Now the dust has settled over the mid-term congressional elections in the US, some interesting facts are emerging. First, representative John Boehner, who is to be the new Speaker of the House (an office, of course, of great political power in the American system) is a Catholic. Well, you may say, so was the wretched pro-abortion Nancy Pelosi. No, but John Boehner is a Catholic (he is, it seems, guided by the Church).
He is given, it seems, to choking with emotion during speeches; he did it on Wednesday morning after emerging clearly as Speaker. He also did it (bless him) on receiving the 2010 Henry J Hyde Defender of Life Award. The pro-life group Americans United for Life gave it for his “extraordinary leadership in the fight to prevent taxpayer-funded abortion and for his work to protect women’s health in his own state of Ohio”.
We may well now see Congressional attempts to choke off the funding for abortion which is authorised in President Obama’s healthcare law (as it is, unhappily, in our own NHS): this will need legislation which Obama will be inclined, as a committed pro-abortionist, to veto. This would, however, add to his unpopularity. Obama says he wants to co-operate with the new House, which is, according to LifeNews.com, predominantly pro-life. So, we shall see what we shall see. At least there will be a fight.
It is perhaps worthwhile at this point to cast a final valedictory glance at the departing Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, a figure not without interest here, for we have our own quota of pro-abortion lay Catholics, most notably, perhaps, Tony and Cherie Blair (Tony consistently voted in favour of it, including one vote for abortion up to term).
Pelosi’s argument is simple. It’s only during the last 50 years that the Church has been against abortion; in fact, she says, it’s always been controversial. So for Catholics it’s a matter of individual “conscience”. This is how she once argued it in front of a senatorial hearing:
“I would say that as an ardent, practicing [sic] 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. And Senator–St Augustine said at three months …. 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…. this [anti-abortion Church teaching] is like maybe 50 years [old] or something like that.”
So, Pelosi has studied this for a long time? Not long enough, Nancy. From the beginning, Christians have been against abortion. The first century document known as the Didache (perhaps the earliest attempt at a catechism of Christian doctrine) is unambiguous:
“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2).
Tertullian, towards the end of the second century, expresses it in remarkably modern terms: adjusting the vocabulary and phrasing, this could be a Catholic bishop speaking in the 21st century:
“In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8).
So, come off it, Pelosi. And goodbye. But Pelosi’s departure from office will not solve the problem, in the US or here, of Catholic politicians (or even, I fear, some bishops) who try to be what I have heard called “nuanced” about their attitude to abortion: false prophets who lead other Catholics astray. It is absolutely not for me to issue moral condemnations. But I fear for them. It was not I who said that: “If anyone causes one of these little ones [meaning believers, not children] who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” (Mark 9:42) Your “conscience”, Nancy Pelosi, is not just a matter for you.