(CNSNews.com) – Human Life International (HLI), a Catholic pro-life group based in Front Royal, Va., had a letter from its Rome office delivered to the Vatican this week, in which it called upon Pope Benedict XVI to “formally excommunicate” from the Catholic Church House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The pope met with Pelosi on Wednesday.
Experts in Canon Law, the rules that govern the Catholic Church, said this action is not unprecedented and noted that similar appeals for excommunication were made against Catholic judges who were enforcing racially discriminatory laws during the civil rights era. They also said that regular Catholics have a right to petition their pastors, bishops, and the pope in matters that pertain to the well-being of the church.
“The reason we called for the pope is because so many people have called on the bishops in the jurisdictions she lives in, who could possibly do it—and they won’t,” HLI President Rev. Thomas Euteneur told CNSNews.com. Pelosi has a home in the archdiocese of San Francisco, headed by Archbishop George Niederauer, and works in Washington, D.C., the archdiocese overseen by Archbishop Donald Wuerl.
Pelosi describes herself as “pro-choice,” and has voted for laws that promote abortion and artificial contraception, both of which are contrary to church teaching. For example, she voted against banning partial-birth abortion, against the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal funding of abortion in most circumstances, and against the Mexico City policy, which denied U.S. tax dollars to organizations that perform or promote abortion abroad. She also voted against a complete ban on human cloning and in favor of using tax dollars for research that kills human embryos.
The church’s catechism states: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception…. Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.”
On Aug. 24, 2008, Pelosi was asked by Tom Brokaw on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about how she would advise then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama if he asked her about when human life begins. She answered by claiming that the question of when life begins has been a long-running controversy within the Catholic Church.
“I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time,” said Pelosi. “And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There’s very clear distinctions. This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided--”
Brokaw interrupted her at this point to point out that the “Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it … begins at the point of conception.”
“I understand,” said Pelosi. “And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must -- it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case.”
After this broadcast, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement on Aug. 26 that said, “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, ‘Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.’”
Archbishop Wuerl also issued a statement, correcting Pelosi’s statements about Catholic teaching, as did Archbishop Niederauer.
Pelosi did not retract her comments made on NBC. But her spokesman Brendan Daly issued a statement about Pelosi that partly reads: “She [Pelosi] was raised in a devout Catholic family who often disagreed with her pro-choice views.
“After she was elected to Congress, and the choice issue became more public as she would have to vote on it, she studied the matter more closely. Her views on when life begins were informed by the views of Saint Augustine, who said: ‘…the law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation…’ (Saint Augustine, On Exodus 21.22)
“While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not ascribe to that view. The Speaker agrees with the Church that we should reduce the number of abortions. She believes that can be done by making family planning more available, as well as by increasing the number of comprehensive age-appropriate sex education and caring adoption programs.”
Dr. Edward Peters, who holds the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich., and is one of the most widely known canon lawyers in North America, said Nancy Pelosi is in violation of Canon 915 and likely other canon laws that would prohibit her from receiving communion at Mass and potentially face other penalties.
“I think Nancy Pelosi is in violation of Canon 915 because of her advocacy of abortion and abortion-ism,” Peters told CNSNews.com. “Under Canon 915, she’s ineligible to receive the Eucharist, and if someone wants to contact her bishop, Niederauer, and express that opinion, they are perfectly within their rights to do so--and I also think they happen to be correct.”
Peter Vere, professor of Canon Law at Catholic Distance University and the author of “Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Laypeople Ask About Canon Law,” said that Pelosi is in violation of Canon 915 and that her pastor should not allow her to receive communion.
On Aug. 25, The Hill newspaper quoted Pelosi as saying that she had not been denied communion. “[F]ortunately, for me, communion has not been withheld and I’m a regular communicant, so that would be a severe blow to me if that were the case,” said Pelosi.
Peters added that “Pelosi is also in danger under Canon 1369--those who use public shows and speeches to advocate against good morals. Nancy Pelosi does that all the time. But the penalty here is not excommunication. It’s a sort of generic, appropriate penalty, tailored to fit the circumstances.”
Peters, as well as Vere, however, said that HLI and Fr. Euteneur were certainly within the rights granted under Canon Law to petition the pope to excommunicate Pelosi.
It is not “unprecedented,” even though it is “not a common event,” Peters said of HLI’s actions. Church law “protects the rights of the faithful to raise questions about things that concern the good of the church,” he said. “A group is within their rights to present their arguments on the Nancy Pelosi issue. I think their arguments are going to fail, but they are within their rights to ask for it.”
Maurice Healy, spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, confirmed to CNSNews.com that Archbishop Neiderauer met with Pelosi in private on Feb. 8. While details of that “pastoral-private” meeting cannot be disclosed, said Healy, he added that it would be correct, in this matter, to reference the bishop’s Sept. 5 statement that publicly corrected Pelosi’s comments about the church’s position on abortion – a statement in which the archbishop also invited Pelosi to meet with him to discuss the issue.
Inquiries to Pelosi’s office on this story were not answered before this story went to press. Questions to Maurice Healy about HLI’s appeal for Pelosi’s excommunication and the topic of prohibiting her from receiving communion were also not returned as this story went to press.
Fr. Euteneur told CNSNews.com that “when people call for excommunication it’s not because they’re just angry or have some political ax to grind against some political officials who call themselves Catholic. These are real serious concerns for the faith of millions of people, and a real cause to do so, according to church law, but we can’t do it ourselves because we’re not bishops.”
After Pelosi met with Pope Benedict in Rome on Wednesday, the Vatican released the following statement about the meeting: “His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”
Speaker Pelosi’s office also issued a statement on Feb. 18 about the meeting, which read: “It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI today. In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel. I was proud to show his Holiness a photograph of my family’s papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren.”
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