“To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.” ─ Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2032
In a surprise letter a few days ago, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Archdiocese of San Francisco informed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who resides in San Francisco, that he was taking the rare step of barring her from receiving Holy Communion.
The archbishop was very clear that the reason he was taking this dramatic step was because of Pelosi’s long-term, public, passionate, and unapologetic support for legal abortion, which the Catholic Church teaches is the murder of an innocent human being.
In his letter, Archbishop Cordileone explained that he had on previous occasions communicated his concerns about Pelosi’s support for abortion to her, including in a letter dated April 7, 2022. In that earlier letter, the archbishop had warned that if Pelosi continued to support abortion in public while referring to her Catholic faith, he would have “no choice” but to invoke Canon 915, which states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” are “not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
His recent letter continued,
As you have not publicly repudiated your position on abortion, and continue to refer to your Catholic faith in justifying your position and to receive Holy Communion, that time has now come. Therefore, in light of my responsibility as the Archbishop of San Francisco to be “concerned for all the Christian faithful entrusted to [my] care” (Code of Canon Law, can. 383, §1), by means of this communication I am hereby notifying you that you are not to present yourself for Holy Communion and, should you do so, you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, until such time as you publicly repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of Penance.
The whole of the archbishop’s letter (which I urge you to read) was an exceptionally lucid explanation of the responsibility for those in public office to support the public good, above all by defending the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable. To this end, the archbishop quoted a statement by Pope St. John Paul II that legislators “have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”
An Act of Love, Not Politics
In response to Archbishop Cordileone’s decision, the mainstream media has predictably accused the archbishop of meddling with politics. Which is, clearly, nonsense.
As an adult in a position of immense power, Pelosi has chosen to be a Catholic, and has repeatedly and often chosen to draw attention to her Catholic faith in public, often in the very act of defending her support for abortion.
Earlier this year, for instance, Nancy Pelosi voluntarily brought up her Catholic faith while speaking out in support of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand in the United States. “This has been a precedent of the court that should be upheld by the court,” she said in March.
“It isn’t about ‘What is your religious belief?’ It’s ‘What is the right of people to make their own decisions about the sizing and time — or if — they’re going to have a family,” she added. “This really gets me burned up — in case you didn’t notice — because, again, I’m very Catholic. Devout, practicing, all of that.”
It is unclear what Pelosi meant to convey by invoking her Catholic faith here, other than to protect herself from criticism by covering herself in the mantle of “devout” faith. The Catholic Church, however, is an institution that, like any other institution, has a certain set of principles that its members are expected to adhere to. Opposition to abortion is one of its most unambiguous teachings. Furthermore, the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is highly publicized, so Pelosi can hardly claim ignorance.
However, despite multiple warnings over the years, she has persisted in championing something that the Catholic Church teaches is gravely evil and contrary to the public good. It is entirely natural that a (arch)bishop charged with preaching and protecting the Catholic faith would be profoundly concerned that someone in Pelosi’s position is sowing confusion about what the Church teaches and undermining the Church’s efforts to protect the common good. Archbishop Cordileone is simply making it clear that Pelosi, who is supporting a serious evil, does not define what it is to be Catholic and what Catholic moral teaching is.
Rather than getting involved in politics, Archbishop Cordileone is in fact doing what is necessary to protect the Catholic faith, to prevent scandal, and to act as a loving shepherd to Pelosi herself, who before long will meet her Maker and must answer for the positions she took on abortion (among other grave moral issues). Her archbishop, too, will have to answer for the measures he took to lead her from her erroneous path, calling her back to the Truth of Christ.
“What does it mean to politicize the Holy Eucharist if one is following Church teaching and applying Church teaching?” Cordileone said in a recent interview with EWTN. “One would have to demonstrate that one is doing that for a political purpose,” he added. “I’ve been very clear all along, my purpose is pastoral, not political. I am not campaigning for anyone for office. As a matter of fact, my preference would be for Speaker Pelosi to remain in office and become an advocate for life in the womb.”
He also added – rightly, in my opinion – that there can be a “reverse” politicization of the Eucharist, in which one could “receive Communion as a means to furthering a political agenda, when one is motivated for that reason.” One can certainly see this reverse politicization at work in the cases of prominent politicians like Pelosi and Biden, who draw attention to their attendance at Mass or reception of the Eucharist as a kind of proof of their moral uprightness, even as they flout Church teaching on numerous fundamental matters.
Archbishop Cordileone’s pastoral concern for Pelosi comes through clearly in the letter. “Please know that I stand ready to continue our conversation at any time, and will continue to offer up prayer and fasting for you,” he wrote to the House Speaker. He also asked his fellow Catholics to pray for all legislators, and especially those Catholic legislators who support abortion.
