This week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will meet with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. With the debilitating illness of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Pelosi has become the de facto leader of dissident Catholic members of Congress.
It's only appropriate that Pelosi should take Kennedy's place. When she became Speaker in January 2006, she chose Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J., as the celebrant of the Mass held in her honor. The late Father Drinan, a longtime professor of law at Georgetown University, had been the architect of the arguments now used as cover by Catholic politicians who wish to dodge the abortion issue. This effort began in 1964, when Father Drinan was among a small group of theologians who visited Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, to school the Kennedy clan on how to finesse the abortion issue in politics.
Pelosi's 100 percent voting record on abortion, according to NARAL, is commonplace among Catholic Democrats in the House, but Pelosi is, perhaps, the most vocal among them. For example, millions of dollars for contraceptives were cut from the first version of the stimulus package; only Pelosi, rather incoherently, defended the funding.
In August, she made such outrageous comments about the Church on Meet the Press that she single-handedly endangered President Barack Obama's outreach to Catholic voters. When, to support her pro-abortion stance on when life begins, she asserted, "Over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition," Pelosi elicited a rebuke not only from her ordinary, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, but also from dozens of other bishops.
Thus, the news that Pelosi will meet with Benedict spread like wildfire through the Catholic blogs last Thursday. Many Catholics, disgusted with her rabid pro-abortion politics, were outraged that the pope would agree to meet with her at all. They forget that the Holy Father is a head of state and regularly meets with political leaders from every nation, regardless of their positions on issues important to the Church.
It's a good idea for Benedict to meet with Pelosi, because one can never underestimate the impact of being in his presence. It's also worth remembering that, if the protocol of past meetings remains the same, the Holy Father will make formal remarks in front of the media before any private meeting. Benedict will very likely make comments criticizing the Obama administration for ending the Mexico City Policy and warning the new Congress against passing the Freedom of Choice Act.
When Pope John Paul II, meeting President George W. Bush for the first time in July 2001, made mild remarks critical of his position on embryonic stem cell research, the media talked about nothing else. It will be interesting to compare the media reaction to anything Benedict may say about Pelosi and Obama.
Just as important as Pelosi's meeting with the Holy Father is all that will surround her visit to the Vatican. Will she attend Mass? Will she receive communion? How many from the media will be present? How widely will the photos and videos of her reception be spread around the world? How many of her fellow pro-abortion Catholics will be at her side?
You can be sure that Pelosi will choreograph her visit to get maximum exposure of her Catholic identity -- down to a photograph of her entering St. Peter's Basilica in a veil, no doubt.
Pelosi, of course, should be denied communion, but it is unlikely to happen. Any priest who celebrates Mass with Pelosi present will be carefully chosen beforehand in order to avoid embarrassment to the Speaker and her entourage. But I wouldn't rule out some sort of protest from orthodox Catholic students and seminarians studying in Rome.
Given the publicity Pelosi will receive during this trip, Archbishop Niederauer should issue another public statement reiterating his criticism of her position on abortion -- and that, furthermore, if she presents herself for communion, he will deny it to her. If he were to remain silent, he would experience the embarrassment of having other U.S. bishops responding to Pelosi, in his place, on behalf of the Church.
Rev. Tom Euteneuer has already taken a bold stand, expressing his belief that Pelosi should be publicly and formally excommunicated. Unfortunately, his public statement makes it less likely to happen: Bishops don't want to appear to do what they are told by the head of Human Life International HLI), or any other Catholic apostolate for that matter. But our good friend at HLI is right on the mark.
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Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States
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