In the run-up to last November's mid-term elections, San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi frequently countered the charge that she was the embodiment of radical, West Coast liberalism by reminding the interlocutor that she was a "Catholic grandmother."
With her Party's victory locked up, the pro-abortion, pro-gay "rights" and pro-embryonic stem-cell research politico is now Madame Speaker. Pelosi made it clear that as House Speaker, one of her top priorities in the first 100 hours of Democrat Control would be the introduction of a bill that would ease federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
It was not too long ago that President Bush vetoed a bill passed by Congress that would have lifted the restrictions on such research, restrictions that he put in place back in 2001. In vetoing the bill, President Bush declared, "This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others; it crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect. So I vetoed it." Buoyed by the latest election however, Pelosi and the Democrats have placed the issue near the top of their to-do list. So Nancy Pelosi, a practicing Catholic, will be the prime mover and public face of a bill that the Catholic Church clearly opposes. The issue of Catholic politicians placing themselves at odds with the Church's moral teaching is hardly a new one, but with Pelosi's high-profile ascent, it may soon be necessary for Church leadership in the United States to speak with greater moral clarity for the sake of the integrity of the Church's public witness to the defense of the human person.
It would be helpful to review past statements issued by United States bishops and Pope John Paul II regarding Catholics in the public square and their duty to defend the dignity of human life.
The late Holy Father, in Evangelium Vitae, declared that "[i]t is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are found and from which they develop." Here, Pope John Paul II laid the foundation for any subsequent discussion of human rights – namely the right of the living to live. It sounds simple enough, but the fog, or "tyranny," of relativism so prevalent today has clouded the ability of many to perceive this simple truth. Discussion about one's right to "choose" or one's right to "privacy" is meaningless and even contradictory if the most fundamental and primary right of the person simply to live and enjoy those secondary rights is denied from the beginning.
The United States Catholic Bishops issued a stern statement to Catholic public leaders in 1998. It merits a full quotation:
We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on human life.
In 2004, there was much discussion over Senator Kerry's professed Catholicism and his fervent, decades-long support for abortion. The question presented was whether or not Catholic politicians who support abortion should present themselves for Communion. Clarity was sought from the Vatican, and the future pope, Cardinal Ratzinger, issued a characteristically no-nonsense statement that drew heavily from Evangelium Vitae:
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil…. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74).
In addition to reiterating the Church's position on abortion, Cardinal Ratzinger made an important, and often overlooked, distinction between acts that are intrinsically evil (abortion, euthanasia) and acts which allow for a variance of opinion because they are not evil, per se (war and capital punishment). For it is here that Cardinal Ratzinger rejected the so-called "seamless garment" position, which sought to dispense equal weight, in the moral sense, to various social issues. Catholic politicians can, in good conscience, disagree about the death penalty or war and present themselves for Communion. The same cannot be said of those supporting abortion.
As Nancy Pelosi assumes her new leadership role as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, she has a grave responsibility to defend the most basic rights of the person, defined so eloquently in our own Declaration of Independence; "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Our late great pope, John Paul II, reminded us of our heritage when he stated that, "[a]t the center of the moral vision of founding documents is the recognition of the rights of the human person." He went on to say that our greatness as a nation is to be found "especially [in its] respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life in all conditions and at all stages of development."
In a 1995 speech in Newark, Pope John Paul II directly addressed every American. Eleven years later, these very words could now be addressed to Nancy Pelosi: "Your country stands upon the world scene as a model of a democratic society at an advanced stage of development. Your power of example carries with it heavy responsibilities. Use it well, America!" Indeed, use it well, Madame Speaker!