It's a doctrine, not a choice

childchoiceSince Daniel noted Nancy Pelosi's attempt at a Roman Catholic theological defense of abortion, bishops throughout the country have given her a bit of a beatdown. With so many prominent Catholics in this country articulating ideas not shared by the Catholic Church -- or willfully disobeying Catholic teaching -- bishops have been known to respond publicly. Tim Townsend wrote all about this all the time in his beat covering Archbishop Burke -- a notable combatant of what is termed scandal.

This intersection of religion and politics is like catnip for the press. TMatt looked at some of the major coverage through yesterday.

But one story in particular deserves praise. Religion reporter Rachel Zoll's piece for the Associated Press is, as it should be, heavier on theology than politics. Here's how she sets it up:

Politics can be treacherous. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walked on even riskier ground in a recent TV interview when she attempted a theological defense of her support for abortion rights.

Roman Catholic bishops consider her arguments on St. Augustine and free will so far out of line with church teaching that they have issued a steady stream of statements to correct her.

Zoll sums up the week of rebuke from various church leaders, including cardinals and archbishops from Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Denver. The latest came from Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and her hometown Archbishop George Niderauer of San Francisco has announced he'll be taking up the issue in his next newsletter. Zoll also describes Pelosi's Catholic credentials and self-proclaimed love for her church. She notes, as has been previously reported, Pelosi's defense of her remarks despite the criticism. Here's where it gets juicy:

But whether or not parishioners choose to accept it, the theology on the procedure is clear. From its earliest days, Christianity has considered abortion evil.

"This teaching has remained unchanged and remains unchangeable," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law."

religiouschoice It is true that Christians were well known for their unpopular opposition to abortion and infanticide in their earliest days. In recent decades, some Protestant church bodies have defended the practice. So what's going on with Pelosi's invocation of Augustine? Zoll provides some helpful context:

The Rev. Douglas Milewski, a Seton Hall University theologian who specializes in Augustine, said Pelosi seems to be confusing church teaching on abortion with the theological debate over when a fetus receives a soul.

"Saint Augustine wondered about the stages of human development before birth, how this related to the question of ensoulment and what it meant for life in the Kingdom of God," Milewski said.

The article goes on to explain that, according to the Catholic Bishops, ensoulment was an important issue for determining church penalties for procuring abortions not for deciding whether abortion is ever permissible.

The article also explains that parishioners are not permitted to choose what to believe about Catholic teaching. That includes this helpful angle about how church teaching should affect voting:

Catholic theologians today overwhelmingly consider debate over the morality of abortion settled. Thinkers and activists who attempt to challenge the theology are often considered on the fringes of church life.

However, there is a rigorous debate over how the teaching should guide voters and public officials. Are Catholics required to choose the candidate who opposes abortion? Or can they back a politician based on his or her policies on reducing, not outlawing, the procedure?

You'll have to read the rest of the piece to get the answers the questions. This Pelosi story has needed such thoughtful and comprehensive treatment and it's nice to see that done in the mainstream media and not just the Catholic press.

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