Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is barred from receiving the Eucharist in the Archdiocese of San Francisco because of her efforts to codify federal protection for abortions, according to a May 20 statement from Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.
“I must make a public declaration that [Pelosi] is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate her support for abortion ‘rights’ and confess and receive absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance. I have accordingly sent her a Notification to this effect, which I have now made public,” Cordileone wrote in a letter released Friday.
The archbishop’s move came as Pelosi and other Democratic politicians have amplified calls to federally protect or fund access to abortion, amid widespread expectation that the Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v. Wade.
Pelosi, Speaker of the House since 2019, represents California’s 12th Congressional District, which sits entirely within the city of San Francisco. The Congresswoman is a Catholic, and has often cited her Catholic faith as a formative element of her political worldview.
In the May 19 notification published online, the archbishop recounted efforts to meet with Pelosi in recent months, noting that “I have not received…an accommodation to my many requests to speak with you again since you vowed to codify the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in federal law, following upon passage of Texas Senate Bill 8 last September.”
“That is why I communicated my concerns to you via letter on April 7, 2022, and informed you there that, should you not publicly repudiate your advocacy for abortion ‘rights’ or else refrain from referring to your Catholic faith in public and receiving Holy Communion, I would have no choice but to make a declaration, in keeping with canon 915, that you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
“The time has now come,” Cordileone wrote.
“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 archbishop invoked canon 915 of the Code of the Canon Law, which says that Catholics who “obstinately persist” in “manifest grave sin” should not be admitted to the Eucharist.
Pelosi has been an outspoken advocate for abortion protections during her 35 years in Congress; she has frequently been recognized by Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups for her efforts to codify legal protection for abortion, which she says frequently is a matter of “respecting women.”
The congresswoman has insisted she sees no divergence between her advocacy for abortion protections and her Catholic faith.
“It isn’t about ‘What is your religious belief.’ It’s ‘What is the right of people to make their own decisions and the size and time or if they’re going to have a family?’ This really gets me burned up, in case you didn’t notice, because, again, I’m very Catholic. Devout, practicing, all of that. They would like to throw me out, but I’m not going, because I don’t want to make their day,” Pelosi said during a panel discussion in March.
The archbishop wrote this week to Pelosi that “a Catholic legislator who supports procured abortion, after knowing the teaching of the Church, commits a manifestly grave sin which is a cause of most serious scandal to others.”
Want more about Catholic doctrine and law on the Eucharist? Check out The Pillar’s ‘Who can receive Holy Communion?’ ultimate explainer™
Cordileone’s decision prohibits priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of San Francisco from administering the Eucharist to Pelosi.
The archbishop’s decision does not apply in the Archdiocese of Washington, where Pelosi lives much of the year, and where sacramental discipline is the responsibility of Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who has expressed opposition to restricting the Eucharist over the advocacy or positions of Catholic politicians.
In 2020, Gregory told Religion News Service that he would not deny President Joe Biden communion over his pro-choice position on abortion because “I don’t want to go to the table with a gun on the table first.”
Cordileone’s decision is not an excommunication, a formal penalty applied to Catholics who have been found to commit some specific canonical crime. Instead, the prohibition is regarded as a matter of sacramental discipline.
Sources close to Cordileone told The Pillar that the archbishop had attempted several times in recent months to meet with Pelosi because he had hoped to avoid a public confrontation, and that he has frequently expressed hope that the imposition of sacramental discipline might actually change Pelosi’s mind on abortion.
Pelosi was not available for comment. But Pelosi has often insisted that she has “studied” Catholic doctrine on abortion, and concluded that Catholic teaching “shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.”
The Catholic Church formally teaches that abortion is an evil, “gravely contrary to the moral law,” and that any law “which would admit in principle the liceity of abortion…is in itself immoral.”
Cordileone’s decision came after U.S. bishops spent much of last year debating whether the U.S. bishops’ conference should make mention of disciplinary prohibitions on holy communion in a catechetical document on the Eucharist it published last November.
After frequently pugnacious debate over the course of their June meeting, and in the media, the bishops published a document which said “it is the special responsibility of the diocesan bishop to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law.”
A cadre of bishops, of whom Cordileone was among the most outspoken, had called for a far more explicit discussion in the text on “Eucharistic coherence” for pro-abortion politicians, but most praised the text after it was completed.
While Cordileone’s action is likely to stoke again debate among Catholics over the issue, the archbishop is not the first in the U.S. to formally prohibit a politician from receiving the Eucharist. In 2019, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki prohibited two Catholic legislators: Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton from receiving the Eucharist in the Springfield diocese.
It is not clear whether Cordileone will receive Vatican support for his decision. Pope Francis said in September that politicians who advocate for legal protection for abortion separate themselves from the Church’s communion.
“Those people who are not in the community cannot take communion, because they are out of the community,” the pope said. “It is not a punishment: Communion is linked to the community.”
In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained to U.S. bishops that:
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
“When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.’”
This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person's subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person's public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.
Pope Francis urged in September that bishops work with those “temporarily outside of the community” who remain “children of God and need our pastoral action and they want, and need, our pastoral closeness. Then the pastors work things out by the Spirit of God.”
While Cordileone’s communications to and about Pelosi seem to express a desire for pastoral support, it is not clear whether they will be met with the pope’s approval, or be seen to fit within the pontiff’s preferred pastoral mode of action.
U.S. President Joe Biden claimed in October that during a Vatican meeting, Pope Francis hailed him as a “good Catholic” and told the president to continue receiving Communion, despite Biden’s own explicit support for abortion protections and federal funding.
And as bishops debated the issue last year, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a May letter to USCCB Archbishop Jose Gomez which acknowledged that some U.S. bishops wanted “to address the situation of Catholics in public office who support legislation allowing abortion, euthanasia or other moral evils.”
Ladaria’s letter was subject to numerous interpretations, but was sometimes understood to urge U.S. bishops to move slowly on the issue of Eucharistic discipline, or to discourage the public exercise of sacramental discipline.
It is unlikely that either Vatican officials or many U.S. bishops will offer explicit comment on Cordileone’s decision, but if the archbishop’s actions do not meet with Vatican approval, he could find administrative engagement with Vatican departments more difficult in the months to come.
Still, the archbishop’s move does not come as a surprise. Cordileone has raised concern about Pelosi’s abortion advocacy for years, and has at the same time discussed the prospect of prohibiting pro-abortion politicians as a measure of sacramental discipline. To most Church watchers, it seemed likely the archbishop would eventually engage Pelosi by invoking canon 915, as he did this week.
For his part, Cordileone urged Catholics in the San Francisco archdiocese to pray for Pelosi, and to “support with your time, talent and treasure the efforts of pro-life advocates to accompany women in crisis pregnancies and offer them the support they need to make a choice for life, as well as those who have been scarred by the abortion experience.”
“This is what it means to be truly pro-life,” the archbishop wrote. “It is the way of love.”