A False Separation of Faith and Politics
In our country, tragically, two of the most powerful politicians – our President and our House Speaker – are both self-described “devout” Catholics who also support the most radical pro-abortion stance. Both have called for Roe v. Wade to be legislatively passed into law, and oppose just about every restriction on abortion, including restrictions on government funding for abortion.
The fact that these two politicians (and the many other pro-abortion Catholic politicians) have continued to support the slaughter of unborn children with very few repercussions other than the occasional statement from a (arch)bishop, risks leaving the impression in many minds that it is possible to be pro-abortion and a Catholic in good standing. It is not.
In a statement supporting Archbishop Cordileone, Bishop Liam Cary of Baker, Oregon, summarized the situation admirably. “Nancy Pelosi proudly combines ‘devout’ practice of Catholic faith in her personal life with high-profile promotion of legalized abortion in her political life,” he wrote. “The scandalizing gap between belief and behavior on the part of the Speaker of the House grievously misleads her fellow believers about Catholic teaching on social justice and seriously handicaps Catholic efforts to defend unborn life in the womb.”
Pelosi’s conviction that she can publicly support abortion while being a good Catholic is ultimately based upon an extreme version of the idea of the “separation of Church and state,” as if the two things can have absolutely nothing to do with one another. However, the Church has consistently taught that there can be no such absolute separation. Moral demands are binding everywhere and cannot be suspended or set aside simply because one is a politician.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) specifically singled out abortion in a 2002 statement regarding the responsibilities of Catholics in political life. “When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility,” the CDF wrote. “In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia…”
In its document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (no. 14), the U.S. Bishops reiterate a similar teaching. “As citizens, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group,” they wrote. “When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.”
Unfortunately, politicians like Biden and Pelosi have allowed their relationship with the Democratic party to guide their stance on fundamental moral issues more than their association with the Catholic Church. We can see that dramatically in the progress of President Biden’s support for abortion. In the ’70s and ’80s, he was clearly uncomfortable with abortion, but as the Democratic party got more extreme on the issue, so did he. That’s what you call backwards priorities! “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Supported by His Episcopal Brothers
In the days since Archbishop Cordileone issued his statement, a number of his fellow bishops have issued statements supporting him. In nearby Oakland, Bishop Michael Barber took to Twitter to write, “I support [Archbishop Cordileone] in the heroic and compassionate stance he took today in the protection and defense of human life.”
Bishop Robert Vasa, in whose diocese Speaker Pelosi reportedly frequently attends Mass, stated that he has informed the pastor of the parish that Pelosi attends that should she present herself for Communion there, she should be denied.
Other bishops who have publicly supported Archbishop Cordileone include the (arch)bishops of Denver, Springfield, Kansas City, Lincoln, Oklahoma City, Baker, Fort Worth, Tyler, Spokane, Green Bay, Madison, and Arlington.
In comparison to the total number of (arch)bishops in the country, this is still only a small portion. However, it is encouraging to see these shepherds willing to stand up in the face of overwhelming media opposition to support their brother (arch)bishops, and to similarly clarify Church teaching on this most important of issues.
In his interview with EWTN, Archbishop Cordileone lamented that many Catholics simply do not understand Church teaching on the Eucharist, and the proper disposition to receive it. He added that he wants to help Catholics understand “the grave evil of abortion and what it means to cooperate with evil on the different levels.”
“I wanted to be clear in laying out that teaching,” he said.
The archbishop’s courage and clarity are welcome and timely, at this moment when the United States is, if reports are to be believed, on the verge of the dawning of a new, post-Roe era. At this time, we need the courageous, uncompromising support of the Church and our fellow Catholics to face a new stage in the battle to protect life.
A few months ago, Archbishop Cordileone launched a prayer campaign – called Rose and Rosary for Nancy – praying that Pelosi’s heart would change on the issue of abortion. I hope that you will join that campaign, praying during your nightly rosary for Pelosi’s conversion, and for the conversion of all of our pro-abortion Catholic politicians, including President Biden.
And, of course, please pray for Archbishop Cordileone, whose stance has drawn the ire of the media and many powerful politicians. Pray for spiritual protection for the archbishop, for courage for his fellow (arch)bishops, and that the archbishop’s stance will change hearts and save lives.
As Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, put it in a Tweet: “Please join me in praying for [Archbishop Cordileone] for his protection during these times as he shepherds all of his flock with perseverance and fortitude. Please pray for the ongoing conversion of [Speaker Pelosi] and for others who place themselves at odds with the Gospel of Life.”