Tuesday, 20 February 2007

End this Scandalous Charade

“Good Catholic” Nancy Pelosi presents an unavoidable test for the U.S. bishops.
George Neumayr
Seeking to soften her image as a champion of San Francisco libertinism, Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, assumed her position in January under the reassuring cloak of Catholicism. She quoted at length the prayer of St. Francis in her maiden speech, invoked repeatedly in interviews her Italian “Catholic” upbringing, and attended a well-publicized mass at her alma mater, Trinity Washington University.
On the day after the mass, she then tossed her Catholic cloak off. Jesuit Father Robert Drinan had given the homily at her mass about “re-pledging our lives to the children,” but no sooner had Pelosi entered the Capitol’s chambers than she got down to the business of trying to end some of those lives. Heading up her list of legislative priorities during what she called the “first 100 hours”—which began after an invocation from Jesuit Father Stephen Privett, president of the University of San Francisco—was a bill expanding federal funding for destructive experimentation on human embryos.
What did the U.S. bishops think of the Catholic bells and whistles of Pelosi’s first week as speaker? Did they consider it a travesty, a spectacle certain to confuse and scandalize the faithful? Given their studious silence during her inaugural week, it is difficult to say. The bishops’ Catholic News Service certainly didn’t convey much alarm in its report on Pelosi. The report even stated that her “selection as speaker of the House of Representatives is considered to be a good sign for the chance to pass some legislation on the church’s agenda, ” and quoted Catholic officials who mustered up, amidst a few throat-clearing hedges, praise for her “thoughtful” politics.
But if ever there was an obvious occasion for the American bishops to end the appalling charade of politicians exploiting their Catholicism while betraying it on the most crucial issues, Nancy Pelosi provides them with it.

Because of the clarity of Pope Benedict XVI, the question, thankfully, is no longer: Should the bishops withhold communion from Pelosi and other Catholic politicians who defy Church teaching? The question is simply: Will they?
As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then-Joseph Ratzinger had settled the matter explicitly:
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
Theoretically at least, the U.S. bishops have accepted this principle. They stated it, albeit a little more obliquely than did the Pope, at their November 2006 meeting. Laying out guidelines regarding the worthy reception of Communion, they said:
If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.
Pelosi’s heterodox Catholicism is unquestionably self-conscious and obstinate. In 2004, she brazenly announced that “I fully intend to receive Communion, one way or another.”
In 1999, I covered for the San Francisco Faith a Planned Parenthood luncheon at which Pelosi received an award for her 100 percent pro-abortion voting record. How did she square the award with her Catholicism? I asked. “I’m a good Catholic,” she replied, citing her many years of education under the Madams of the Sacred Heart and convivial ties to her pastor “Father John Ring” and parish “St. Vincent de Paul Church” in San Francisco. The accommodating ambivalence of Church officials—her pastor evaded my questions and a San Francisco archdiocesan spokesman said the matter was “between her and God and her pastor”—had clearly empowered her in this stance.
But how long can she get away with this? Surely her growing prominence as the “good Catholic” speaker of the House of Representatives poses an unavoidable test of the bishops’ seriousness. Indeed, her high-profile status is a prime opportunity for them to resolve at long last the wider scandal of secularist Catholic politicians that has bedeviled the American Church since the election of John F. Kennedy (see story on page 32).
Shirking or delaying this confrontation will just embolden the Pelosis and Kennedys, and make possible yet another generation of Catholic politicians willing to use then abuse their religion. If Church officials continue to sit on their hands, secularists will continue to accumulate victories, not in spite of Catholic politicians but because of them.
What would once have been considered an inconceivable parody has now become a stunning reality: the most powerful enemy of the Church’s moral teachings in Washington, D.C., is a self-proclaimed “practicing Catholic.”
George Neumayr is editor of Catholic World Report.