House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is under fire for her recent remarks on abortion. In an open letter from Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life (PFL), an anti-abortion group based in New York, Pelosi is accused of “betraying and misrepresenting the Catholic faith.” The letter responds to a statement Pelosi gave at a press briefing on a House bill to ban abortion past the 20th week of gestation on June 13. A reporter for The Weekly Standard asked Pelosi what the “moral difference” was between a late-term abortion and the actions of Kermit Gosnell, a notorious abortion doctor recently convicted of murder and other crimes connected with his performance of illegal and grisly late-term abortions.
Pelosi seemed annoyed by the question, and tried to avoid being drawn into a debate. In response to the questioner, she condemned both Gosnell and opponents of a woman’s right to choose as reprehensible, and then attempted to move on. When the reporter tried to pin down an answer from her, Pelosi refused to elaborate, saying, “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this. This shouldn't have anything to do with politics.”
That unfortunately worded statement is what prompted Father Pavone to write his fiery and confrontational letter to the California congresswoman. In it, he responds, “Abortion is not sacred ground; it is sacrilegious ground.” He goes on to question the legitimacy of her faith, saying it “is not the faith that the Catholic Church teaches” and at the end of the letter challenges her to “either exercise your duties as a public servant and a Catholic, or have the honesty to formally renounce them.”
Father Pavone’s confrontational letter may raise eyebrows among readers who are accustomed to more measured pronouncements from the clergy, but Father Pavone is not your typical parish priest. As the public face of PFL, he is much more known as a political activist than as man of the cloth. His political activities have gotten him in trouble with the Catholic hierarchy before. He was suspended from PFL back in September 2011 for financial irregularities within the group's $10 million budget. It was reported that the group was quite "lucrative" and afforded Father Pavone financial independence that helped insulate him from church oversight. The bishop who suspended him, Bishop Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, wrote of there being “persistent questions and concerns” about Pavone’s handling of PFL donations.
Father Pavone was reinstated about a year later, following his appeal all the way to the Vatican. But Zurek seems determined to rein him in. Back in 2012 he gave Pavone new responsibilities as a chaplain of a diocese in Amarillo. Few issues seem to conjure up as much controversy on both sides of the debate as abortion. American Catholics remain split on the issue and politicians like Pelosi are keen to avoid it. But if people like Father Pavone can help it, this is one issue that isn’t going away.