Last week, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announced that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi may not be admitted to Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Not a few of you have been asking me about it. I want to talk about what the announcement actually means, so we can discuss this in a thoughtful way. I’m mostly addressing those of you who are Catholic and are “personally opposed” to abortion, but might say you wouldn’t want to impose your beliefs on others — or those of you who identify as faithful Catholics but who are in support of abortion rights.
I want to start by saying that what Archbishop Cordileone did is as much about Holy Communion as it is about abortion. What does it mean to receive Holy Communion? It’s about being united to Christ and to one another in a unity of faith. To understand why, it’s essential to understand what the Magisterium — the authoritative teaching body of the Catholic Church — has always and consistently taught about Holy Communion: that the Eucharist is the literal, real, true body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. The Real Presence of God Himself. The holiest of everything that is holy. And that to receive Communion is to join in unity — in common union — with Jesus, and through him, it is you joining in real union with the Church, her teachings, and with other Catholics.
The grave significance of receiving of Holy Communion should not be underestimated. It’s spiritually dangerous to approach the awesome power of God in Holy Communion with anything less than the respect it demands.
There is no debate on what Holy Communion is. The Catechism, the authoritative summary of the Catholic faith, is clear on this. So are the bishops throughout the world, and as far back as St. Paul and the authors of the Gospels, the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis and all the popes before him. And there’s a recent document from the U.S. Bishops that everyone should read called “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” that’s also clear on this. There is no ambiguity.
Once we understand the significance of Holy Communion, it becomes essential to recognize that the Catholic Church has certain rules that govern the sacraments. We Catholics voluntarily live under these rules because Jesus gave that authority to the Church. Canon 915 of the Church’s law says, “Those … who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
The Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave evil. And that public advocacy for, and support of, abortion is — objectively speaking — such a manifest grave sin.
What Archbishop Cordileone did was, therefore, actually an act of pastoral love and care for Speaker Pelosi, and for all those entrusted to his pastoral care who might have been led astray by her public support of the evil of abortion.