Pelosi’s abortion comments provoke Catholic criticism
Catholic leaders in Colorado and elsewhere have been swift to react to comments by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the Church itself had long debated when human life begins.
“… 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,” said Pelosi, seen at left kissing Pope Benedict’s ring during his visit to Washington in April.
In Denver, the venue for this week’s Democratic party national convention due to annoint Barack Obama as its presidential nominee on Thursday, Archbishop Charles Chaput and his Auxiliary Bishop James Conley said in a statement on Monday that Catholic teaching on the subject was unequivocal — abortion is gravely evil — and that “Catholics who make excuses for it … fool only themselves.” Similar comments came from Washington D.C. Archbishop Donald Wuerl.
In a statement late on Tuesday, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs said: “Those Catholics who take a public stance in opposition to the most fundamental moral teaching of the Church place themselves outside full communion with the Church, and they should not present themselves for the reception of Holy Communion.”
Pelosi’s spokesman Brendan Daly responded on Tuesday with a statement saying not all Catholics agreed with the Church’s position on when life began.
While not always mentioned by name, the clerical criticism can also apply to Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, picked as the vice presidential running mate for Obama. Biden is a practicing Catholic who also supports abortion rights and analysts have said he could help woo wavering Catholics into Obama’s fold. But a revival of the 2004 debate over whether such Catholic politicians should be refused communion at Mass could possibly hurt him.
John Kerry, a Catholic who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 , provoked stormy debate in Catholic circles about whether or not a pro-abortion rights politician should be able to receive Holy Communion, a key sacrament of the faith. Several bishops said they would not give him communion and the media staked out churches where he attended Mass to see if he received. In June 2004, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — wrote to American bishops restating the Church position that a priest must refuse to distribute communion to a Catholic politician who supported abortion rights.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics and while polls show Americans in this election cycle much more concerned about the economy and Iraq it could prove important in Colorado, a closely-contested “swing state”.
When Colorado voters elect a new president on Nov. 4 they will also be asked to amend their state constitution to define legal “personhood” as starting from the moment of fertilization, a position that would not ban abortion but would create the legal foundation for a possible ban in the future.
This measure could energize the state’s conservative Catholics and large evangelical community — a key base for the Republican Party which its presidential candidate John McCain needs — to go to the polls.