Like many Californians, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was watching the Supreme Court Wednesday as it heard arguments in a Mississippi case that abortion rights advocates say could lead to the procedure becoming virtually illegal in as many as 26 states.

But unlike 77% of Californians — including 59% of Republicans — Cordileone opposes the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling that guaranteed the right to an abortion. He wants abortion to be illegal in all cases, in accordance with the church’s teachings.

And if it is not, Cordileone — like he did on same-sex marriage a decade ago — is prepared to continue to lead the national political fight against abortion, including by challenging the two most powerful Democrats in the country, both of whom happen to be fellow Catholics — President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He thinks neither should be able to receive Holy Eucharist because of their support for abortion rights.

Cordileone said he remains “dubious” that Pope Francis told the president during his recent trip to Rome that it was OK for him to continue to receive the holy sacrament, as Biden contends. (The Vatican hasn’t commented on Biden’s assertion.)

Nor did Cordileone think it was significant that Biden received communion while attending Mass in Rome, where local priests answer to the pope.

“We don’t know what the pope really said and what he didn’t say,” Cordileone told me on The Chronicle’s “It’s All Political” podcast during a visit to his residence in San Francisco. As for Biden receiving communion while in Rome, “I would say if the president of the United States is coming up to me for communion, and I’m a parish priest in Rome, it’s kind of an awkward moment to say, ‘No, you cannot receive communion.’”

Next year will be the 10th year that Cordileone — one of the nation’s most outspoken conservative Catholic leaders — will have presided over the diocese of San Francisco, one of the nation’s progressive meccas. He smiled tightly when I suggested, as I did to him several years ago, that the Vatican was throwing San Francisco a political message pitch when they sent him here.

You see, the 65-year-old archbishop doesn’t consider what he does “political.”

“It’s not politics that’s motivating me; I’m a pastor of souls,” Cordileone said. “And I want to help people on the path to salvation to be at peace in their conscience before the time when they appear before God.”

That is Cordileone in a nutshell. While he insists he is not political, he often finds himself in the middle of expressly political fights and rarely backs down, even when he’s on the opposite side of most Californians and even some Catholics. Whether it is abortion, same-sex marriage or performing exorcisms last year on the sites where people tore down statues of Junipero Serra, the archbishop is comfortable being an outsider.

As it turns out, that also includes vaccinations.

The archbishop told The Chronicle that he hasn’t been vaccinated “yet,” “but I’m not an anti-vaxxer.” He’s had other vaccinations, including the full regimen required for a trip to Africa a few years ago. But he has doubts when it comes to getting a Covid jab. He said his “immune system is strong” and that his personal physician told him “it’s probably not necessary for me to be vaccinated.”

“The vaccines, first of all, they’re not really vaccines, as we think of vaccines. We think of a vaccine as a shot that gives you immunity to a disease for life or at least for a very long time,” Cordileone said. “And these actually don’t give any immunity at all. They give protection.”

Cordileone told me he’s concerned, however, about the new Covid-19 omicron variant, particularly when it comes to how it may impact poorer countries.

“My concern is that the distribution of the vaccine be more equitable, so the poor countries can have access to it,” Cordileone told me. “So those who really need to be vaccinated can receive it.”

And what about being in crowds, which is part of the job? Cordileone said if he began showing Covid-19 symptoms, “I would test myself and I’d stay home … very rarely does someone asymptomatic spread the virus.”

Cordileone paused. “I’m stepping into another controversy, I guess….”


The above comes from a Dec. 1 story in the San Francisco Chronicle.