February 19, 2009
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI lectured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the "dignity of human life" at a private meeting here on Wednesday (Feb. 18), a decidedly less cordial reception than is frequently given many U.S. leaders.
Pelosi, D-Calif., describes herself as an ardent Catholic but raised eyebrows last year by saying "doctors of the church" disagreed on when life begins and that abortion "continues to be an issue of controversy" in the Catholic Church.
The comments earned her a public scolding from a number of U.S. bishops, who said the church has believed abortion is wrong since the first century.
The wording of a Vatican statement suggests she received another reprimand from the pope over her support for abortion rights on Wednesday.
"His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law," the statement read, "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."
Conservatives were already nervous that a papal photo-op would enable Pelosi, and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, to say that Catholics can reject church teaching on abortion and remain in good standing.
Instead, the Holy See used the encounter to make its disapproval clear, releasing an official statement on what was discussed -- a
relatively rare step, especially when the visitor is not a head of state.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, had earlier said the only photo she wanted to see was one of Pelosi "in the confessional line."
But after the pope's stern rebuke, Brown said she hopes U.S. bishops will be more willing to deny Communion to abortion-rights politicians like Pelosi. "We encourage our bishops and priests to emulate the same courage exhibited in Rome," she said.
In her own statement Wednesday, Pelosi made no mention of the papal lecture.
"It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI today," she said. "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."
The papal reception for Pelosi was notable for its contrasts with the warm welcomes given to former President George W. Bush, who shared the Vatican's "culture of life" ideology even as he rejected church overtures not to invade Iraq.
Yet it would have been hard for Benedict to snub Pelosi altogether without straining diplomatic relations with the United States, since her position puts her second in line to the presidency after Vice President Joe Biden, also a Catholic who supports abortion rights.
Pelosi, whose grandparents were Italian immigrants, is on a week-long tour of Italy with fellow lawmakers. Included in her
delegation is Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who has led an effort among Catholic Democrats in the House to create room to disagree with the church on abortion.
DeLauro recently spearheaded a letter to the pope from nearly 50 House members, asking for "clarification" on why the pope lifted the excommunication on a schismatic bishop who not believe 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Paul Virgo reported from Vatican City; Kevin Eckstrom reported from Washington.
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. Used by permission. All rights reserved.