Nancy Pelosi's Scandal and the Bishops Response

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					Printer Friendly - Catholic Online                                                4/21/09 4:58 PM

 Nancy Pelosi's Scandal and the Bishops Response: Time for
 Catholic Action
   By Deacon Keith Fournier

 Catholic Online

 Speaker Nancy Pelosi misstated the truth concerning abortion as the taking
 of innocent human life and committed scandal.

 CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - The Democratic Speaker of the US
 House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press
 on Aug. 24, 2008. She intentionally used her office and this very public
 opportunity to add to the efforts of some dissenting Catholics in both major
 US Political parties to confuse fellow Catholics, other Christians and other
 people of faith and good will concerning the Catholic teaching on the
 intrinsic evil of every procured abortion as the intentional and immoral
 taking of innocent human life.

 Speaker Pelosi compounded her error by telling the interviewer that the
 Catholic Church had taught different things at different times concerning the
 subject. She further contended that in taking her personal position of
 supporting the so called “right” to abortion she was somehow being faithful
 to the teaching of her Church. Finally, she arrogantly insisted that she had
 studied the issue, purporting to be some kind of expert on the subject.

 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the compilation of teaching which
 the speaker purports to embrace by virtue of her claim to be in communion
 with the Church, addresses the subject of “scandal” with these words:

 of others: SCANDAL

 “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The
 person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue
 and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a
 grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave

 “Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those
 who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our
 Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who
 believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone                  Page 1 of 6
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 fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Scandal
 is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach
 and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this
 account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing.

 “Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.
 Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures
 leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or
 to "social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and
 obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible." This
 is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers
 who provoke their children to anger,or manipulators of public opinion who
 turn it away from moral values.

 “Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads
 others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil
 that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. "Temptations to sin are sure to
 come; but woe to him by whom they come!"

 Speaker Nancy Pelosi not only intentionally misstated the truth concerning
 the Catholic position of unequivocal opposition to abortion as the taking of
 innocent human life, she committed scandal.Since this event, ten Bishops
 have spoken out to publicly reprimand the Speaker. The entire conference of
 Catholic Bishops responded immediately through a statement from Justin
 Cardinal 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:

 “In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public
 issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history
 and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against
 abortion.In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church 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." (No. 2271)

 "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 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                  Page 2 of 6
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 right to life”

 Then, the US Bishops added even more to their unequivocal defense of the
 right to life by issuing the following release:

 The Catholic Church is a Pro-Life Church

 “All persons, not just Catholics, can know from the scientific and medical
 evidence that what grows in a mother's womb is a new, distinct human
 being. All persons can understand that each human being -- without
 discrimination -- merits respect. At the very least, respecting human life
 excludes the deliberate and direct destruction of life -- and that is
 exactly what abortion is.

 “Catholics are also pro-life because our Christian tradition is pro-life. As
 Pope John Paul II says, Christians believe that "all human life is sacred, for it
 is created in the image and likeness of God." Aborting an unborn child
 destroys a unique creation which God has called specially into existence.
 “Christian teaching also obliges us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ,
 who spoke and acted strongly and compassionately in favor of the most
 despised and vulnerable persons in society. Jesus touched lepers, spoke with
 prostitutes, and showed special mercy and tenderness to the sick, the poor,
 and children.

 "Our society today has many vulnerable persons --- including women in
 crisis pregnancies as well as unborn children whose lives may be legally
 ended at any time during pregnancy and for any reason. In the tradition of
 Jesus Christ, Catholics have a responsibility to speak and act in defense of
 these persons. This is part of our "preferential option" for the poor and

 “The Church's mission to defend human life applies over the entire course of
 life, from conception to natural death. And so the Catholic Church has been
 a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and a leader in international
 relief and development efforts. Catholic hospitals and other health-care
 facilities form the largest network of private, not-for-profit health care
 providers in the United States. Catholic Charities USA --- one of a number
 of Catholic charitable groups --- is currently the single largest provider of
 social services to all Americans, regardless of race, creed or national origin.

 “The Catholic Church strives to be a prophetic voice, speaking out to protest
 injustices and indignities against the human person. Catholics will continue
 in this work, whether our words are popular or unpopular.Since its
 beginnings, Christianity has maintained a firm and clear teaching on the
 sacredness of human life. Jesus Christ emphasized this in his teaching and
 ministry. Abortion was rejected in the earliest known Christian manual of
 discipline, the Didache.

 “Early Church fathers likewise condemned abortion as the killing of
 innocent human life. A third century Father of the Church, Tertullian, called                     Page 3 of 6
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 it "accelerated homicide." Early Church councils considered it one of the
 most serious crimes. Even during periods when Aristotle's theory of
 "delayed ensoulment" led Church law to assign different penalties to earlier
 and later abortions, abortion at any stage was still considered a grave evil.
 When biologists in the 19th century learned more about the process of
 conception, the Church altered its legal distinction between early and late
 abortions out of respect for reason and biology. Since that time, science has
 only further confirmed the humanity of the child growing in the womb.
 Official Church teaching insists, to the present day, that a just society
 protects life before as well as after birth.

