Sacrament wars: Catholic Pelosi caught in political crossfire

The Christian sacrament of receiving Holy Communion has become a hot-button political issue in the United States over the past few years – and it’s only getting hotter.

This time, it is House Speaker and Democrat Nancy Pelosi whose religious practice is under the microscope.

“SPOTTED: Speaker NANCY PELOSI at the 9 a.m. Mass at Holy Trinity in Georgetown, where she was given communion” reported Politico in its ‘Playbook’ column on Sunday.

If you are wondering how a Catholic taking communion could possibly be considered news, even if they are a famous politician, Pelosi was actually banned from receiving the sacrament by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone earlier this month.

“Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi’s position on abortion has become only more extreme over the years, especially in the last few months,” Archbishop Cordileone said in a statement on May 20.

Cordileone told Gloria Purvis, host of America Media’s ‘The Gloria Purvis Podcast’, that his public declaration came after several meetings with Pelosi over the years in which he tried to “help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking.”

“Just earlier this month she once again, as she has many times before, explicitly raised her Catholic faith while justifying abortion as a ‘choice,’ this time explicitly setting herself in opposition to Pope Francis,” his statement read.

In an interview with MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ on Tuesday morning, Pelosi responded.

“I wonder about death penalty, which I am opposed to,” she said. “So is the church, but they take no action against people who may not share their view. … So, we just have to be prayerful. We have to be respectful.”

“I come from a largely pro-life Italian American Catholic family, so I respect people’s views about that. But I don’t respect us foisting it onto others. Now our archbishop has been vehemently against LGBTQ rights, too, in fact, he led the way in some of the initiatives on — an initiative on the ballot in California. So, this decision taking us to privacy and precedent is very dangerous in the lives of so many of the American people.”

“I come from a largely pro-life Italian American Catholic family, so I respect people’s views about that. But I don’t respect us foisting it onto others.” – Nancy Pelosi

While Cordelione’s ban applies only to ministers, ordained and non-ordained, in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Pelosi represents California’s 12th Congressional District, which is entirely within San Francisco.

Pelosi, a lifelong Catholic, is on record in support of the proposed Women’s Health Protection Act. The Act would preserve the legal right to abortion in the United States, should the  Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade – the case that set the precedent legalising abortion. Pelosi gave a strong interview to the Seattle Times earlier in May in which she discussed her support for the Act.

“The very idea that they [Republicans] would be telling women the size, timing or whatever of their family, the personal nature of this is so appalling, and I say that as a devout Catholic. They say to me, ‘Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the Pope.’ Yes, I do. Are you stupid?” Pelosi reportedly said.

While Cordelione included Pelosi’s “opposition” to Pope Francis in his stated concerns, some believe it is an attempt to wedge the Pope on the issue.

Pelosi met privately with Pope Francis last October (Just a month earlier, on September 15, Francis had warned against weaponising the sacrament when asked his thoughts about denying communion to pro-choice politicians.

“I have never denied Communion to anyone,” Pope Francis said, on the flight back from Bratislava to Rome. “When the church, in order to defend a principle, acts in a non-pastoral way, it takes sides on the political plane – it has always been so,” Francis said. “’What must a pastor do?’” Be a pastor. Don’t go condemning. Be a pastor because he is a pastor also for the excommunicated.”

Bishops, he said, should be “pastors with God’s style, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness.”

The pope said that “Communion is not a prize for the perfect,” but rather “a gift, the presence of Jesus in his church and in the community. That is the theology” – a reference to Evangelii Gaudium, his 2013 apostolic exhortation.

“Communion is not a prize for the perfect.” – Pope Francis

However, Francis also said he understood why the Church takes a hard stance because accepting abortion “is a bit as if daily murder was accepted.”

In the US, though, Cordelione is only the latest in a string of occasions a communion ban has been imposed on a politician.

President Joe Biden himself was denied communion by a South Carolina priest while on the campaign trail in the state in 2019. In 2004, John Kerry was banned from communion in at least one diocese; and senior Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois has reportedly been unable to receive communion in Springfield, Illinois, the diocese where he grew up, for the past 17 years.

While some conservative bishops have expressed support for Cordileone’s decision, others such as Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, have signalled that they don’t plan to deny communion to politicians dissenting from church teaching.


This article was updated on May 25, 2022, at 3.50pm to include Nancy Pelosi’s MSNBC comments.