Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco announced that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will no longer be allowed to receive Communion because of her political support for abortion rights. Cordileone said in his public announcement on Friday:

“I am hereby notifying you that you are not to present yourself for Holy Communion and, should you do so, you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, until such time as you [publicly] repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of Penance.”

Cordileone has also urged withholding Communion privileges from President Biden and other politicians who support the right to abortion.

This 65-year-old archbishop has headed the San Francisco archdiocese since 2012. He has an extensive educational background which includes seminary studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, an undergraduate degree in sacred theology, and a doctoral degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Before he was named a bishop, he spent seven years in Rome as an assistant at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s “supreme court” on matters of canon law.

He is well known for his staunch right wing conservative history as a Church leader. Cordileone is a COVID-denier and part of the far right who spent the pandemic trying to deny that there was a pandemic He has revealed he is not vaccinated against the coronavirus and suggested — incorrectly — that the inoculations the federal government approved to prevent COVID-19 “are not really vaccines.” In addition, he has served as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a leader in efforts to preserve legal marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Regarding priest abuse, Cordileone has firmly resisted publicly releasing an official list of clergies known to be credibly accused of child sexual abuse. He has remained firm on the issue even though the vast majority of U.S. Bishops have done so.

This action raises the issue of what is the Importance of Communion in Catholic teaching. For Catholics the Eucharist is the most important religious sacrament. Catholics cite the words of Jesus

“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” John 6:50-71

“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. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:27–28).

Cordileone’s action raises religious and political issues:

  1. Is abortion morally wrong absolutely? Are there any exceptions? While the Catholic position is clear, moral theologians and other religions differ about question. There is in the United States a difference of opinion on the moral issue as well as it’s application to specific cases.
  2. Assuming abortion is morally wrong, should religious beliefs of one group be allowed to be imposed on all citizens of the United States through electing representatives and appointing judges who will pass laws supporting their individual belief? In other words, is it constitutionally appropriate in a democracy to allow individual religious doctrine to be imposed through law and politics on all citizens whether agree or not?
  3. Should an elected representative in government be required to comply with the religious views of the church he or she belongs to when voting on public issues or suffer religious punishment for not doing so?
  4. Should significant religious sacraments be politically used to coerce an elected representative to comply with religious views of their church in carrying out their political obligations to all of their constituents?

Cordileone maintains his actions aren’t political, but out of pastoral concern and to avoid pubic scandal. Given his past conduct and those of the who support him, that claim is clearly untrue. His action is in conflict with Pope Francis and Vatican advice:

Pope Francis has stated:

“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”  The church also must be a large, welcoming space, “not a small exclusive club, but a community with its arms wide open, welcoming to everyone,” and willing to lead to Christ the wounded, the wayward and those who have done wrong,” he said.

Before Cordileone took this action, the Vatican’s top doctrine official sent a warning to U.S. bishops about a potential proposal by some conservative clergy to deny communion to Catholic elected officials who support legislation allowing abortion. It strongly instructed the bishops not to take such action. Other bishops have expressed opposition to the idea, including San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, who has warned that “the Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare.” In fact, The Church’s Canon Law 912, states that

“Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic U.S. bishops decided not to implement  a policy of denying communion to politicians for their position on abortion and instead urged Catholics veering from church teachings to refrain from taking Communion.

In addition, it has been pointed out, who is to judge the state of a Catholic communicant’s soul? Who may make the decision to refuse Holy Communion? Only God knows with absolute certainty a person’s state of grace.

Further, many have argued that there is a fundamental hypocrisy at work when the only reason someone is denied Communion is over his or her views on the legality of abortion. John Gehring, the author of The Francis Effect, Has said “whether it’s against Democrats or Republicans, the Eucharist should never be turned into a political weapon. Pope John Paul II, a hero of the pro-life movement, gave Communion to pro-choice politicians at the Vatican.” (John Paul II gave communion to Rome’s pro-choice mayor, Francesco Rutilli, in 2001, and to Britain’s pro-choice prime minister Tony Blair in 2003.

“Denying Communion to politicians, Democrat or Republican, is a bad idea,” wrote America’s editor at large James Martin, S.J., “If you deny the sacrament to those who support abortion, then you must also deny it to those who support the death penalty. How about those who don’t help the poor? Where does it end?”

By making abortion into a litmus test for how Catholics vote, the church’s voice on abortion is heard as merely partisan advocacy rather than as a cry for justice. Judged prudentially and pastorally, the only effect the Communion wars are likely to have been to further divide Catholics. It serves as further proof that their bishops are captive to a single issue and a single party. Demanding eucharistic compliance will damage whatever credibility the church still has about abortion as a matter of justice rather than a lever for politics.

There is little argument that politics and religion are a Constitutional violation and a dangerous mix. Cordileone and his supporters whose goal is to convert communion into a political weapon also do so in conflict with the teachings of Jesus. Worse they are making Catholicism a one issue religion whose goal it is to require all elected officials to vote and comply strictly in compliance with Church moral positions or be punished.

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