Three days into an ongoing, national story, the Washington Post noticed that something has been happening between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and several key U.S. Catholic bishops. The key was that this national story became a story that had not one, but two, local angles and, thus, could not be ignored. So it made it to A-3. Here's the top of the story and note the local ecclesiastical hook:
Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and several other U.S. bishops are disputing statements by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a "Meet the Press" appearance about the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion. They say she misrepresented the church's longstanding opposition to the procedure and twisted some church teachings.
On the news show on Sunday, Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who supports abortion rights, said that the question of when life begins has been a subject of controversy in the church and that over the centuries, "the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition."
But Wuerl and the other bishops swiftly responded, saying that the church has opposed abortion since the first century.
"Abortion is evil," Wuerl said in an interview yesterday. "It's the destruction of a human life ... this teaching has not changed and remains unchanged."
So it is one thing when bishops and archbishops in other parts of the country speak. When that happens, it is a Washington Times story, a conservative story, I guess. But if the D.C. prelate speaks, then it's real.
There is truth in this news logic, of course. However, I would have thought that the role of the speaker and the Democratic VP nominee would have been enough.
Meanwhile, this isn't really an important story. We know that because:
Observers say the controversy over Pelosi's statement is nowhere near the furor that erupted in 2004 when a dozen bishops threatened to withhold Communion from then-presidential candidate John F. Kerry and other Catholic officials who voted for abortion rights.
True enought. But do these observers have names? Organizations? Religious and-or political titles?
Meanwhile, the Washington Times went ahead and moved on to another layer of this story -- on A-1 -- in its daily report on the showdown between several high-ranking Democrats and Catholics whose political views simply cannot be labeled, in terms of left and right, Republican or Democrat.
This reaction statement from Pelosi's office -- and a reply from Catholic leaders -- was especially blunt.
"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,'" the statement said, quoting the saint's exposition on Exodus 21:22 in the Old Testament."While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception," the statement added, "many Catholics do not ascribe to that view."
Several of the bishops have acknowledged Mrs. Pelosi's point that the church didn't always teach that abortion was homicide and that canon law sometimes specified different penalties for abortion and murder.
But they reiterated that this was based on the poor science of premodern times and that in any event none of the Church Fathers who denied that abortion was homicide ever doubted that it remained a grave offense against both the potential life and against God, the author of life.
Stay tuned. Be assured that many church-going Catholics and other pro-life progressives are paying attention. This debate has political implications, but in the end it is a religious debate about doctrines. The more bishops speak out on this matter, the clearer that will be. The key is whether Sen. Joseph Biden elects to keep the story alive.