At National Review Online, Father Thomas D. Williams, LC gives a wonderful commentary on Nancy Pelosi’s claims to be both ardently Catholic and in favor of abortion, and why our bishops and other Catholics have responded so strongly. He starts by stating something very basic and very important that can sometimes get lost in the modern world: namely that words mean something.
You are unlikely to ever come upon a group called Mohammedans for Polytheism or Environmentalists for Seal Slaughter. A Muslim who espouses a multiplicity of deities has, ipso facto, placed himself outside the Muslim confession. Polytheism is not an Islamic thing. An environmentalist who patronizes anti-ecological activities is not an environmentalist at all, but a subversive. This is because the monikers “Muslim” and “environmentalist” mean something; they carry with them a series of necessary consequences. Certain terms — like “Muslim” and “polytheism” — simply can’t be squared, and combining them is nonsensical. [Nearly anybody would find those examples laughable, and yet when dissenters call themselves Catholic, people tend too often to take them at their word, and scoff when Catholics stand up for our own identity. There’s something very wrong with that.]
The recent ecclesiastical backlash to Nancy Pelosi’s unfortunate remarks on Meet the Press should have surprised no one, least of all Speaker Pelosi herself. Her attempts to squeeze abortion rights into Catholic moral teaching were no more credible than trying to pass apartheid off as a legitimate goal of the civil rights movement. The bishops — some seven have weighed in on the matter so far — had no choice but to speak out. [Imagine! Catholic bishops speaking out about Catholicism! This is what we Catholics need and want from them! But some people have a problem.]
I’m pretty sure most Catholics have been up against this problem: people think that they can identify themselves as a Catholic, define for themselves what that means, and presume to impose their self-definition on us! Hence we find things like “Catholics for Choice” and “Catholic Womenpriests.” Hence we single Catholics searching for Catholic spouses often find ourselves dealing with people who identify as Catholic and yet are all for cohabitation, pre-marital sex, and artificial contraception. To a Catholic, those are oxymorons. They violate the very meaning of “Catholic.” They can be maddening to deal with! And Catholics have recently been responding very strongly to such violations, such as Rosemary Radford Ruether being touted as a Catholic theologian when it is obvious by her beliefs that Ruether is not a Catholic. To be fair, though, Ruether is not the first false Catholic theologian, and won’t be the last, and Nancy Pelosi is only one example of the false Catholic politician. It doesn’t matter how strongly these people feel that they Catholic, and it doesn’t matter how many other people may consider them Catholic. They have placed themselves beyond the definition of what Catholic means. If that offends them, or if they disagree, that doesn’t change the reality, it just means they are out of touch with reality.
The title “Catholic” presumes a whole string of basic beliefs, succinctly laid out in the Apostle’s Creed. Catholics believe in one God, creator of heaven and earth, in Jesus Christ his only begotten son who became man, suffered and died for us, rose from the dead on the third day, and so forth. Along with this canon of doctrines, Catholics also embrace a body of moral teaching (summed up tidily in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) which governs their understanding of right and wrong, what is pleasing to God and what offends Him. [Ultimately, morality is defined by God, not us.]
From the earliest days of Christianity, Jesus’ followers distinguished themselves from those around them both by their doctrinal beliefs and their moral code. [Both/and!] The earliest known work of Christian antiquity outside the New Testament is called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, known also by its familiar Greek appellation, the Didache. This catechetical manual makes no bones about what it means to be a Christian. It begins with the stark admonition: “Two ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways.” Included in the explanation of what it means to love one’s neighbor, as part of the “way of life,” first century Christians read the words, “Do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide.” Such has been the consistent teaching throughout the history of Christianity and no amount of political posturing will change that.
The most disturbing element of Speaker Pelosi’s comments, however, was not her historical fudging, her disingenuous misrepresentation of Catholic moral teaching or her implicit adoption of cafeteria Catholicism. It was her insouciant dismissal of the moral significance of abortion. She said that in the end, it didn’t matter when life begins anyway. Her exact words were: “The point is, is that it [when life begins] shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.” [For a Catholic to say such a thing is absurd. For Catholics, the right to choose is a given, innate to our humanity. What we do with that choice is at the heart of moral life, and supporting abortion has no place in a Catholic’s moral life.] No matter when human life begins, a mother’s right trumps a baby’s, and that right includes the choice to destroy the child. This is irreconcilable not only with Catholic morality, but with the most basic natural ethics.
Speaker Pelosi can campaign for abortion all she likes, but to do so as an “ardent, practicing Catholic” is to invite a stiff correction. Americans still value truth in advertising, and know that words have meanings. [Yes! Somebody understands his fellow citizens and gives us a little credit! Bless you, Father!!!] “Catholic” means pro-life.
I think we could reasonably go so far as to say Catholic means pro-choice too, given the important role that choice and free will play in our faith and in our everyday lives. We believe that God Himself gave us the “right to choose” as part of our human nature and human dignity, and He doesn’t then turn around and violate that right. So the popular claim that Catholics would seek to violate it is ridiculous. Denying that we all can, and must, choose our own actions is not an option for Catholics. The problem is when people regard choice as some kind of trophy that trumps everything else, including morality. They divorce “right” from “responsibility,” whereas Catholics also see it as a huge responsibility: to choose good and avoid evil. (There’s that pesky both/and again!) Failure to choose good and avoid evil can convict us before God and man of mortal sin–a state in which we are out of communion with God until we seek reconciliation.
What it comes down to is this: anybody who wants to choose abortion is free to do so… but nothing can change the fact that they are choosing evil. The choice, in itself, does not constitute a good. That’s something that “pro-choicers” don’t seem to get. And that no lawyer or judge can make it right just be making it legal. A Catholic cannot abide by a law that tries to legitimize an evil act. If it comes to us being civilly disobedient, even if it comes to us being punished, then so be it. If we believe what we believe, then we have to put ourselves on the line for it, just as so many Catholics before us have–even to the point of giving their lives. Clearly, Pelosi and lots of other Catholic politicians are not willing to do that. They are too much like Richard Rich and not enough like St. Thomas More.
So, my dear readers, if you are Catholic, keep standing up for your own identity! If you are non-Catholic, please show solidarity with your Catholic loved ones and fellow Americans! All of us need to understand that not everybody who’s called Catholic really is Catholic, and we need to demand that they be honest with us and not expect us to just go along with their delusions.