Who Decides? Pelosi, San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone Debate the Meaning of Devout

Joseph Serwach

When your Church says one thing and the polls say another

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Catholic Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian after discussing religious freedom in China.Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

What is a devout Catholic when the Church calls abortion a crime and your political party calls it healthcare? U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi D-San Francisco, insists she is both devout and an advocate of government financed abortion.

Pelosi repeatedly calls herself “a devout Catholic,” prompting her bishop, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, to issue a statement saying she isn’t:

“Let me repeat: No one can claim to be a devout Catholic and condone the killing of innocent human life, let alone have the government pay for it,” Cordileone said in a statement. “The right to life is a fundamental — the most fundamental ­– human right, and Catholics do not oppose fundamental human rights.”

Hours earlier, Pelosi held a news conference announcing she was leading efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion, “because it’s an issue of health for many women in America.” She then added:

“As a devout Catholic and mother of five in six years, I feel that God has blessed my husband and me with our beautiful family. But it’s not up to me to dictate that’s what other people should do, and it’s an issue of fairness and justice for poor women in our country.”

In June, a reporter asked Pelosi about the humanity of a 15–week-old unborn baby, the cutoff for fetal viability in many court cases.

She similarly answered, “Let me just say that I am a big supporter of Roe v. Wade. I am a mother of five children in six years. I think I have some standing on this issue as to respecting a woman’s right to choose.”

She has repeatedly called herself a “devout practicing Catholic” while declining to say whether she considers an unborn baby to be a human being. Pope Benedict XVI personally reminded her of the Church’s stance on the issue during a private meeting.

President Joe Biden, also a Catholic Democrat advocating government-funded abortions, has repeatedly been described in the media and by his own staff as “a devout Catholic,” and multiple bishops and cardinals have said his positions keep him from being a Catholic in good standing.

“I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender,” said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says abortion and infanticide “are abominable crimes, adding, “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority.”

Multiple Catholic bishops and cardinals have repeatedly called out Biden for opposing church teachings, and some priests have denied Biden the Eucharist when he has attended Mass at their parishes.

“The president should stop defining himself as a devout Catholic and acknowledge that his view on abortion is contrary to Catholic moral teaching,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City said in a February interview.

The current definition and original meaning of ‘devout’

“Devout” comes from the word “devoted,” or “yielding reverential devotion to God.” To be devoted means to be “very loving and loyal,” while the dictionary says devout means “deep religious feeling or commitment.”

“Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about,” C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity.

Catholics occupy “a place of ambiguity, straddling a fence” dividing “culture vs. life in Christ,” Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample said in a recent interview. “We cannot live in the gray area anymore,” Sample said. “The time of living in the gray area is over.”

What do the Bible and Catechism say about “devout?”

In the Bible, we start hearing about “devout” people with the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In “The Coming of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1–47), we learn about the Church’s birthday with the “day of Pentecost.”

In the next paragraph, we learn, “Now, there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” Soon after, Acts describes Cornelius, a centurion from “the Italian cohort,” as a “devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God.” (Acts 10:1–48).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, summing up the beliefs and teachings of the Church, doesn't define “devout” but twice uses the word “devoutly”:

  • In CCC 2001, we learn the “preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace,” teaching that “it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.”
  • In CCC 2513, we learn the fine arts, but especially sacred art, are “directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God’s praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.”

The Church teaches we are all sinners yet also children of God. In his classic Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis DeSales explained the sin of pride plays a key role in people who consider themselves devout: “each one represents Devotion according to his liking and imagination.”

“He who is in the habit of fasting thinks that because he fasts, he is very devout, even though his heart is filled with hatred; and while fasting he will not dare to sip wine or even water, but neither will he refrain from drinking the blood of his neighbor by means of gossip or slander,” DeSales wrote.

“Another considers himself devout because of the very great number of prayers he recites every day, even though soon after this, he speaks words that are annoying, arrogant, and hurtful to those in his house and to his neighbors. Another very gladly takes alms from his purse to give to the poor but cannot take any gentleness from his heart to forgive his enemies. Yet another will forgive his enemies but will not pay what he owes unless legally forced to do so. All such persons are generally looked upon as devout, whereas in fact, they are not.”

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