SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: PELOSI, BIDEN AND ABORTION
Bishop Paul S. Coakley
IN VIEW OF THE unfortunate remarks of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Joseph Biden who misrepresented Catholic teaching on abortion in recent interviews I would like to offer some clarification and reflection.
On August 24 Mrs. Pelosi, who is Catholic, told Tom Brokaw on NBC’s Meet the Press that through the centuries Catholic leaders had not been able to agree when human life begins. She told the interviewer that ultimately “we don’t know” when life begins and “that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose” (abortion).
She made her remarks while claiming to be a Catholic and implying that hers is a legitimate Catholic position.
On September 7, Senator Biden waded into the same waters on the same program with the same interviewer. Senator Biden confused the matter further by saying that he “knows when (life) begins for me,” but that that this is a “personal and private issue.”
That life begins at conception is a scientific fact, not a personal or subjective or philosophical or religious opinion.
The comments of both of these high profile Catholic public servants raise a number of serious concerns. First, the authority to interpret the Catholic faith is entrusted not to public officials, but to the bishops as successors to the apostles. Among the chief duties of the bishops is to teach the Catholic faith. Among the principal duties of the lay faithful is to help shape a just society which promotes the common good while protecting the most vulnerable.
IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of Catholic public officials to properly form their consciences in light of authentic Catholic moral principles to assist them in their public service. Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden are seriously misinformed on the Church’s position on when human life begins and the gravity of abortion.
The truth is that from the beginning to the present day the Catholic Church has consistently condemned abortion as a grave evil. A late first century catechism called the Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles said, “You shall not slay the child by abortion. You shall not kill what is generated”.
From the moment of conception a distinct human being is present in the womb. This is a scientific fact. From conception this human being is endowed with dignity which must be respected and protected until natural death. This is a philosophical and theological conclusion based on that fact as well as on God’s revelation.
Our current laws deny legal protection to an entire class of human beings, children in the womb. We have a serious obligation to work to restore full legal protection to these vulnerable human beings from the very moment of conception.
The comments of these two prominent Catholic legislators demand a response because of another very real moral and spiritual danger: scandal. To give scandal does not mean merely to shock or upset someone as the “scandal sheets” in the grocery store checkout lines often do. To cause scandal means that we lead others into sin. The Catechism says, “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter” (CCC 2284). Jesus warns, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!” (Lk. 17:1).
WITHOUT PRESUMING to know their intentions or subjective responsibility it is nonetheless true that Catholic public officials who in their public acts and statements repudiate the Church’s moral teaching on such a grave moral evil as abortion, become a scandal to others. Their public actions not only contribute to the perpetuation of a grave evil, but they can lead others to accept a position wholly incompatible with the love of God and love of neighbor, one that is gravely sinful.
This leads to a final concern which regards the reception of Holy Communion. In order to receive Holy Communion worthily we must be in communion with God and with the Church. Mortal sin destroys that communion. But those also who knowingly and obstinately reject the doctrines and moral teaching of the Church have by that fact diminished their communion with the Church.
To receive Holy Communion under those circumstances would be dishonest. It would be to profess a level of communion with Christ and his Church which does not exist. In these cases, persons ought to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they have been reconciled to the Church and accepted its teaching.
Catholics who enter public service undertake a noble profession. In spite of the protests of a secularist ideology, public life and faith ought not to be separated. This was certainly not the intention of our nation’s founders. As Catholic citizens we offer our truest and most valuable service to our country and communities when we live our Catholic faith most authentically.
The Register Sept. 11, 2008
(Hat Tip to American Papist)