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PELOSI (THIRD UPDATE) Aug-27-2008 (1,240 words) With photo posted Aug. 26. xxxn

Bishops say Pelosi misrepresented abortion teaching in TV interview

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of the U.S. bishops' pro-life and doctrine committees criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she "misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church on abortion" in a nationally televised interview Aug. 24.

Pelosi, D-Calif., who is Catholic, said in an appearance that day on NBC's "Meet the Press" that church leaders for centuries had not been able to agree on when life begins.

An Aug. 25 statement by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said the church since the first century "has affirmed the moral evil of every abortion."

"The teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable," the statement said. "Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law."

Cardinal Rigali heads the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while Bishop Lori chairs the USCCB Committee on Doctrine.

The statement recalled how in the Middle Ages "uninformed and inadequate theories" about the development of a child in a mother's womb led some theologians to suggest that 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," the church leaders said.

However, they added, scientists discovered more than 150 years ago that a new human life begins with the union of sperm and egg, making such a biological theory obsolete.

"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 the respect for the fundamental right to life," Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Lori concluded.

The USCCB response came after Pelosi told interviewer Tom Brokaw "we don't know" when life begins.

"The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose," she said.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, Pelosi said specific considerations must be undertaken during each trimester of a child's development before an abortion can be performed.

"This isn't about abortion on demand. It's about careful, careful consideration of all factors ... that a woman has to make with her doctor and her God," she told Brokaw. "And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this."

She also said her goal is to make abortion safe and rare while reducing the number of abortions nationwide.

Pelosi, attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver Aug. 25-28, later defended her remarks through a statement from spokesman Brendan Daly.

Daly said Aug. 26 that Pelosi modeled her views on the beginning of life on those of St. Augustine. Quoting from Augustine's commentary on the unformed and formed fetus, the statement said "the law does not provide that the act (of abortion) pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation."

"While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not ascribe to that view," the statement added. "The speaker agrees with the church that we should reduce the number of abortions. She believes that can by done by making family planning more available as well as increasing the number of age-appropriate sex education and caring adoption programs."

Other bishops weighed in after Pelosi's interview, reiterating the church's long-standing teaching on abortion.

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said that while he respected the right of public officials to address public policy issues "the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops."

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the archbishop noted that the church has maintained its teaching on the "moral evil of every procured abortion" since the first century. "From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the first moment of conception to natural death," he said.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput and Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver, where the Democratic National Convention is taking place Aug. 25-28, called Pelosi a "gifted public servant" but questioned her knowledge of Catholic teaching.

"Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil," the Denver bishops said. "In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the early fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or 'ensouled.'

"But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself and the early church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always gravely wrong."

The bishops called the "right to choose" an alibi that contradicts Christian and Catholic belief.

"The duty of the church and other religious communities is moral witness. The duty of the state and its officials is to serve the common good, which is always rooted in moral truth. A proper understanding of the 'separation of church and state' does not imply a separation of faith from political life. But, of course, it's always important to know what our faith actually teaches," they concluded.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said he was shocked to learn of Pelosi's comments, saying that her view on theologians and their positions on abortion was "not only misinformed" but "utterly incredible in this day and age."

He said evidence of the development of human life can be detected at an early age thanks to modern technology, and photographs and video have proven "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," he said in an Aug. 26 statement. "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 kind."

A group of Republican members of the House of Representatives also offered their views to Pelosi in an Aug. 25 letter, charging that her remarks "mangle Catholic Church doctrine regarding the inherent sanctity and dignity of human life."

"Your erroneous claim about the history of the church's opposition to abortion is false and denigrates our common faith," the representatives said.

To support their view, the Catholic legislators cited the 1679 teaching of Pope Innocent XI, who said fetuses do have a soul and confirmed the long-held teaching that abortion constitutes homicide.

The representatives concluded their letter by asking Pelosi to retract her statements in the interview and to apologize "for misrepresenting the church's doctrine and misleading fellow Catholics."


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