In late August, in an interview on Meet the Press, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Trinity ’62, said in response to a question by host Tom Brokaw that there is controversy in the Catholic Church over the question of when life begins. Problem is, no such controversy actually exists, and the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States were quick and decisive in responding to her statements. You can read some of the statements here:
Statement by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl
Statement by San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer
Statement of the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops: “Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church’s Constant Teaching”
While there is no controversy over the Church’s teachings on when life begins, this episode certainly illustrates the ongoing controversies and real landmines underfoot when politicians address issues freighted with religious and moral implications, particularly the topic of abortion. As several commentaries have pointed out, politicians should not pretend to be theologians, period. Indeed, on the great theological issues of our day, politicians should take pains to express respect for religious teachings and even humility in the face of issues that more learned scholars have thought about for centuries. Misquoting the scholars is very bad political business.
At the same time, theologians and religious leaders also tread a delicate line in ensuring that their religious teaching does not become an inappropriate threat to the rights of voters to choose their political candidates freely. A report out today indicates that there is a movement afoot to get churches to challenge the longstanding IRS ban on endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit. This movement also reflects the rise of the “culture wars” once again as the presidential election moves into its final stages.
The Catholic bishops have long had a more thoughtful, nuanced approach to “Faithful Citizenship,” the call to full participation in political life while also remaining faithful to the moral teachings of the Church. In the view of the bishops, these are not incompatible expectations at all, but part of a fully integrated Catholic life.
I urge all members of the Trinity community to read and reflect on the statements linked on this blog. As we go through this election season, we will find occasions for more public discussion of the issues of religion, Catholicism, and political life.
Statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on “Responsibilities of Catholics in Public Life”
Article on the controversy in National Catholic Reporter
Article in The Hill