Pelosi: Catholic Archdioceses Were Not ‘Speaking’ for Catholic Church When They Sued Administration

By Elizabeth Harrington | June 7, 2012 | 3:44pm EDT

Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kisses the ring of Pope Benedict XVI as President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush when the pope visited Washington, D.C., in April 2008. (AP Photo)

( - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) said on Thursday that the 43 Catholic institutions—including the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Archdiocese of New York--that are suing the Obama administration over its regulation mandating that all health-care plans must cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients are not speaking for the Catholic Church.

When the lawsuits were filed in a coordinated action on May 21, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis spoke at a press conference, giving a quite different impression. "The mandate set to take effect in August of this year requires us to violate our teaching on sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs," Archbishop Carlson said in explaining the lawsuits that were filed simultaneously in 12 different federal court districts across the country by Catholic archdiocoeses, dioceses, universities, schools and charitable organizations. "The Catholic Church, led by the U.S.C.C.B. [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops], has pursued every imaginable avenue to correct this problem without litigation," said the archbishop. "But in a few short months, the federal government will force Catholic institutions to choose between violating the law and violating our moral convictions. Right now, the future is unclear, and any scenario that forces us to violate our moral convictions is unacceptable."
If the player does not load, please check that you are running the latest version of Adobe Flash Player. asked Pelosi, who is Catholic, whether she supported her church in the lawsuits it has filed, which argue that the administration’s regulation violates the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“What about the 43 Catholic institutions [that] have now sued the administration over the regulation that requires them to provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients in their health care plans?” asked. “They say that violates their religious freedom. Do you support the Catholic Church in their lawsuits against the administration?”

“Well, I don’t think that’s the entire Catholic Church,” Pelosi responded. “Those people have a right to sue, but I don’t think they’re speaking ex cathedra for the Catholic Church.

“And there are people in the Catholic Church, including some of the bishops, who have suggested that some of this may be premature,” Pelosi said.

It is unclear why Pelosi would have pointed out that when an archbishop—such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. or Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis—sues the federal government in actions designed to protect the First Amendment rights of American Catholics he is not speaking "ex cathedra."

“Ex cathedra” refers to the infallible authority that Catholics believe the pope exerts when he makes a formal and solemn declaration on matters of faith and morals. It is not a term to describe lawsuits the church files in civilian courts.

In a 1993 audience, Pope John Paul II quoted the first Vatican Council in explaining the Catholic understanding of the “ex cathedra” authority of the pope.

“When the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in exercising his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians he defines with his supreme apostolic authority that a doctrine on faith and morals is to be held by the whole Church, through the divine assistance promised him in the person of St. Peter, he enjoys that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining a doctrine on faith and morals,” said the Vatican Council.

The Catholic teachings that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are morally wrong—the basis for the suits that the archdioceses, dioceses, universities, schools and charitable organizations have brought against the Obama administration--are in fact inalterable teachings that the church says are rooted in natural law.

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., states in its lawsuit: “The Catholic Church views abortion, sterilization, and contraception as intrinsically immoral, and prohibits Catholic organizations from condoning or facilitating those practices.”

“The Government may not interfere with or otherwise question the final decision of the Catholic Church that its religious organizations must abide by these views,” says the lawsuit. “Plaintiffs have therefore made the internal decision that the health plans they offer to their employees may not cover, subsidize, or facilitate abortion, sterilization, or contraception. The U.S. Government Mandate interferes with Plaintiffs’ internal decisions concerning their structure and mission by requiring them to facilitate practices that directly conflict with Catholic beliefs.”

When tried to ask Pelosi if she agreed with her church’s teaching on sterilization--which is one of the moral issues at the center of the church’s lawsuit against the Obamacare regulation--Pelosi cut the question off.

“You know what, I do my religion on Sunday in church, and I try to go other days of the week. I don’t do it at this press conference,” she said.

On other occasions, Pelosi has volunteered opinions about her religious faith and how it impacts her legislative agenda.

In 2010, speaking at a conference at the Capitol, Pelosi said the her favorite word was “the Word,” namely, Jesus Christ, and that she believed she had an obligation to “give voice to what the means in terms of public policy.”

“They ask me all the time, ‘What is your favorite this? What is your favorite that? What is your favorite that?’ And one time, ‘What is your favorite word?’” Pelosi said then.

“And I said, ‘My favorite word? That is really easy. My favorite word is the Word, is the Word. And that is everything. It says it all for us. And you know the biblical reference, you know the Gospel reference of the Word.”

“And that Word," Pelosi continued, "is, we have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word. The Word. Isn’t it a beautiful word when you think of it? It just covers everything. The Word.

“Fill it in with anything you want. But, of course, we know it means: ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.’ And that’s the great mystery of our faith. He will come again. He will come again,” said Pelosi. “So, we have to make sure we’re prepared to answer in this life, or otherwise, as to how we have measured up.”

At the same event, Pelosi revealed that she had told Catholic bishops that she wanted them to “instruct” people from the pulpit that supporting immigration reform was “a manifestation of our living the Gospels.”

“I would hope that there’s one thing that we can do working together as we go forward that speaks to what the Bible tells us about the dignity and worth of every person, and that is on the subject of immigration,” Pelosi said. “Because I think the church is going to have to play a very major role in how we, in how people are treated.”

“The cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops that come to me and say, ‘We want you to pass immigration reform,’ and I say, ‘But I want you to speak about it from the pulpit,’” said Pelosi. “I want you to instruct your, whatever the communication is -- the people, some of them, oppose immigration reform are sitting in those pews and you have to tell them that this is a manifestation of our living the Gospels.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted formal comments to the Department of Health and Human Services when it first proposed the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate declaring the bishops' view that the regulation was an "unprecedented attack on religious liberty." Later, most American bishops had their priests read a letter from the pulpit at Sunday Mass that said of the regulation: "We cannot--we will not--comply with this unjust law."

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