After fierce closed-door debates over President Joe Biden and Holy Communion, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops managed to release a muted document last fall that did little to please the public. activists on both sides of the Church’s wars on abortion and to the benched politicians.
But a passage from “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” has clocked up in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, setting the stage for the current clash between Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and a member of his flock – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“It is the particular responsibility of the diocesan bishop to work to remedy situations that involve public actions contrary to the visible communion of the Church and to the moral law,” the passage notes. “Indeed, he must guard the integrity of the sacrament, the visible communion of the Church and the salvation of souls.”
The Diocese of Cordileone comprises California’s 12th congressional district. After six private attempts to reach Pelosi, he released a statement on May 20 telling him that “you must not appear for Holy Communion and, if you do, you must not be admitted to Holy Communion, until that you will publicly repudiate your plea for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution for this grave sin in the Sacrament of Penance.
The archbishop built his case with quotes from Pope Francis, Pope St. John Paul II and now-retired Pope Benedict XVI, as well as canon law stating that Catholics who “stubbornly persist in grave sin manifest” are “not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
The speaker’s words and actions, he added, suggest she cares nothing for papal authority. Pelosi, the mother of five, recently told the Seattle Times that “the personal nature of it all is so appalling, and I say that as a devout Catholic. They tell me, ‘Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about motherhood than the Pope.’ Yes. Are you stupid?”
While the news has been dominated by signs that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, these ongoing debates among Catholics are rooted in years of disagreement over the words and actions of recent popes.
Writing to his flock, Cordileone noted that in 2004 the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told US bishops that when a Catholic politician champions laws promoting abortion, “his pastor should meet, … informing him that he should not present himself for Holy Communion until he puts an end to the objective situation of sin and warning him that otherwise he will be denied the Eucharist.
This advice came from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. But the chairman of the committee who received that letter — the now-disgraced Theodore McCarrick — claimed Ratzinger supported the compromise, saying local bishops should rule on those issues. Since then, the bishops have been arguing about this “McCarrick doctrine”.
As for Pope Francis, Cordileone said he “has been one of the world’s most ardent defenders of human dignity at every stage and condition of life. He denounces what he evocatively calls the “throwaway culture”. There can be no more extreme example of this cultural depravity than when direct attacks on human life are enshrined in the law of a nation.
At the beginning of his pontificate, Francis noted: “Every child who, rather than being born, is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, then just after birth , experienced rejection from the world.
Cordileone reviewers note that the pope met and prayed privately with Biden for 75 minutes last fall. Then the president said, “We just talked about the fact that he was happy that I was a good Catholic. Biden claimed that Francis had urged him to “continue to receive Communion.”
In another discussion of these conflicts, during an in-flight presser, Francis emphasized, “I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone. Nobody.” However, he also said that it is possible for a Catholic to separate from the church and, therefore, “not be able to take communion because he is outside the community. not a sanction: you are on the outside Communion is to unite the community.
This is a “pastoral issue,” Francis said, and “we bishops deal with this principle pastorally.”
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.