Anti-abortion priests demand Pelosi renounce Catholicism

A national organization of Catholic priests denounced House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and told her to give up her Catholic faith because she supports abortion rights. 

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In an open letter to Pelosi, the group Priests for Life accused the House's top Democrat of making a "mockery of the Catholic faith."

"Whatever Catholic faith you claim to respect and practice, it is not the faith that the Catholic Church teaches," wrote Priests for Life National Director Fr. Frank Pavone. 

"For decades you have gotten away with betraying and misrepresenting the Catholic faith as well as the responsibilities of public office. We have had enough of it. Either exercise your duties as a public servant and a Catholic, or have the honesty to formally renounce them," he wrote.

The Catholic Church teaches against abortion based on the view that each instance of fertilization begins a new life meriting protection. Supporters of abortion rights argue that the choice belongs to individual women and is vital for their well-being. 

Like many Catholic Democrats, Pelosi supports abortion rights. She is frequently challenged by anti-abortion rights groups and conservative reporters for this view.

The latest tangle came during a press conference on a GOP bill to ban late-term abortions across the country. That measure, from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), passed the House on Tuesday.

Pelosi was asked by the conservative Weekly Standard about the "moral difference" between a late-term abortion and the murder of a viable infant after birth.

She blasted the reporter for having an "agenda" and said he was not "interested in having an answer."

"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," Pelosi added later.

The California Democrat is not the first member of her party to receive criticism from the church over her Catholic views.

Catholic leaders have denied or threatened to deny communion to several Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, including Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Both Biden and Pelosi took communion during a mass for the installation of Pope Francis in March, causing an uproar among conservative members of the church. 

Polls have found that U.S. Catholics are split on abortion, much like the wider public.

A New York Times/CBS News survey from March found that while 56 percent of U.S. Catholics believe the pope should continue to oppose abortion, 74 percent would allow the practice under some circumstances. 

Pelosi's office declined to comment on Pavone's letter, which was circulated Wednesday.