So-called “values voters” twice made the difference in George W. Bush’s victories in 2000 and 2004. This was not lost on Democratic Party pollsters. Only days after the 2004 election, in a November 10 speech at Tufts University, Hillary Clinton called it a mistake for Democrats to have ignored Christians, thereby ceding those voters to President Bush.
Organizations like Democracy Corps—the political consulting firm of Clinton advisers Jame Carville, Stanley Greenberg, and Bob Shrum—were soon circulating memos with titles such as “Reclaiming the White Catholic Vote.” And in places like Berkeley, California, liberals gathered for seminars titled, “I Don’t Believe in God, but I Know America Needs a Spiritual Left.”
By the end of 2005, the party’s leadership—principally Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives and Harry Reid in the Senate—had established a Democratic Faith Working Group and a website called Word to the Faithful. Pelosi’s remarks during the 2005 Christmas season were a sign of the new strategy; she denounced the Republican budget for its “injustice and immorality” and urged fellow liberals to vote against the budget “as an act of worship” during the season.
In their big push to recapture Congress in 2006, Pelosi and her colleagues sought out and ran religious Democrats wherever possible. The case
of Pennsylvania is illuminating; two of the top pro-life Catholic Republicans in Congress, Representative Melissa Hart and Senator Rick Santorum, were shockingly defeated by Catholic Democrats, Santorum losing to Bob Casey, Jr.
Now as they look ahead to the November election, the Democrats are continuing this campaign—and their allies in the secular press, normally sensitive to the blurring of the lines between faith and politics, are suddenly open to their religious talk.
“ACTS OF WORSHIP”
This broader political context is essential to understanding Nancy Pelosi’s invocations of faith, which have been frequent during her short stint as Speaker of the House. She has taken to citing Scripture often.
In an April 22 Earth Day declaration, Speaker Pelosi waxed spiritual. “Almost four decades ago, a group of visionary Americans energized the environmental movement, and indeed our nation, by dedicating a day to this ideal: we must preserve God’s creation, our planet, for the generations to come,” she said. “The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, ‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.’ On this Earth Day, and every day, let us honor the earth and our future generations with a commitment to fight climate change.”
Pelosi has used this alleged Old Testament quote a number of times—December 2005, February 2007, April 6 and 25, 2007, October 2007, and April 2008. It is her most frequent biblical exhortation, though its very existence is a matter of dispute.
Pete Winn of Cybercast News Service, after consulting Scripture and Pelosi’s staff, was unable to locate the quote anywhere in the Bible. He then interviewed a number of biblical authorities who likewise could not confirm it, among them Rev. Andreas Hock of Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary, who said, “The quote does not exist in the Old Testament, neither in the New Testament.”
The part of the alleged verse that puzzles scholars the most is the claim of “an act of worship,” an odd expression that Speaker Pelosi has used in other political contexts. In that December 2005 Christmas message she urged fellow Democrats to “vote no on this [Republican] budget as an act of worship and for America’s children.” A few months earlier, in March 2005, she applied the awkward phrase to poverty policy; deriding Republicans’ “shameful attack on the poor,” Pelosi averred, “It is an act of worship to minister to the needs of the world’s poorest.”
An interesting look at Pelosi’s words and deeds regarding ministry to the poor is offered by a new book by Peter Schweizer, Makers and Takers. Schweizer examined the charitable giving of the foundation established by Pelosi and her husband Paul, the Pelosi Family Foundation. Illustrating a common pattern among liberals, Pelosi tends to seek assistance for the poor through government rather than private means. Looking at her foundation’s tax returns from 2001 to 2006, Schweizer found that the Pelosi Foundation favored the arts and elite prep schools—“little went to help the less fortunate,” reported Schweizer.
None of this is to say that Pelosi’s talk of God is wholly insincere. No doubt, there are certain areas where she sincerely applies her faith to politics. An important part of this picture, however, is the area where she does not apply her faith to politics—abortion.
PELOSI’S “SERENITY” ABOUT ABORTION
What is most outrageous about Pelosi’s position on abortion is not so much the predictable votes or the boilerplate language that she invokes to defend her position—which makes her sound no different than the head of Planned Parenthood—but the way she tries to reconcile it with her Catholicism. Many abortion-rights Catholic politicians don’t even try to explain how their advocacy squares with Catholicism. Pelosi is not so reticent.
In a 2006 interview with Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift, Pelosi conceded that her family is “very pro-life” and “I think they’d like it if I were not so vocally pro choice.” But, she said, “To me it isn’t even a question. God has given us a free will.”
In that vein, Pelosi offered a handful of maddening observations at an April teleconference with the media during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to America. Pelosi casually acknowledged that, yes, she and the earthly head of her Church differ on the abortion issue. “The Church sees it another way, and I respect that,” but, she added, “I have a sort of serenity about the issue.”
During Pope Benedict’s visit, she told the press that she continues to receive Communion on a regular basis. Indeed, she seems to have developed her own personal theology as to what Communion means—a definition that works for her, allowing her to receive the Blessed Sacrament without a pang of conscience.
“Think of that word ‘communion,’” she explained, “that which brings us all together as Christians, as Catholics.” To deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion Catholic politicians “would be something that would shatter the union,” according to Pelosi.
Here one can see hints of the diversity politics of modern liberalism: nothing trumps diversity in terms of moral priorities. According to Pelosi’s thinking, we need to look first to whether we are uniting ourselves in our diversity, not whether our consciences have been cleared before receiving Jesus Christ.
One might conjecture that what this also shows is that Pelosi is a product of some terrible catechesis, if any catechesis at all. Serious Catholics have asked how someone who is a lifelong Catholic—and sharp enough to rise to the level of the first female Speaker of the House—could be so strikingly illinformed regarding the sacraments.
They needn’t look further than her archbishop and pastor. Offering some enabling comments in an interview on KCBS Radio in February 2007, San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer explained why he doesn’t refuse Communion to Pelosi: “I think that when I stand at Communion time, in front of the altar, to distribute Communion, I—like all priests and bishops, I believe—am counting on the individual communicant who’s coming forward to receive Communion to decide whether he or she is worthy of Communion and is ready to receive it, this sacrament. I am not there principally as a gatekeeper. I am there as a priest and a celebrant to give forth the Eucharist.”
Pelosi has decided for herself that she is worthy of the sacrament, and her pastor, Father John K. Ring of St. Vincent de Paul Church in San Francisco, supports her.
“She’s a fine woman,” Father Ring said to CWR in February 2007. “She is a good parishioner.” He dismissed the idea that offering Communion to Pelosi would in any way scandalize the faithful. “Jesus Christ wasn’t scandalized by Peter abandoning him,” he said.
When asked about the Vatican’s explicit instruction that a pro-abortion Catholic politician’s “pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Father Ring signaled indifference. “Leave it in God’s hands,” he said. “I’m not going to argue the matter with you.”
That leaves the matter to Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, who thus far seems to have no more interest in taking action against pro-abortion Catholic politicians than his predecessor. Under his gaze, Pelosi—along with Senators John Kerry, Chris Dodd, and Ted Kennedy—received the Eucharist in Washington during Pope Benedict’s visit.
It remains to be seen whether any Church officials—somewhere in the 3,000 miles between San Francisco and Washington—will have the courage to confront Speaker Pelosi. Until they do, she will continue to protect the aborting of more than one million babies per year while having the audacity to describe consent to items on the legislative agenda of the Democratic Party as an “act of worship.”
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!