Nancy Pelosi caused a bit of a scandal a few days ago by suggesting that there is some disagreement within the Catholic Church about when human life starts. Speaking as a “fervent” Catholic, she cited a theological opinion that was 1600 years old, conveniently ignoring more than a few Papal statements on the issue that have appeared since then.
It is quite obvious that Ms. Pelosi is deeply mistaken. The Church has made its view on this topic abundantly clear: life begins at conception.
As a result, I was a bit taken aback that Pelosi would refer to herself as a fervent Catholic. But after looking up fervent in the dictionary, maybe she is. The dictionary says someone is fervent when they exhibit particular enthusiasm, zeal, conviction, persistence or belief. The dictionary (at least the online one I consulted) doesn’t say whether the fervent enthusiasm has to be morally directed. So I suppose one could argue that one could be a fervent Catholic, albeit a poorly informed and misguided one.
But my question, in this context, really is this: “Why didn’t the media challenge her credentials to speak as a Catholic, fervent or otherwise?” In other words, with what credentials do you claim to be speaking as a Catholic:
A. I got married in a Catholic Church
B. I attend church whenever it is convenient
C. I’m a daily Mass goer
D. I study all the teachings issued by the Holy Father and pledge to adhere to them to the letter
E. I have a doctorate in theology from a major Catholic university
F. None of the above
This may sound silly, but it isn’t. If someone said “speaking as a doctor” the host might ask what sort of doctor. If the topic under discussion is health care for young children, it would make a difference whether the person speaking as a doctor was a pediatrician or a paleontologist, although both might hold a doctoral degree.
Frankly, I don’t know the details of Pelosi’s Catholic practice. But if she is going to speak “as a Catholic,” then she has a responsibility to speak in accord with the teachings of the Church – and the media have an obligation to clarify that when she doesn’t, she is just speaking as an individual.
During this fall’s elections there doubtless will be many people claiming to present a “Catholic” viewpoint. But if they dissent from the teachings of the Church, they are not speaking as a Catholic, fervent or otherwise.
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