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Did Fr. Pavone call on Nancy Pelosi to renounce the Catholic faith?

June 21, 2013

According to a headline at The Daily Caller, Pavone did. I caution against that characterization of his words.

It would be a grave sin for any Catholic to urge another Catholic, for any reason and in any manner, to leave the Church; if the one doing such urging were a priest the viciousness of the sin would be magnified. So, to suggest that Pavone urged Pelosi to leave the Church is serious stuff. But having read Pavone’s open letter to Pelosi I do not see him doing that.

The closest Pavone comes to saying anything like ‘leave the Church’ is when he tells Pelosi “Either exercise your duties as a public servant and a Catholic, or have the honesty to formally renounce them.” Now I take the referent for “them” in that sentence to be Pelosi’s “duties as a public servant and a Catholic”.

To be sure, any renouncing of duties is problematic, for as long as one holds an office one may scarcely renounce the duties attached to such office. But Pavone’s words here can, I think, be fairly interpreted as asserting Pelosi’s duty to resign not her duties but the public office that gives rise to those duties (for which office, I would agree, she is unfit). I think one should take Pavone’s words to Pelosi as follows: if you (Pelosi) really can’t discuss abortion and infanticide competently, let alone recognize and act against the depravity of both, then have the honesty to admit your failing and resign your public office. To that I could only add Amen.

My reading of Pavone’s words is, I grant, more strained when it comes to his perhaps implying that Pelosi should renounce her duties as a Catholic, for one can hardly do that without (sinfully) failing in one’s duties precisely as a Catholic (c. 209). But, to borrow an insightful observation by a noted pro-life leader, one cannot practice vice virtuously, and so one cannot renounce one’s duties as a Catholic “honestly”. I simply doubt that Pavone is proposing that Pelosi perform the impossible.

Rhetoric sometimes gets in the way of precision but, in the absence of clearer evidence, I do not think that Pavone has called upon Pelosi to cease her campaign against babies or, in the alternative, to leave the Catholic Church (honestly or otherwise) for that alternative would itself be a sin, and good priests don’t counsel others to sin.  Ever.

Update, 27 June 2013: This post generated some questions, and I’ve responded to some of them here.

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