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UPDATE: So much for the common-sense approach. On this past weekend’s “Meet the Press” program, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s answers to questions on abortion policy made such a hash out of the issue (I did get the point that she has five kids) that Tom Brokaw just gave up.
It did not help that she claimed that this was a topic to which she has given much thought.
[Personal request: all interlocutors shall henceforth observe a strict moratorium on prefacing this discussion with a list of how many children one does or does not have. We have four. They are fine, thank you. Their existence is evidence only of intermittent sexual relations on the part of their parents; their existence does not, in itself, constitute an argument for their parents’ virtue, political affiliation, or depth of thought (in fact…well, never mind).]
Pelosi’s claim is, more or less, that a) unlike the Church’s claim that “we have always found abortion to be wrong,” some major theologians found it occasionally to be permissible, therefore b) since it’s been a contested issue historically, there really is no right answer. In a follow-up, she repeated her reliance on a quote from Augustine that questions when the soul enters the body.
She’s right in a small way, in her rejection of the tendency of the Church to claim that it floats serenely over the vagaries of human history, perfect in its claim to the fullness of truth. But the larger point is that the facts of this matter are no longer murky, in the age of ultrasound, so to cite the 5th century Augustine is simply silly – does she recommend his views on marriage as well? I’m guessing no.
The bishops are pretty clear in their various responses and – here’s the point – given her stature, and the fact that she garbled the story about the Church's position, they now have to respond. As I explain in the previous post, while people have a variety of responses to the issue of abortion, the issue itself is not a question of a religious truth; the question about the legal status of abortion is a public question about an issue of justice. The Catholic Church's position on this is not based on faith, to oppose the legalization of abortion is not a question of the improper imposition of religion.
But … the question about the fitness to receive communion IS a Catholic question. And now, unfortunately, even those bishops who find it more effective to speak pastorally and persuasively to the faithful in private, who would prefer to have this conversation out of the glare and hype of an election year “wafer watch,” have no choice but to speak out.
And, yes, some will happily politicize the issue, arguing that there is only one political strategy to implement this issue of justice, without regard for how effective any given approach may be. And some will go even further, saying that anyone who does not agree with that political strategy is not in a state of grace and should be barred from communion.
Catholics watching all this from the pews will just get whiplash. Argh.
I do not think that there is a simple correspondance between genuinely converting our culture on the value of all human life, and voting for the party that claims to be “pro-life.” Nor do I think that the bishops are naïve about this. But they are also deeply wary of what they all too often hear from religious progressives in the other party: double-talk that reduces quickly to a very fuzzy sense of the seamless garment – the connection between all life issues – and never seems to directly challenge the corrosive premise of a civil order that permits abortion. They know that they're occasionally (I'd say "often") used by the Republicans. But now they have reason to doubt whether the Democrats are listening...or if they even get it.
Memo to Madame Speaker: Shut up already. I’m begging here.