WASHINGTON -- When Democrats decided they wouldn't let the GOP be "God's Only Party," they weren't kidding. Thanks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, none other than St. Augustine has been summoned to Denver.
He was resurrected as Pelosi was trying to respond to the question that refuses to die: When does human life begin? This time, it was Tom Brokaw asking on Sunday's "Meet the Press." Citing Barack Obama's recent pass on a similar question -- "At what point does a baby get human rights?" -- Brokaw asked Pelosi what she would say to Obama were he to ask her advice.
Pelosi didn't finesse her answer, as Obama did when he said the question was above his pay grade, but she may wish she had.
"I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time," Pelosi began. "And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctrines of the church have not been able to make that definition. ... St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on a woman's right to choose. ... I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins."
Few paragraphs have contained more falsehoods. The reaction was swift from Denver's archbishop, the Rev. Charles J. Chaput, among others, who condemned Pelosi's comments during Mass that same evening. Blogging on Monday, Chaput quoted Jesuit John Connery, author of "Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective," who concluded that "The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm anti-abortion attitude."
It is true that laws and penalties concerning abortion have evolved through the ages. "Right to life" is a relatively new concept. It is also true that Augustine -- and St. Thomas Aquinas eight centuries later -- subscribed to a "delayed hominization" theory, meaning that abortion couldn't be homicide because the fetus doesn't receive a soul until a certain point in its development.
Augustine even thought that "hominization" occurred earlier for males than for females. Is it possible that the same authority whom Pelosi invokes to justify her belief in choice also ranked the female fetus below the male on God's "Ensoulments To Do" list?
We may forgive Augustine, of course, because people didn't know much about nascent life in the early 400s. The ovum wasn't discovered until 1827. Fetal imaging, now routine for expectant parents, was unimaginable.
If Augustine had known then what we know now, would he stand by Pelosi as she asserts that when life begins should have no bearing on a woman's right to choose?