San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordelione announced Friday that he has barred Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving the Eucharist in his diocese until she repudiates her support for permissive abortion laws. In a letter to Pelosi, the archbishop indicated that he reached out to her privately in the past year to warn that her public support for abortion could trigger canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law, which prevents those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” from receiving Holy Communion. The archbishop announced the move weeks after Pelosi called the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade “an abomination.”
The archbishop’s statement drew predictable backlash. One progressive friar called it a “scandal.” The canon lawyers over at the San Francisco Examiner said the act constituted “open defiance of Pope Francis” and called on the pope to remove the archbishop from his post. The director of the Cardinal Bernardin Center argued that Pelosi’s support for abortion “just doesn’t matter” because she is acting “as the people’s agent” and the way she “represents the people she represents is not a religious or moral matter.” Would the professor would apply that theory to Herman Talmadge?
In any case, it is understandable that so many people, even those within the Church, are taken aback by the archbishop’s sacramental discipline. To partisans of a certain vision of post-conciliar reform in the Catholic Church, denying someone the Eucharist is a return to the days before the Second Vatican Council, and a rejection of the soft universalism that has reigned in corners of the Church’s human element since the middle of the 20th century. To deny a person the Eucharist suggests that it is possible for someone to place himself outside the boundaries of Catholic communion and, therefore, outside the bounds of Christ’s Church.
It’s not just Hans Küng disciples who bristle at the archbishop’s actions. Many Catholics, as a result of the intentional neglect of progressive priests and prelates, have no idea what the Church teaches on the worthy reception of the Eucharist and are therefore scandalized by his apparently “exclusionary” practice.
St. Paul says that anyone who consumes the Eucharistic species unworthily “eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.” The Church has historically interpreted this passage to mean that all Catholics in a state of mortal sin, with few exceptions, are to avoid receiving the Eucharist until they’ve made a valid sacramental confession, which requires the penitent to have a firm purpose of amendment to avoid the sin in the future.
Many Catholics are unfamiliar with the Church’s teaching. If you attend a Mass in the suburban United States, it shows. Most or all of the parishioners approach the priest for Communion after the Agnus Dei prayers. How many have gone to confession? It’s unknown, and not for me to speculate, but I do know that many well-to-do parishes hold confessions just once per week for about 30 minutes. It is not uncommon for the priests at those parishes to hear fewer than five confessions in their half-hour in the box. It is possible that the Catholics of Strathmere, New Jersey, are an extraordinarily holy bunch, but it’s more likely that something else—a lost sense of sin or poor catechesis—is at work.
Abstaining from the Eucharist is not, of itself, a virtue. The only reason one should do is if—speaking from some experience here—one is conscious of having committed a mortal sin. I only mean to say that taking the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist seriously involves regularly examining one’s conscience, which is uncomfortable, and militates against the therapeutic ethos of the age. At many parishes, suburban and otherwise, it seems like only sin is to believe that sin exists at all.
Some in the hierarchy refuse to exercise sacramental discipline. Their refusal is, in part, a response to perceived disciplinary excesses in the pre-conciliar Church. This, in effect, has lead some of the faithful to believe that the Church’s teaching on the reception of Holy Communion has changed. It has not. And the unwillingness of certain elements within the Church to let their “yes” mean “yes” and their “no” mean “no” on the question of Eucharistic discipline has produced the absurdity of a Speaker of the House in one breath calling herself a “Catholic mother of five” and in the next endorsing the right to abort a child in defiance of the Fathers, the earliest writings of the apostles, and two millennia of magisterial teaching.
No Catholic ought to rejoice at Nancy Pelosi’s being denied Communion. The Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic sacramental life. To be deprived of it for even one week is a terrible privation. I am an awful sinner and in no position to act as judge of the Speaker or anyone else. But before consuming the Eucharist, Nancy Pelosi, like all Catholics, must form her conscience and examine herself. If she refuses to do so, Archbishop Cordelione’s intervention in the matter is nothing less than an act of charity.