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7 Defenses for Barring Nancy Pelosi from Communion

There's a lot of criticism out there for Abp. Salvatore Cordileone's decision to forbid Nancy Pelosi to receive Communion. Here we answer some objections.

On Friday, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone published a letter proclaiming his decision to prohibit Nancy Pelosi from receiving Communion until, as he told her, “you publicly repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of penance.” This has provoked a wave of social media responses from folks who aren’t fans of the decision. We decided to address a few of their objections.

1. “If you are going to play in politics, then you should pay taxes.”

This is not about politics, but about a shepherd of the Church exercising legitimate care over a soul in his charge.

As for the larger question: pro-choicers demand that Catholic bishops keep quiet about abortion because it’s “playing politics” and then tell pro-life politicians not to legislate against abortion because it’s “imposing their religion.” Which is it? Too political for religion or too religious for politics?

Was it “playing politics” when Abp. Joseph Rummel excommunicated Catholics in his diocese who supported segregation in 1962? Or is it “politics” only when we stand up against injustices you find politically convenient to support?

As for taxes, the day may come when the government sees fit to tax the Church. So be it: Jesus tolerated paying taxes (Matt. 17:24-27), and he didn’t let taxation compromise his mission (22:15-22). But pro-choice advocates who tease the string holding up the Tax Sword of Damocles over the Church’s head may regret it, because an oppressive, persecuting government is the best recipe for a resurgent, morally muscular Church (Acts . . . we were going to cite a chapter or a verse or something, but basically just the whole book of Acts).

2. “I’m guessing that whole ‘do not judge lest thou be judged’ is in the part of the Bible you don’t adhere to.”

As long as we’re prooftexting, here’s St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians: “Is it not those inside the Church whom you are to judge?” (1 Cor. 5:12). Here’s the Torah: “In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Lev. 19:15).

“But Jesus didn’t say those things!” you protest? Well . . . he did say this: “Judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). Now what?

There is more to the Bible than just these few sentences. Reading in context is your friend.

3. “Who radicalized these clerics?”

Jesus Christ did. He cares a lot for the “least of these,” which includes the unborn.

What does a “non-radicalized cleric” look like? Trendy and worldly, perhaps? So, not much like a cleric at all. In an age where it’s legal and socially permissible to kill unborn children, yes, it will be “radical” to say those children have the same right to life as every other member of the human species.

The three youths in the book of Daniel (3:16-18) refused to worship a statue in an age when blatant idolatry was not radical, but common. They got thrown into a furnace for it. Would that we all were as “radicalized” as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or the archbishop of San Francisco!

4. “Jesus affirmed the moral agency of women. We should do the same by honoring the choices women make regarding abortion and contraception. I’m a pro-choice pastor.”

The whole point of “moral agency” is that we’re accountable for our actions, right or wrong—not that anything we do is right. Murderers have moral agency; it doesn’t follow that murder should be legal. We agree the government can legally prohibit some actions, like murder.

And what does it mean to “honor the choices women make”? Jesus certainly didn’t “honor the choices” of the woman caught in adultery; on the contrary, he told her to sin no more (John 8:11), which presupposes that she had sinned. And Jesus wasn’t too keen on sin (Matt. 5:48). Nor did he “honor the choice” of the woman with the issue of blood. He called her out in front of the whole crowd and made her confess that she’d touched him (Mark 5:31-33). Likewise the importunate Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:22-26), who got some harsh words from Our Lord before he indulged her.

“Honoring the choices women make” sure sounds like a modern political slogan more than something out of the Gospels. Jesus loved women as Christian sisters and showed them mercy when they asked for it—as Abp. Cordileone is doing for Nancy Pelosi even now, and as he wants to do should she present herself before Our Lord in confession, with a contrite heart.

5. “Christianity is about helping others and controlling yourself. When it becomes about controlling others and helping yourself, it ain’t Christianity.”

How is Abp. Cordileone “helping himself” here? He took a stand for which he knew he would be hated by a lot of people in the city in which he presides (and elsewhere). And he took that stand to help others—namely, the unborn, who can’t help themselves—and to help Nancy Pelosi, for whose spiritual well-being he is responsible.

And what could be a better example of “controlling others” than ending the life of an unborn child? Leave that child alone, and he will be born. He’ll get to live a whole life full of choices. But if you control him so hard that you kill him, then that means no choices. He won’t even have the choice to be pro-choice!

