iowa; Dan Lungren, of California; and Phil English, of Pennsylvania.

They were joined by newcomers, such as Jeff Fortenberry, of Nebraska; David Nunes, of California; and Michael McCaul, of Texas. While partisan differences are typical of doing business in the House, it is highly unusual for members to deliver such a pointed attack on another member's version of her religion. Inasmuch as Speaker Pelosi has insisted upon standing by her original statement, it is highly likely that this matter will continue to be an issue as we move into the autumn campaign.


I noticed this same confusing of two distinct issues--that of when life begins, with abortion--in Cardinal George's response to what Nancy Pelosi said. There's no question that the Church has consistently historically condemned abortion, but it is also indisputable that there has been much discussion and much theology written around the question of when life begins, or when it is fully human. This is why Thomas Aquinas talked about quickening as the time he felt that a fetus attained fully human status and when it was fully ensouled. The standard pastoral practice was not to baptize miscarried fetuses because they weren't fully human.

This is an important distinction to keep in mind when pro lifers want to criminalize abortion. It's also a distinction they don't even address because it's highly unlikely society is going to agree to criminal sanctions for abortion as if it were equivalent to the taking of a viable born human life.

This is sort of the elephant in the living room in the whole pro life debate. Even places like Ecuador and the Philippines have a sliding sentencing code based on when a fetus is aborted.

Pelosi is insisting on keeping this distinction in the forefront. I suspect the bishops have come unglued about her remarks, addressing it strictly in abortion terms, because they have no real defense regarding the point she actually is making.

Bill Lyndsey, in his blog Bilgrimage , deals with the deception our bishops are engaged in today when they refuse separate the abortion act from the concept of when life begins. Is is only RECENTLY that they have defined the equivalence of life from conception to natural death, exactly as Pelosi implied in her response to Tom Brokaw.

It is only as the abortion issue became important political fodder that the term "baby killer" was used to describe pro choice folks. Should the pro life folk succeed in criminalizing abortion I am curious to see if they will be pushing for equivalent sentences for first trimester abortions and other types of murder. Will a first trimester abortion be grounds for capital punishment in say, Texas? I seriously doubt it.

In the meantime we now have Catholic democrats attacking Catholic democrats, not over policy issues, but over religious interpretation. Abortion really has become the ultimate wedge issue, used cynically to divide and conquer, and used to wedge the pro life arguments, by extrapolation, into all kinds of other social issues.

If we're learning anything in this political season, it's not the truth of an issue that matters, it's whether the lies can be told forcefully and frequently enough that people don't care if they're true. The treatment of Nancy Pelosi by her Catholic democratic brethren is another such case.

I really do hope her fellow democrats realize they now have themselves out on a plank that taken to it's LOGICAL conclusion mandates capital punishment for abortion in many US states.

If that's not where they really want to go they ought to shut up.


  1. Colleen, thank you for linking to my blog postings about the same theme today. I won't repeat here the points I make in those postings, since you've linked to them.

    What I do want to note is that Thaddeus McCotter is a religious-right culture warrior who attacked Catholics United for the Common Good last October as "false prophets" and "the devil cit[ing] Scripture for his own purpose" (see

    This after McCotter and other right-wing Catholics voted against the expansion of S-CHIP to help provide health coverage for poor children. Many leading Catholic groups working with the poor pleaded for the expansion of S-CHIP.

    To me, this refusal to expand health coverage for poor children sharply illustrates what is at stake in stake in the bishops' continued willingness to lend their pastoral authority to the religious right. We end up implying that the ONLY issue on which we are pro-life is abortion.

    And in doing so, we undermine the fullness of Catholic teaching about life and we contribute (as my blog says) to creating and protecting those "places" in our culture from which behavior antithetical to the ethic of life arises.

    It's time for the Catholic people to ask the bishops to stop contributing to the public square except in a partial and partisan way that undercuts our core values about life. It's time to assert our right to participate in the teaching office of the church.

  2. Collen, sorry to go on at length, but I just remembered something else I wanted to note in my comments above.

    The Catholics United for the Common Good website announced recently that it has been attacked by Jack Smith, editor of the "Catholic Key," the Catholic newspaper of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph (

    The attack occurred on Mr. Smith's Catholic Key blog (

    Catholics, of course, have differences of opinion about political (and religious) matters. And we have a right to those differences.

    But if the report on Catholics United blogsite is correct, this attack on an organization promoting the consistent ethic of life and attention to the longstanding tradition of the common good in Catholic pro-life politics is underhanded and dishonest.

    And that's not good, if it's true. I see increasing bullying going on on the part of a religious right (and its Catholic allies) who are determined to have only one viewpoint--namely, theirs--accepted as "the" pro-life viewpoint.

    And what a betrayal of the Catholic tradition, with its seamless garment approach and common good theology, if that is allowed to happen. I am perturbed in the extreme by the polarizing politics in which the bishops are now engaged, and the way those politics undercut our pro-life tradition.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. The deleted comment is mine. Bill I appreciate your bringing to our attention the hacking of the Catholic United For the Common Good sit.

    You're right that the concept of the common good has historically had different points of view within Catholicism. All we need do to see this is to look at WWII. Different concepts of the common good were espoused by Catholics of different countries, and they sought to kill each other to prove it. In the meantime the Vatican stayed silent, well at least silent in the main.

    Until the right to lifers are willig to deal with the elephant in the living room--that they would be happy to lethally inject to mother who aborted her fetus, I have no respect for their desire to criminalize abortion for any reason at all times.

    My hope is that more people will start to look at this from the prosecution end of things, and not the hypethetical ain't I so Christ like point of things. Maybe then they can see that Jesus did not advocate for changes in secular law. He was about converting people to see their connections, not their separations and their sins.

  5. I've noticed that when some folks, especially religious fanatics talk about abortion, that they call it "infanticide" or "killing children" or "killing babies" and "the culture of death." This is really false.

    It is not until the 12th week of gestation that it is called a "fetus" in the medical field. At 11 weeks of gestation the size is -- length 0.9 inch (2.3cm), weight 0.07 ounce (2gm). That's not an infant as those who are against abortion try to say and try to push the grotesque visual of a dead infant being left to die. At these earlier stages it is not possible to leave an "infant" gasping for breath and let to die as anti-abortionist claim so often. This is not a "baby, an infant, or a child." I would guess that most abortions occur up to this 12th week stage and even earlier, long before it is even called a "fetus", but the hysterical fanatics imagine in their heads otherwise and exaggerate this way out of proportion to an outright lie in saying it is an infant, a child or a baby that is aborted.

    Furthermore, in the pre-fetus stages of pregnancy the fact is that the placenta isn't even functioning yet, so it is even arguable if the woman is actually a mother yet in the pre-fetus stages. She is pregnant but she is not a mother yet and is not yet even tied to the fetus because the placenta is not providing nourishment in these earlier stages.

    Colleen, I would also like to see how these arguments would play out in courts. If criminalizing abortion and lethally injecting someone for killing, what was killed? It is not an abortion of a child, an infant or baby yet, or even a fetus yet in the first trimester.