Double standard at the Vatican?

VATICAN CITY — Following up on Paul Haring’s post below and the comments in response, it was in fact striking to compare the Vatican’s very different treatment this past week of two political leaders who support legal abortion: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

If the Vatican statements reflect the content of their papal audiences, Pelosi received a sharply worded lesson on the pro-life responsibilities of legislators. Brown (who last year helped defeat legislation that would have cut the upper time-limit of abortion from 24 to 22 weeks of life) explored in “cordial conversations” with the pontiff practically every other issue under the sun: the economic crisis, the Middle East, global poverty, the environment, etc.

As Wally Watson suggests in his comment to Paul’s post, one key was the fact that Pelosi is Catholic; Brown is not. That said, Italy is full of Catholic legislators who support legal abortion but have escaped a dressing-down by the pope — in fact, some of them have received Communion at papal Masses.

The real reason Pelosi got such a cool reception at the Vatican was that she challenged the church’s teaching publicly during last year’s election campaign, and even suggested that church leaders could not agree on when human life begins. Several U.S. bishops rushed to correct her and invited her to review her thinking.

Unlike many U.S. Catholic debates, this one registered at the Vatican. So when Pelosi came seeking a papal audience, Vatican officials felt the issue was being laid at its doorstep. Thus the strongly worded statement, which not only gave strong backing to U.S. bishops, but highlighted a position that’s been refined and underlined by the Vatican in recent years: that on issues like abortion, Catholic legislators cannot check their faith at the door.