 "The reasons are not difficult to understand. One official Church document
 on the subject puts it this way: "The first right of the human person is his life
 . . . It does not belong to society, nor does it belong to public authority in
 any form to recognize this right for some and not for others; all
 discrimination is evil. . . Any discrimination based on the various stages of
 life is no more justified any other discrimination. . . . In reality, respect for
 human life is called for from the time that the process of generation begins.
 From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that
 of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being
 with his own growth." (Declaration on Procured Abortion, Congregation for
 the Doctrine of the Faith (1974), paragraphs 11-12.)”

 Next, in an August 29, 2008 teaching document,the US Bishops have given
 even more helpful material to the faithful who must now take up a new
 Catholic Action effort to defend the lives of our first neighbors in the womb
 by opposing the so called “right to abortion” and insisting instead on the
 “right to life” as the only true right. These same faithful must oppose those
 who, like Speaker Pelosi, continue to intentionally obfuscate the Church’s
 clear, constant and unbroken opposition to the intrinsic evil of every
 procured abortion.

 Respect for Unborn Life: The Church’s Constant teaching

 "The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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” (No. 2271).

 "In response to those who say this teaching has changed or is of recent
 origin, here are the facts:

 • From earliest times, Christians sharply distinguished themselves from
 surrounding pagan cultures by rejecting abortion and infanticide. The earliest
 widely used documents of Christian teaching and practice after the New
 Testament in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve
 Apostles) and Letter of Barnabas, condemned both practices, as did early
 regional and particular Church councils.                     Page 4 of 6
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 • To be sure, knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent
 times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time,
 based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers.
 Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from a
 woman’s womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or
 soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come
 entirely from the man – the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so
 much of basic biology, was unknown.

 • However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church’s
 common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage. At the very
 least, early abortion was seen as attacking a being with a human destiny,
 being prepared by God to receive an immortal soul (cf. Jeremiah 1:5:
 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”).

 • In the 5th century AD this rejection of abortion at every stage was affirmed
 by the great bishop-theologian St. Augustine. He knew of theories about the
 human soul not being present until some weeks into pregnancy. Because he
 used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, he also thought
 the ancient Israelites had imposed a more severe penalty for accidentally
 causing a miscarriage if the fetus was “fully formed” (Exodus 21: 22-23),
 language not found in any known Hebrew version of this passage. But he
 also held that human knowledge of biology was very limited, and he wisely
 warned against misusing such theories to risk committing homicide. He
 added that God has the power to make up all human deficiencies or lack of
 development in the Resurrection, so we cannot assume that the earliest
 aborted children will be excluded from enjoying eternal life with God.

 • In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas made extensive use of Aristotle’s
 thought, including his theory that the rational human soul is not present in
 the first few weeks of pregnancy. But he also rejected abortion as gravely
 wrong at every stage, observing that it is a sin “against nature” to reject
 God’s gift of a new life.

 • During these centuries, theories derived from Aristotle and others
 influenced the grading of penalties for abortion in Church law. Some
 canonical penalties were more severe for a direct abortion after the stage
 when the human soul was thought to be present. However, abortion at all
 stages continued to be seen as a grave moral evil.

 • From the 13th to 19th centuries, some theologians speculated about rare
 and difficult cases where they thought an abortion before “formation” or
 “ensoulment” might be morally justified. But these theories were discussed
 and then always rejected, as the Church refined and reaffirmed its
 understanding of abortion as an intrinsically evil act that can never be
 morally right.

 • In 1827, with the discovery of the human ovum, the mistaken biology
 of Aristotle was discredited. Scientists increasingly understood that the
 union of sperm and egg at conception produces a new living being that is                  Page 5 of 6
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 distinct from both mother and father. Modern genetics demonstrated that this
 individual is, at the outset, distinctively human, with the inherent and active
 potential to mature into a human fetus, infant, child and adult. From 1869
 onward the obsolete distinction between the “ensouled” and “unensouled”
 fetus was permanently removed from canon law on abortion.

 • Secular laws against abortion were being reformed at the same time and in
 the same way, based on secular medical experts’ realization that “no other
 doctrine appears to be consonant with reason or physiology but that which
 admits the embryo to possess vitality from the very moment of conception”
 (American Medical Association, Report on Criminal Abortion, 1871).

 • Thus modern science has not changed the Church’s constant teaching
 against abortion, but has underscored how important and reasonable it is, by
 confirming that the life of each individual of the human species begins with
 the earliest embryo.

 • Given the scientific fact that a human life begins at conception, the only
 moral norm needed to understand the Church’s opposition to abortion is the
 principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must
 be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for
 the Church’s social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of
 capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration.
 Conversely, to claim that some live human beings do not deserve respect or
 should not be treated as “persons” (based on changeable factors such as age,
 condition, location, or lack of mental or physical abilities) is to deny the
 very idea of inherent human rights. Such a claim undermines respect for the
 lives of many vulnerable people before and after birth.

 (For more information: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
 Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974), nos. 6-7; John R. Connery, S.J.,
 Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (1977);
 Germain Grisez, Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments
 (1970), Chapter IV; U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, On Embryonic
 Stem Cell Research (2008); Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (1995),
 nos. 61-2.)

 Speaker Nancy Pelosi has spoken in clear error and she has engaged in
 scandal. The US Bishops have spoken in crystal clarity as our moral
 teachers. It is now time for the faithful to engage in a new Catholic Action                   Page 6 of 6