Just Salary Expectations for Our Leaders, The Anchor, September 5, 2008

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
September 5, 2008

One lie generally leads to others. Unless one admits the first falsity, that person usually needs to tell other fabrications to buttress the initial one. Few are the parents, teachers, priests, police officers, judges, and eligible singles who have not experienced this web of ever-growing mendacity first-hand.

In the month of August, we witnessed it among Democratic leaders on the subject of abortion.

It began at the August 16 Saddleback Church’s “Civil Forum on the Presidency,” when Pastor Rick Warren asked Senator Barack Obama, “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” The Illinois Senator hastily and clumsily shifted the question to when human life begins. Then he stated, infamously, “Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity … is above my pay grade.”

Such an obfuscation quickly became a political liability. Most Americans would think few questions — particularly elemental ones — are beyond Senator Obama’s intellectual capacities. From a scientific perspective, the question of when life begins is not above the “pay grade” of high school biology students, who learn “with specificity” that human life begins at the moment of the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm. From a Christian theological point of view, to which Senator Obama says he ascribes, the question of life’s beginnings has never been above the heads of ordinary Christians. While there have been debates throughout the centuries about the timing of human ensoulment, there has been common-sensical unanimity that the growing child in the womb is human, alive and deserving of protection. Despite his lame attempt at false humility, Sen. Obama’s past actions in defense of partial birth abortion in the Illinois legislature demonstrate that his pretended ignorance did not stop him from speaking and voting in favor of killing half-delivered babies. His low pay grade was increased handsomely by the pro-abortion lobby as a result.

On August 24, when Tom Brokaw asked Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a pro-choice Catholic, on Meet the Press if she would be able to help Senator Obama answer the question of when life begins, the Congresswoman just dug a deeper hole with a litany of untruths. “I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose. … And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this.”

It’s impossible to say to say whether the intelligent Speaker, a proud graduate of Catholic schooling in Baltimore, was intending to deceive the viewers or was simply so ignorant of Catholic Church teaching and elemental biology as not to know how erroneous her statements were, but the response from many Catholic Church leaders, even some who are among the most reticent when it comes to correcting pro-choice politicians, was swift, strong and unprecedented.

Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bridgeport Bishop William Lori said on behalf of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference that Speaker Pelosi had totally misstated the Church’s position on when life begins. “The Church has always taught that human life deserves respect from its very beginning and that procured abortion is a grave moral evil. 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 has long taught 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.”

Cardinal Egan of New York said that Speaker Pelosi’s ignorance of the Church’s teaching on human life was “utterly incredible,” and implied that her biological incomprehension of the beginnings of human life makes her — and presumably those who hold similar positions, like Sen. Obama — unfit to serve in a civilized country.

“Like many other citizens of this nation,” he wrote in a powerful public statement, “I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokaw…. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age. We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with 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. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. 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 should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.”

It is clear from these episcopal statements that the Church does not believe that the question of the beginning of human life and the moral consequences flowing from that awareness are above any intelligent person’s “pay grade,” especially a Catholic’s. Those public servants who think it is, the bishops imply, are not worthy of the nation’s employ.

The history of abortion in our country has been a chronicle of lies and dissimulations, from exaggerated tales of illegal abortion deaths, to the intentional dehumanization of the developing fetus, to the “health of the mother” exceptions so broad as to allow abortion for any reason whatsoever, to the feigned ignorance of the fundamental human questions at the center of the debate, to many legislators’ pretending like they are personally opposed to abortion while promoting it publicly and enthusiastically at every turn. This controversy is yet one other episode in that long, sad history.

But there was one statement of shocking, probably unguarded candor in Speaker Pelosi’s Meet the Press interview that exposed the great lie underneath her and Senator Obama’s supposed ignorance about when life begins. “The point is,” she said, that the question of the beginning of human life “shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.” In other words, even if everyone — from legislators, to courts, to citizens — were totally convinced that embryos were human from the first moment of conception, women should still have the “right” to choose to kill them. It’s not a question, therefore, of when life begins, because whenever it begins, Pelosi believes that women should have the legal power to put them to death for any reason — even, as with saw with the partial-birth abortion debate, when they are half-delivered. The supposed ignorance about the beginning of human life is ultimately just a cagy political diversion to beguile people about these politicians’ true character.