San Francisco Archbishop Responds to Pelosi

by Eleanor Clift


Archbishop George H. Niederauer

The Archbishop of San Francisco has responded to remarks made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview for NEWSWEEK’s year-end issue. He sharply rebuts Pelosi, who worships in his jurisdiction, for citing the Catholic teaching of free will to support her belief that reproductive choice for women is not at odds with what she was raised to believe as a practicing Catholic. The archbishop slaps her down, saying “Free will cannot be cited as justification for society to allow moral choices that strike at the most fundamental rights of others. Such a choice is abortion, which constitutes the taking of innocent human life, and cannot be justified by any Catholic notion of freedom.”

The NEWSWEEK interview was more extensive than the excerpts that appeared in the magazine, and Pelosi was most engaged when talking about her confrontation with the Conference of Bishops about language in the health-care-reform bill pertaining to abortion coverage. In the interview, she voiced frustration with the excessive focus the bishops give this one issue when their social agenda is compatible with the Democratic Party on health care, education, and immigration, where they could be political allies. “I keep saying why is it that you come to see me about immigration all the time, yet except in California in Napa Valley where the farm workers go, I’ve never heard anyone from the pulpit talk about immigration. Every place I go I hear the nonnegotiables—stem-cell research, gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, euthanasia—but I don’t hear anyone talk about immigration.”

Asked if she finds it difficult to reconcile her faith with the role she has in public life, Pelosi separated the two, saying, “When I speak to my archbishop in San Francisco and his role is to try to change my mind on the subject, well then he is exercising his pastoral duty to me as one of his flock. When they call me on the phone here to talk about an issue, or come to see me, that’s a different story. They are advocates and I am a public official and I have a different responsibility.” It’s anybody’s guess whether in the new world of Internet media the archbishop’s online commentary rebuking Pelosi falls under his pastoral duties, or public advocacy. Either way, Pelosi remains unshaken in her views, and in her Catholic faith.