Senator Biden excommunicated
While there are many who would assert that a ‘pro-choice Catholic’ is as oxymoronic as a ‘gay Muslim’ - notwithstanding that there are manifestly numerous adherents of both – the principal contention is that both Ms Pelosi and Senator Biden are waving their Roman Catholic credentials ‘in a bid for swing voters’.
Is that not precisely what politicians in representative democracies have to do? Does the process not demand that they be all things to all people? How otherwise do they ever secure a majority, win sufficient votes to form a government, or persuade people to coalesce around their ideological cause if they do not parade their singular characteristics and loosely-held convictions, however mutually exclusive and contradictory they may be? When Senator Obama introduced Joe Biden as his running mate, both men made a point of mentioning Senator Biden’s Catholicism. It is manifestly true that Senator Obama has struggled to win over Roman Catholics, 52 per cent of whom voted for President Bush in 2004.
But the problem seems to be one of politicians playing pope. It is one thing to acknowledge the official teaching of one’s church whilst demurring to it; it is quite another to state that one’s church has got it wrong. This appears to be Ms Pelosi’s sin. She has appealed to the role of individual conscience: "God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions," she said. But this has been countered by one theologian, who insists that Ms Pelosi’s conscience ‘must be formed by Catholic teaching and philosophical insights’: she may not articulate ‘a personal opinion’ that she ‘came up with randomly’.
The allegation is that Ms Pelosi ‘claimed to be an expert on the church’s abortion stance’. She said: “As an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know.”
She is talking of Augustine’s discourse on the ensoulment of the foetus, which is manifestly theological conjecture.
But Archbishop Donald Wuerl said the teaching has never changed: “The current teaching of the Catholic Church on human life and abortion is the same teaching as it was 2,000 years ago. From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.”
Cranmer believes this to be something of an overstatement, and somewhat aggrandising the status of the Roman Catholic Church. An archbishop really ought to know that at the time when Jesus was appointing Peter as the first pope, the issue of abortion was not part of the doctrine of the Church, and neither was it an issue centuries later during the earliest ecumenical councils. And just because a doctrine may have been held 2000 years ago, it does not make it immutable. If that were the case, Roman Catholics would still be flat-earthers who believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Rome does not have an infallible canon of teaching going back 2000 years, not least because the doctrine of infallibility was only proclaimed in 1870.
So Ms Pelosi does have a point when she says that such issues have been a subject of dispute, and she simply rejects her church’s settled position on abortion. Senator Biden, despite insisting that he is a 'committed Catholic', also disagrees with the catechism, as evidenced by a 2006 interview during which he said: “That debate in our church has not morphed, but changed over a thousand years. It always is viewed by the church as something that is wrong, but there’s been gradations of whether it was wrong. You know, from venial or mortal sin, as we Catholics say, and versions of it.”
But this view has raised the ire of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has previously expressed the opinion that neither John Kerry nor Rudy Giuliani should receive communion. He said of Senator Biden: “I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for communion, if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion.” And of Ms Pelosi, he said she was ‘a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them’.
But, in the absence of a papal bull, Ms Pelosi is of the opinion that these excommunications are ‘regional’ (which is itself a challenge to her church's claim to catholicity). She said: “It depends on the bishop of a certain region and, fortunately 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.”
There appears to be more than a few American Catholics with Protestant attitudes. And, whilst disagreeing with both the senator and the House Speaker on the issue of abortion, Cranmer would like to encourage them in their assertion that their consciences are their own, and the sundry bishops and archbishops should leave the believer to answer to God. Whether or not someone is allowed to receive communion is between them and the Lord: it is for them to search their own hearts.
It is written that a man ought to examine himself before he eats the bread and drinks of the cup (1 Cor 11:28). The bishops’ intervention into the realm of the political is humiliating the politicians and using transubstantiation as a tool of democratic manipulation. Let him who is without sin withhold the first wafer.