Back in 2010, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi famously remarked, in advocating for the passage of the Affordable Care Act: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it…” Snopes.com helpfully notes that her statement, while accurately reported, is missing “important context”. The longer remark by Pelosi was: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy” (emphasis added).
Yesterday, Matt Hadro of Catholic News Service reported that Pelosi “said she was ‘pleased’ with the Vatican’s recent letter to U.S. bishops on Communion for pro-abortion politicians.”
Pelosi, who is Catholic, was asked by EWTN News Nightly correspondent Erik Rosales about the topic of Communion on Thursday.
“I think I can use my own judgment on that,” Pelosi said of receiving Holy Communion.
The Speaker has long supported legal abortion and has advocated for taxpayer-funded abortion by repealing the Hyde Amendment. She has also supported the Equality Act, legislation that the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) has warned would “punish” religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage and transgender ideology
Pelosi added that she was “pleased with what the Vatican put out on that subject” of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians, claiming that the Vatican’s statement “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.”
It’s not clear if Pelosi has actually read the document in question, a letter written by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and dated May 7, 2021. Having now read a copy of the letter, I can say that Pelosi’s confidence in matters of faith and morals (not to mention ecclesiastical conversations) is, not surprisingly, seriously deficient.
Here are a few cursory but important points drawn from Cardinal Ladaria’s letter:
(1) The U.S. bishops are planning to address “the situation of Catholics in public office who support legislation allowing abortion, euthanasia” and “other moral evils”. The CDF has been asked to provide an “an informal review” of a draft on that issue.
(2) Cardinal Ladaria indicates that the 2002 CDF Doctrinal Note On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholic Life should be foundational for the draft, but points out that remarks by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who was then prefect for the CDF) in a 2004 private letter to Cardinal McCarrick “may be of assistance” in the draft’s preparation.
(3) It’s understood that there is a serious divide among the U.S. bishops over how to address this topic. The CDF has “advised that dialogue among the bishops be undertaken to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic.” It recognizes (rightly, I think) that the work of formulating a “national policy” could be counter-productive and lead to “discord rather than unity” among Catholics.
(4) With that concern in mind, Cardinal Ladaria advises that the first stage of dialogue “take place among bishops…” Here is where the rubber meets the road, for Ladaria does not take a stance of “getting along is the most important thing,” but clearly says this dialogue must take place so the bishops “could agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.” (In other words, Cardinal Ladaria indicates there is no wavering from message; the issue is more a matter of approach and implementation.) Further, the bishops should both discuss and agree to the teaching of the 2002 Doctrinal Note, which includes this:
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. (par 4)
(5) Then, Ladaria says, “After this agreement is reached, the bishops could then move to implement the second stage,” which involves individual bishops reaching out to and engaging directly with those Catholic politicians “within their jurisdictions who adopt a pro-choice position” regarding legislation promoting and supporting abortion, euthanasia, and other moral evils. This dialogue has two goals: to better understand the exact position taken by a specific politician and to ascertain how well that politician actually understands Catholic teaching about said issues.
(6) After these dialogues (among bishops and then between bishops and politicians), the bishops as a whole may decide to “formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion”; if so, such a statement would need to “express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter,” while acknowledging the rights of bishops to act in their dioceses as they see fit.
(7) Finally, Cardinal Ladaria emphasizes that any USCCB statement that may be issued would not just focus on “one category of Catholics” but would “framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful… (cf. Doctrinal Note art. 4). All Catholics are conform their lives “to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament…”
So, what to make of this? First, while abortion and euthanasia have been front in center in the U.S. for quite some time, there are any number of other grave issues in play: “same sex” marriage, gender ideology, pornography, fornication, adultery, and, to quote from Gaudium et spes, “whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons…” (GS, 27). The Doctrinal Note also mentions “the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children” and religious liberty.
While abortion must been seen at the center of an expansive culture of death, it still is at the center for good reason, as Archbishop Cordileone explains in his recent “Pastoral Letter on the Human Dignity of the Unborn, Holy Communion, and Catholics in Public Life”:
Abortion is the axe laid to the roots of the tree of human rights: when our culture encourages the violation of life at its youngest and most vulnerable condition, other ethical norms cannot stand for long. …
Far from being “pre-occupied” with abortion, the Catholic Church provides a wide variety of medical, social, and educational services both here in the United States and throughout the world. Catholics champion various expressions of this discipleship: opposing racism, fighting for the rights of the oppressed, assisting the sick and the elderly, working for greater economic equality, and so on. Some say that we should devote our energies solely to “non-controversial” needs and keep quiet about abortion; we should concede that, unlike all these other issues, this is a “private matter.” But it is not. Indeed, the very existence of that growing child is the fruit of communion between two persons, and the mother and father are themselves part of a constellation of human relationships. All of these people are harmed to a greater or lesser degree by the act of ending the unborn child’s life.
It is for good reason, then, that the bishops of the United States speak of this as the “pre-eminent” political issue of our time and place “because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
Finally, back to Pelosi’s claim that this new Vatican document “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.” She is correct—but not in the way she apparently thinks, which is, “Don’t rock the boat. Leave the politicians alone. Don’t make a scene!” In fact, to the contrary, the CDF letter strongly indicates that the bishops are to get it together and with a clear, unified voice proclaim that “support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching”, and then follow that to its logical conclusion. As Abp. Cordileone writes:
In the case of public figures who profess to be Catholic and promote abortion, we are not dealing with a sin committed in human weakness or a moral lapse: this is a matter of persistent, obdurate, and public rejection of Catholic teaching. This adds an even greater responsibility to the role of the Church’s pastors in caring for the salvation of souls.
There will always be controversy over Church teaching. But it needs to controversy generated by clarity and firm charity, not fog and weak-kneed fear.
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