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This past Sunday on Meet the Press , Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claimed that, having studied the matter carefully as a “fervent, practicing” Catholic, she had learned that doctors of the Church have historically had no fixed position on when human life begins; therefore, one should not interfere with a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

No-one was surprised when, not twenty-four hours after the program aired, Denver’s indefatigable Bishop Charles Chaput sent out an open letter correcting Pelosi’s gross misrepresentation of Catholic tradition. But it did not stop there. Rather unexpectedly, more bishops chimed in , including New York’s Edward Cardinal Egan, whose firm rebuke included these thunderous lines:

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.

The Speaker responded yesterday morning . She acknowledged that “Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception” but she, like “many Catholics,” dissents from this view. She instead follows St. Augustine, whom she quotes as saying that “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).

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Pelosi to explain how a “fervent, practicing Catholic” can justify dissent from an immemorial teaching in the name of outdated science. Anyway, let’s hope that, especially with the election coming up, the bishops get a taste for this kind of forthrightness.



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