Pelosi was asked on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" on Sunday to comment on when life begins. She responded saying that as a Catholic, she had studied the issue for "a long time" and that "the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition."
Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U. Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, said her answer "misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion."
They noted that 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."
And the prelates explained: "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.
"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."
For the record
Other bishops also released statements clarifying Church teaching.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., noted that bishops are entrusted with the responsibility to interpret and teach Catholic doctrine.
"We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops," he said in a statement. "Given this responsibility to teach, it is important to make this correction for the record. […]
"From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death."
And from Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Auxiliary Bishop James Conley addressed an online letter to their faithful, titled "On the Separation of Sense and State: a Clarification for the People of the Church in Northern Colorado."
The letter affirms: "Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or 'ensouled.'
"But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong."
Cardinal Edward Egan released a statement this morning saying he was "shocked to learn" of Pelosi's remarks. He said her statements were "misinformed."
The cardinal affirmed that the unborn have "an inalienable right to live, a right that the speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons."
"Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being 'chooses' to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason," he added, "should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name."
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On the Net:
Statement of Denver bishops: www.zenit.org/article-23469?l=english
Statement of Archbishop Wuerl: www.zenit.org/article-23470?l=english
Statement of Cardinal Egan: www.zenit.org/article-23476?l=english