Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pelosi and the Pope, Emotion and Beliefs

Nancy Pelosi has described herself as an "ardent Catholic." She may be right about that.

"Ardent" means
  • "characterized by intense emotion"
  • "characterized by strong enthusiasm"
  • "glowing or shining like fire"
    (Princeton's WordNet)
I've seen photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and she's not glowing or shining like a fire - but she may very well be emotional about being Catholic.

There's nothing wrong with that, but there's much more to being Catholic than feeling good about the Church, or enjoying the music. There's also learning to use your reason and your will. (Catechism, 1676, 1767, 1768, 1776-1794, 2708)

Practicing the Catholic faith means finding out what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

Being Ardent Isn't Being Informed

There's no problem with being excited about the grandeur, ceremonies, and colorful costumes of the Catholic Church. But, I think it's more important to know what the Church teaches.

The Church is quite clear on what its doctrines are. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (2nd Edition), available online, covers what the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium have to say about what it is to be Catholic. (More about those three terms, in "The Roman Catholic Church isn't a Democracy" (February 19, 2009), and "The Catholic Church: Authoritarian, Which Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing" (October 2, 2008).)

Ideally, Catholics growing up in America would have learned what the Church teaches while they were growing up. One of the problems I see with the Catholic Church in America is the weird stuff that passed for Catechetics over the last several decades. But, that's getting off topic.

Pelosi vs. the Pope: Match Ends in Draw

It doesn't look like Nancy Pelosi talked the Pope into repealing any of the Ten Commandments (he doesn't have the authority to, anyway). And, the American Speaker of the House probably won't make any change in her 'ardent' beliefs - not any time soon.

Hardly surprising, in both cases. Here's what the two offices had to say:
The Holy See
" 'His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoins all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development,' the Vatican wrote, having released the statement moments before the two met...."
United States of America's Speaker of the House Pelosi's Office
" 'It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI today,' Pelosi said in a statement released hours after the meeting. 'In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel. I was proud to show his Holiness a photograph of my family's papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren.'..." (FOXNews (February 18, 2009))
The Vatican Reported on the Meeting - Before the Meeting??
I sometimes quibble about outfits that release statements about an event before the curtain goes up. The Holy See's jumping the gun is okay by me - not because I'm blindly loyal, but because it follows an established precedent. The press often gets speeches or other statements before they're officially made. That way, reporters get a chance to write at least part of their articles before an event, presumably filling in details later.

In a case like this, the Pope's statement about "natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life" was quite predictable. The fifth commandment pre-dates the Holy See by more than a thousand years, and it's not going to change: unless the Pope gets orders from a higher authority. He is, remember, just the Vicar of Christ. (Catechism 874, 882)

Press Coverage Could Have Been Worse

Maybe it's just me, but I thought that USA Today's column on the Pelosi-Pope match was a bit condescending. After starting with "The Catholic chat-o-sphere is not entirely lost in a guess-the-archbishop game...", we read "...Michael Paulson, at The Boston Globe does a nice run though of the waves comments, chiefly vitriolic toward Pelosi, on the blogs. He draws on Deal Hudson who writes at"

This quote, excerpted from the column is, presumably, part of the "vitriolic" waves of comments:
" 'The Holy Father is a head of state and must, as a matter of course, meet with political leaders from every nation, regardless of their positions on issues important to the Church. It's also a good idea for Benedict XVI to meet with misguided souls like Pelosi, because you can never underestimate the impact of being in his presence on someone who is running from the truth as fast as she/he can.'..."
Her Boston Globe source could have done better, I think. Here's part of a blog from someone in Los Angeles, who's also Catholic: the kind of Catholic who actually knows what the Church teaches.
"The USA is really in trouble when the top three positions in its government are filled by human beings as ignorant, as extremist and as cruel and heartless as the remorseless pro-abortion zealots Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Biden and Barack H. 'Punished with a Baby' Obama...." ("Pope Benedict XVI and Pro-Abortion Nancy Pelosi" L.A. Catholic (February 17, 2009))
I wouldn't call those three politicos "extremist," but I've spent decades on or near college campuses: my threshold for "extremist" is set pretty high. I do agree with the the blogger, though, that none of them practices a political philosophy that's consistent with Catholic teaching.

Alienate "Mainstream Catholics," or Alienate God - This is a Choice?

The Los Angeles Times article had a different angle, but brought up the same basic point as the USA Today column: "...All of which is likely to fuel a continuing debate in Catholic circles, as the New York Times put it, about whether this pope's focus on doctrine could alienate mainstream Catholics like Pelosi...." (Los Angeles Times (February 17, 2009))

First, although people like Pelosi and the Kennedys are, in the dialect used by American news media, "mainstream Catholics," I'm not entirely convinced that they're quite as near the 50th percentile of Catholic Americans as The New York Times, US News, and Los Angeles Times editors would like to believe.

Second, even if a clear majority of American Catholics 'ardently' believe that the Pope is wrong on most doctrinal points: so what?
Short-Term vs. Long-Term Goals
It's easy enough to say "...As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15) Actually following through on those bold words is something else. Particularly when 'ardent Catholics' like Nancy Pelosi are in positions of influence and 'mainstream Catholics' are assumed to follow in the footsteps of Pelosi and the Kennedys.

Following the teachings of the Catholic Church isn't made easier, when Catholics who understand what the Church teaches, and follow its rules, seem to be regarded as about on a par with the Yokums of Dogpatch. Only not as funny.

I'm not complaining. That's the way it is, and nobody told me that being Catholic would be easy.

Besides, I like to look the big picture. It's inconvenient, and sometimes a little embarrassing, to go against the Pelosis, Kennedys, and USA Todays, of the world. At that, I've got it easy: There are times and places where following God is just plain lethal.

Even in a worst-case scenario, though, I hope I'd have the guts to follow God and His Church. He's the one I'll have to face, sooner or later: so His opinion matters more than that of anyone else.

If that means I'm not in the 'mainstream,' so be it.

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