There was a time when an individual Catholic who created a public scandal and embarrassed the Catholic Church with insults, misrepresentations or rhetorical proclamations contradicting Catholic teaching would have been roundly excoriated and even excommunicated if he or she were not repentant. That was long ago, and it seems far too distant a memory to even mention it now, but take note of it I must. The Church hierarchy of bygone days defended all that is true, just and right about Catholic teaching, and they were not tolerant of error.
St. Basil the Great, who lived in the fourth century and was a renowned Catholic bishop in his own time, taught, “We should even go beyond doing what is required in order to avoid scandal.”
This is very good advice when dealing with people who use their public prominence and Catholic identity to demean Catholic teachings. It is doubtful that St. Basil would have ignored Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, regardless of what the media might have said about him.
In case you are not aware of the latest Pelosi pronouncement, it occurred this past Sunday on ABC News’ This Week. When host George Stephanopoulos asked her about the birth control funding that, at that time, was part of the congressional version of the economic stimulus package, she declared,
Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those – one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.
In other words, Pelosi favors using birth control to eliminate the children of the poor, rather than assisting the poor to provide for their children in ways that enhance family life. As a Catholic, Pelosi knows that the Catholic Church defines contraception as intrinsically evil; yet her attitude toward the millions of dollars she wanted for “family planning” seems to underlie her enthused responses here and elsewhere on similar topics. Pelosi would tell you, as she has in the past, that she is “an ardent, practicing Catholic.” Had I been there, I would have responded, “Get real, Madam Speaker. You are an insult to Catholics across the land!”
So, did her bishop respond with definitive action? No, as far as I know, neither of them has. Her bishop in Washington, D.C., Donald Wuerl, has not publicly rebuked her statement. No, he has been as quiet as a church mouse. Nor, may I add, did San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer! Pelosi claims to be a Catholic; the people of the Archdiocese of San Francisco are among her constituency, and yet, to my astonishment, she gets away with ludicrous statements that meet with nothing that remotely resembles admonishment.
Once again, Pelosi has perpetrated scandal but business goes on as usual for the very Catholic bishops who are called to teach and preach the good news of Catholic doctrine. No wonder so many Catholics become disheartened and dismayed; I can’t say that I blame them.
One of my favorite Catholic theologians, Dietrich von Hildebrand, once wrote, "The drivel of heretics, both priests and laymen, is tolerated; the bishops tacitly acquiesce to the poisoning of the faithful. But they want to silence the faithful believers who take up the cause of orthodoxy." This is a statement that pertains not only to this current problem, but sadly, much of what has been happening in the Church when it comes to pro-abortion Catholics in public life.
The kernel of truth in von Hildebrand’s statement is, to my mind, that “Pelosisms”, which are the height of drivel, will go on as the bishops “quietly acquiesce.” This means the problem will deepen and become worse than it already is. Though we hope and pray that the bishops will publicly set the record straight, not to mention deal with the wayward Catholics in question, so far, we are not witnessing that.
Why hasn’t Archbishop Wuerl made it clear that he would deny her Holy Communion? Why hasn’t he or Archbishop Niederauer warned her that if she doesn’t change her ways, she will be excommunicated from the Church? What is it, I have to ask, that creates this deafening silence from the very shepherds who should be rebuking those who spread falsehood while claiming to be Catholics in good standing? Has tolerance become the gospel for the new age?
When things like this happen, it is always easy to get discouraged. But we need only recall the profound words of a great archbishop by the name of Raymond L. Burke, who wrote concerning his own public declarations that he would deny Holy Communion to pro-abortion Catholics in public life,
Some have accused me and other bishops of introducing division within the Church and between the Church and the political order of our country by our public declaration regarding the moral duty of Catholic politicians and their exclusion from Communion, in the case of their serious failure in carrying out their moral duty. Others have questioned the prudence of such declarations because of the attack they bring upon the Church or their adverse political effect. I have often reflected upon these accusations, in examining my conscience regarding my action in the matter.
Having considered the matter carefully, I respond that the division is already present, both in the conscience of Catholics who dissent from a most fundamental Church teaching and in the “intolerant secularism” prevalent in our nation, which would exclude Catholics from political life unless they be willing to violate their conscience. In our habit of “political correctness,” we do not like to acknowledge these divisions, but they must be recognized for the sake of our consciences and for the good of the nation.
Clearly, that division deepens every time a publicly recognized Catholic acts in a manner contrary to Catholic teaching. We can and should hope and pray that, one day soon, the entire United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acts with one accord to let it be known to all that there is no room in the Church for those who mock her, verbally attack her and otherwise bring about all manner of evil without regard to their Catholic identity or in spite of it.