U.S. Catholic politician courts ecclesial clash It is hard to imagine that there could be a single person in this country -- no matter what religious persuasion -- who didn't know: 1) Where the Catholic Church stands on abortion. 2) That the Church's stance is not a new doctrinal development.

Well, one such person has been located: Nancy Pelosi, our country's most prominent Catholic politician (as the House speaker, she is third in line to the U.S. president).

In an Aug. 24 interview on NBC's Sunday morning show, "Meet the Press," Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked how she would answer the question of when human life begins. Starting by identifying herself as an "ardent, practicing Catholic" who has "studied" the abortion issue for "a long time," she: 1) Incorrectly claimed the Church has been talking about this for centuries without any conclusion. 2) Misrepresented St. Augustine, apparently mistaking him for St. Thomas Aquinas. 3) Incorrectly said the Church's position that human life begins at conception "is like maybe 50 years" or so old. 4) Advocated an extreme position of the primacy of conscience that doesn't take into account Church teaching. 5) Advocated, counter to Church teaching, for wider use of contraception.

And she did this in the throes of an election year? When debate over abortion has gained new national intensity? When the whole question of Catholics as a voting bloc is such a big story? When everyone's watching every politician's words like hawks? And when the question of denying communion to pro-choice politicians is being raised anew?

Whatever her intent, she stirred up the bee's nest. A whole host of Catholic bloggers jumped into the fray to make the relatively simple demonstration of continuity in Church teaching on abortion back to its earliest days. One site I saw had more than a dozen quotes from various Church Fathers.

The U.S. bishops also spoke out. The first was Archbishop Charles Chaput,whose city, Denver, was in the midst of hosting the Democratic National Convention. He was followed by Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, and by the chairmen of the U.S. bishops' committees for doctrine and pro-life activities.

All cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church's statement (see Nos. 2270-2271) on the constancy of teaching on abortion.

But Archbishop Chaput and the bishops' officials also highlight Pelosi's mistaken equating of an arcane theological debate about when the soul arrives in the body with the question of abortion. The ensoulment debate is irrelevant, they note, not only because modern embryology demonstrates that human life begins at conception but also because the Church always condemned abortion, at any stage of fetal development. Write me at feedback@osv.com.