Politics & Policy

What Makes a Speaker Catholic?

Buying into Pelosi's personal church.

Denver – “If you’re Catholic and you disagree with your Church. What do you do? You change your mind.”

So said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of the Catholic archdiocese of Denver, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at 6:30 Mass on Sunday night, as the Democratic Convention was set to begin.

His comments — part of his homily during the Mass — came hours after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, describing herself as an “ardent practicing Catholic,” announced that when life begins “shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.” She explained that “over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.” Ignoring both embryology and the Vatican, she insisted on giving the impression that abortion is somehow an open, undecided question in the Roman Catholic Church.

But, as Chaput, author of the new book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, explained in an interview with National Review Online last week, “Abortion always, deliberately kills an innocent unborn child. Nobody can honestly claim to be a faithful Catholic and then support a false ‘right’ to abortion; it’s just an elegant way of evading the brutality of what abortion actually does.” He explained, “Abortion is never morally justified.”

The archbishop’s guidance echoes The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law,” it continues.

Further, it cites Vatican instruction: “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”

It’s a far cry from Nancy Pelosi’s catechism which would make Roe v. Wade a sacred doctrine. The ruling, she said, has “very clear distinctions.” She doesn’t make those distinctions clear (nor does the Court — contrary to popular mythical belief, the Courtdoes not ban third trimester abortions, for instance), because she really can square the circle she’s trying to; she simply can’t make the case that an “ardent practicing Catholic” can believe that abortion is a perfectly fine decision that a “woman has to make with her doctor and her god.”

The issue of abortion is not the only significant issue Pelosi is in disagreement with her church on. In a book edited by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s daughter Kerry Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi contributes an essay in which she announces:

My granddaughter was getting ready for her First Communion. Around the time of the swearing-in, we were all just lying on the bed, after the tea or something, and she said to her mother, “I want to explain to Mimi” — that’s me — “that it is the body and blood of Christ. When we go to church, it is the body and blood of Christ.” So her mother, in the interest of trying to simplify, said “Yes, the host and the wine represent the body and blood of Christ.” And my granddaughter said, “Not represent. Is, it is the body and blood of Christ.” My granddaughter was buying into it, okay. But it is hard. Every Sunday for me it’s hard. Christ had died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Now think of it, we say that every week. Do I really believe he’s coming again? Yes, I believe he’s coming again. Christ died, Christ is risen, Chirst will come again. This is my body, this is my blood. They’re asking a lot. In my era, we didn’t question any of it.

If you believe Christ is coming again and died for our sins to give us eternal life, “they’re” not asking all that much.

If you’re not Catholic, her frustration probably sounds reasonable — which may be part of the reason you’re not Catholic. But if you’re truly Catholic, that is, if you “buy into” what the Catholic Church teaches, then you believe in the Real Presence, which is at the very heart of the Church. Otherwise, as Archbishop Chaput put it Sunday, “you’re not Catholic.” Preaching from the Gospel for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, from Matthew (16:13-20), Chaput echoed Christ’s question to His Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Chaput replied: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” One has to “say it and let our lives be driven by it.” Our personal, professional, communal, and political lives, Chaput was careful to spell out. “If you can’t,” he said, “you’re not Catholic.”

Like Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joseph Biden, presidential nominee John Kerry before him, nearly every Kennedy who has ever ran for office, and countless other “Catholic” Democrats, Pelosi doesn’t shy away from using her Catholicism on the campaign trail and in her political life. As these politicians court “the Catholic vote,” faithful Catholics need to consider their moral responsibilities in the voting booth and hold accountable those politicians who support and defend a candidate who, for example, has refused to oppose infanticide.

In her book, Know Your Power, Nancy Pelosi sounds sincere when she insists, “Growing up Catholic had an enormous impact on me — greater, I am certain, than growing up in a political family.” I believe she is sincere. It seems to mean a lot to her that she represents San Francisco, “the City of St. Francis.” In her book, she cites his prayer on peace and love. She loves peace and love. But that’s not enough to be Catholic.

Perhaps Pelosi has not had the gift of a Sunday teacher as clear as Archbishop Chaput in her life. Perhaps Pelosi has been given mixed signals by churchmen. Perhaps Pelosi truly believes she can write her own way without effectively removing herself from the Catholic Church. That possibility underscores the need for more forthright priests and bishops like Chaput — for the benefit of the Nancy Pelosis and Joe Bidens of the world, as well as every last Catholic vote they court.

As Chaput put it to NRO last week: “Our faith should shape our lives, including our political choices. Of course, that demands that we actually study and deepen our Catholic faith. The Catholic faith isn’t a set of clothes that we can tailor to a personal fit. We don’t “invent” our faith, and we don’t “own” it. If we really want to be Catholic, then we’ll live by Catholic teaching. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves and abusing the belief of other Catholics who really do try to practice what the Church teaches.”

Sometimes “Catholic” isn’t all that Catholic. Sometimes, on Meet the Press, or on a convention stage — from which Nancy Pelosi will speak tonight here in Denver — it’s just another strategic rhetorical device. Don’t be fooled. And whether you’re voting or campaigning, don’t lose your soul to the soul of a party.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.


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