On the Sunday, August 24th, broadcast of NBC’s Meet the Press, you stated “as an ardent, practicing Catholic, [abortion] is an issue that I have studied for a long time.” As fellow Catholics and legislators, we wish you would have made a more honest effort to lay out the authentic position of the Church on this core moral issue before attempting to address it with authority.
Your subsequent remarks mangle Catholic Church doctrine regarding the inherent sanctity and dignity of human life; therefore, we are compelled to refute your error.
In the interview, Tom Brokaw reminded you that the Church professes the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being” (2274).
To this, you responded, “I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the Church, this is an issue of controversy.” Unfortunately, your statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of Catholic teaching and belief regarding abortion.
From the Apostles of the first century to Pope John Paul the Great “the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (Catechism 2271).
Thus, your erroneous claim about the history of the Church’s opposition to abortion is false and denigrates our common Faith. For example, during the reign of Pope Innocent XI in 1679, the Church unequivocally stated it is an error for Catholics to believe fetuses do not have a soul; and confirmed the teaching that abortion constitutes homicide.
On August 26th, U.S. Catholic Bishops responded to Speaker Pelosi:
To reduce the scandal and consternation caused amongst the faithful by your remarks, we necessarily write you to correct the public record and affirm the Church’s actual and historical teaching that defends the sanctity of human life. We hope that you will rectify your errant claims and apologize for misrepresenting the Church’s doctrine and misleading fellow Catholics.
WASHINGTON — Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have issued the following statement:
In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." (No. 2271)
In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.
Let's pray that hearts and minds will change and that all innocent human life will be respected and protected from the moment of conception until natural death and that the most horrific forms of child abuse will quickly cease. And that those who currently assent to or advocate child abuse will come to recognize the beauty and holiness of every human life in all its stages and conditions.
These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.