The Pope, Pelosi, Eucharist – The American Conservative
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion rights
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Pope Francis on Wednesday and received communion during a papal mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, witnesses said, despite her stance in favor of the right to abortion.
Pelosi attended the morning Mass marking the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul, during which Francis presented the woolen pallium stole to the newly consecrated archbishops. She was seated in a diplomatic VIP section of the basilica and received communion along with the rest of the faithful, according to two people who witnessed the moment.
The Archbishop of the House of Pelosi, Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone, said he would no longer allow her to receive the sacrament in his archdiocese because of his support for abortion rights. Cordileone, a conservative, said Pelosi should either repudiate her support for abortion or stop speaking publicly about her Catholic faith.
Pelosi did neither. She called the recent Supreme Court decision removing constitutional protections for abortion, an “outrageous and heartbreaking” move that fulfills “the Republican Party’s dark and extreme goal of denying women the right to make their own reproductive health decisions.”
So Pope Francis overrules Pelosi’s own bishop and gives him communion just days after the Dobbs decision, which, as the AP reports, she denounced in strong terms.
Of course, this pope has a rather liberal view of these things. From a transcript of his press conference on the return flight from his visit to Hungary and Slovakia last fall:
O’Connell:You have often said that we are all sinners and that the Eucharist is not a reward for the perfect, but medicine and nourishment for the weak. As you know, in the United States, after the last election, there was a discussion among the bishops about the possibility of giving communion to politicians who supported abortion laws, and there are bishops who want deny communion to the president and other officials. Some bishops are in favor of it, others say not to use the Eucharist as a weapon. What do you think and what do you advise bishops to do? And have you, as bishop, during all these years, publicly refused the Eucharist to anyone?
Pope Francis:I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone; I don’t know if anyone came under these conditions! This even as a priest. I have never been aware of having in front of me a person like the one you are describing, it is true. [Emphasis mine — RD] The only time a beautiful thing happened to me was when I went to serve mass in a retirement home, I was in the living room, and I said: who wants to take communion? All the elders raised their hands. A little old lady raised her hand and took communion and said, “Thank you, I’m Jewish” And I said, “What I gave you is Jewish too!”
Communion is not a prize for the perfect – think of Jansenism – Communion is a gift, a present, it is the presence of Jesus in the Church and in the community. Then, those who are not in the community cannot take communion, like this Jewish lady, but the Lord wanted to reward her without my knowing it. Out of the community – ex-communiques – because they are not baptized or have moved away.
Second problem, that of abortion: it’s more than a problem, it’s a homicide, whoever has an abortion, kills. Without mincing words. [Emphasis mine — RD] Pick up any book on embryology for medical students. The third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA… it’s a human life, this human life must be respected, this principle is so clear! To those who cannot understand, I would ask this question: is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to kill a human life? Scientifically, it is a human life. Is it right to remove it to fix a problem? This is why the Church is so hard on this point, because if it accepts it, it is as if it accepts the daily murder. A head of state told me that the population decline started because at that time there was such a strong abortion law that six million abortions were performed, which led to a drop in births in the society of this country.
Now, we go to this person who is not in the community, who cannot take communion. And it’s not a punishment, he’s out. But the problem is not theological, it is pastoral, how we bishops deal pastorally with this principle. And if we look at the history of the Church, we will see that whenever bishops have not dealt with an issue as pastors, they have taken sides on a political front. Think of St. Bartholomew’s Night, “Heretics, yes, let’s cut their throats!… Think of the witch hunts… of Campo di Fiori, of Savonarola. When the Church stands up for a principle, when it does so in a non-pastoral way, it is politically taking sides, and it always has been, just look at history. What should the pastor do? Be a pastor, don’t condemn. Be a pastor, because he is also a pastor of the excommunicated. Pastors with God’s style, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness. The whole Bible says so. A pastor who doesn’t know how to act as a pastor… I don’t know the details of the United States very well… But if you are close, tender, and give communion? It’s a hypothesis. The pastor knows what to do at all times. But if you go beyond the pastoral dimension of the Church, you become a politician, and it shows in all the non-pastoral condemnations of the Church… If you say you can give or you can’t give, that’s casuistry …Remember the storm that was whipped with Amoris Laetitia? “Heresy, heresy! Fortunately, Cardinal Schoenborn, a great theologian, was there, he clarified things… They are children of God and they need our pastoral closeness, then the pastor resolves things as the Spirit indicates to him.
I don’t understand this position at all. Francis clearly believes that abortion is murder. He also says he has never withheld Communion from anyone, nor has he ever knowingly caused a pro-abortion politician to show up for Communion. Well, it happened today at the Vatican, and there’s no way he could plausibly claim to have been in the dark about Nancy Pelosi’s position.
He has contacted a politician who finds the Supreme Court’s finding that nothing in the US Constitution constitutes a right to kill the unborn child to be an outrage. It seems that the main point of Francis is that anyone who is in the Catholic Church has the right to receive communion. What is the purpose of confession, then? If you can receive communion despite unconfessed sins, what does that do to the rite of confession?
In the Orthodox Church in America, my wife and I are not allowed to receive Communion due to our ongoing divorce proceedings. I don’t like it, mostly because I didn’t initiate the divorce, but those are the rules. They are not meant to punish us; they are meant to underline the deeper meaning of Holy Communion. In some Orthodox jurisdictions – I believe the Antiochians are like that – believers are kept away from the chalice for six months after the marriage has been dissolved by the Church. I think we can argue in good faith about the pastoral wisdom of all of this, but I greatly appreciate how the disciplines of the Orthodox Churches emphasize how seriously they take Eucharistic theology – this, even when these disciplines are used against me.
Let me ask you, readers who attend churches where the Eucharist is offered: does your priest or your parish ever refuse the Eucharist to someone? Or is it understood that everyone is welcome, under any conditions? Whatever your church policy is, do you think it’s a good policy or not?
I believe stricter policies are better. I agree with the pope that the Eucharist is medicine for sinners, but the medicine’s ability to work inner healing depends on the internal disposition of the recipient. A person who is guilty of a serious sin, but has not repented? The “medicine” is wasted on this kind of person, I think. This is why the Catholic and Orthodox churches insist on confession (which involves repentance) before receiving communion. To separate reception of the Eucharist from confession (and repentance) is to do violence to the meaning of the Eucharist, I believe.
This conflict between the Pope and the Archbishop of San Francisco reminds me of the email I received from a reader who taught religion at a Catholic high school in the South. He wrote after Francis said his “who am I to judge?” remarks on homosexuality. The teacher said that he had worked hard, for a long time, to explain the teaching of the Church to his students, and with one poorly chosen sentence, Francis had destroyed all his work. He told me that his students say the Pope doesn’t think it’s a big deal, so why should they? Likewise, how can priests and educators teach young Catholics the meaning of the Eucharist if the pontiff himself does not seem to care who receives it, beyond the fact that they are at least nominally Catholics?
And: to what extent does the Pope doing this, in violation of the decision of the Archbishop of San Francisco, constitute a significant shared between him and Bishop Cordileone? Catholic priests, canonists and theologians who read this blog, help me here.