6. “As an elected official, Pelosi has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. No elected official should legislate based on his religion. Pope Francis has indicated that he is not in favor of denying the Eucharist to any Catholic who approaches the altar.”

Nancy Pelosi explicitly cited Catholic authorities as a reason she’s pro-choice. Does that count as “legislating based on her religion”?

The thing about killing innocent human beings is that every religion, even the religion of secularism, is (or at least claims to be) against it. When you acknowledge that the unborn child is an innocent human being, you don’t need to appeal to any particular religion to legislate against killing him. It’s neither sectarian nor partisan—just human.

Regarding Pope Francis, it’s true that he said he’s never denied anyone Communion, among other things. But he also said last year, in the context of abortion, that “those that are not in the community cannot receive Communion. Out of the community—excommunicated. It’s a harsh word, but they don’t belong in the community, because they were not baptized, or because they are estranged from it.”

Regardless of what the pope has said on the subject, unless and until he intervenes, Abp. Cordileone has the authority, as her bishop, to bar Nancy Pelosi from Communion.

Francis mentioned excommunication, but we don’t even need to go that far. Nobody in a state of grave sin is fit to receive Communion (see 1 Cor. 11:27-34 for scriptural support), and a politician who publicly advocates for abortion publicly commits a grave sin. To let Nancy Pelosi receive Communion in a state of public, pertinacious mortal sin is not only a spiritual death sentence for her, but also a source of huge scandal to everyone else. Catholics will suppose the Church doesn’t care all that much about abortion if Pelosi can cheerlead for it and still receive the body of Christ. Non-Catholics will see a Church riven with hypocrisy and wave away any thought of converting.

7. “Good thing you can’t determine that. Pelosi can commune with God. The table isn’t yours to deny to anyone. That’s not how this works at all!”

That literally is how it works. St. Justin Martyr talked about it all the way back in the year 160: “And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true . . . and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

If it’s possible for people “not to be allowed”—to be prohibited—then there’s got to be someone enforcing that prohibition. And when it comes to the body of Christ, that someone is the bishop.

It’s not popular to say so these days, but priests and bishops have certain powers that laypeople don’t have. These aren’t tokens or honorific gestures—they’re real powers, backed by God, who has power over all of us. One of those powers is to forgive sins. Another is to confect the Eucharist. And yet another is to govern who may receive the Eucharist. That’s just how it works.

And one more: “Weaponizing a sacrament is wrong—whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans.”

Back to St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. . . . For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (11:27,29-30).

Remember when we said letting Nancy Pelosi, with her ardent, public pro-abortion activism, receive the Eucharist is a spiritual death sentence? That’s what Paul is getting at here, and Abp. Cordileone, too.

You could compare the Eucharist to fire, or an electrical outlet, or a drill driver in the face of a cabinet with 10,000 screws to install. If you approach these things with respect, with a proper understanding of what they are and what they’re for, they can greatly enhance the quality of your life. (The drill driver won’t make you holier, but it will save you many hours of aggravation.) If, on the other hand, you handle these tools “unworthily,” they can kill you.

These little analogies fall woefully short in expressing the power of God in the Eucharistic host. Remember that God struck a man dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant unworthily (2 Sam. 6:6-7), and David, seeing this, became so doubtful of his own worthiness that he had the ark redirected from his city to a virtuous household (vv. 9-11). St. Joseph treated the Virgin Mary—an even better ark than the original—with similar reverence. (Some early Church writers proposed that Joseph “resolved to send her away quietly” [Matt. 1:19] because he considered himself unworthy to take the Theotokos as his wife.)

These were the vessels that held God, and it’s clear that he took them very seriously. How much more holy fear, then, should we employ when we approach God himself—especially to consume him?

The Eucharist isn’t a weapon—no more than the bonfire that people approach to warm their hands is a weapon—but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless to those who play fast and loose with it. Abp. Cordileone is acting to protect Nancy Pelosi—not from the Eucharist, but from herself.

We’ll close this out with the archbishop’s words—the words of a pastor:

Pray for all of our legislators, especially Catholic legislators who promote procured abortion, that with the help and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they may undergo a conversion of heart in this most grave matter and human life may be protected and fostered in every stage and condition of life.


Image credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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