Flat White

Holy war: Pelosi v. the Catholic Church

1 June 2022

11:00 AM

1 June 2022

11:00 AM

The Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco has banned Nancy Pelosi from taking communion because of her continued support for abortion rights.

In response, everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to The San Francisco Examiner has slammed the Archbishop for being un-Christlike.

It’s a fascinating story that highlights the disconnect between the church’s ‘come as you are’ message and the public’s understanding of what that means.

If the church is all about ‘welcome home’ and ‘strictly inclusive’ and ‘come as you are’ and ‘belong before you believe’ then what right does a church have to deny communion to anyone?

Besides, didn’t Jesus preach about love and acceptance? How dare the church suddenly be all judgy and stuff! 

Speaking of which, when will they finally replace that ugly cross with an ‘Arms are for Hugging’ sticker?

As Whoopi Goldberg said of the Archbishop:

This is not your job, dude! That is not up to you to make that decision!’

Or as the editorial board of the San Francisco Examiner wrote:

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone on Friday banned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from taking Holy Communion here in her home diocese. The reason? Her strong support of women’s abortion rights.

That will apparently be just fine with Cordileone, who prefers to pick partisan fights rather than make the church a place that welcomes people of all political backgrounds and all faiths.’

Someone needs to ask the Examiner’s editorial board how a Catholic Church that welcomes people of all faiths remains Catholic. More of that later.

The furore began on Friday, May 20 when, in a letter to the church, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announced that Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would no longer be welcome to receive Holy Communion.

The Archbishop began by outlining Catholic doctrine which states that abortion – the taking of a human life – is a grave evil.

He then explained that ‘conversion is always better than expulsion’ and that he had attempted on numerous occasions to meet with Pelosi.

Not only had Pelosi refused to meet with him, but her position on abortion had become more extreme over the years. The final straw was when Pelosi repeatedly cited her Catholic faith to justify abortion.

He concluded:

After numerous attempts to speak with her to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that the point has come in which I must make a public declaration that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate her support for abortion “rights” and confess and receive absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance.’

It should be noted that the Archbishop said he had ‘no pleasure’ in the decision; that Pelosi ‘remains our sister in Christ’ and that Pelosi was ‘uttermost in my prayer’.


The Examiner responded by accusing Archbishop Cordileone of ‘politicising the faith’.

Leaving aside the fact that a faith that does not influence your politics cannot be said to be much of a faith, Archbishop Cordileone was not politicising the faith, he was defending it.

It was Pelosi who politicised the faith when she repeatedly referenced her ‘devout Catholic faith’ as justification for legalising abortion right up until birth.

This, according to the archbishop, was a misrepresentation of the Catholic faith that, if left unchallenged, would confuse his flock and possibly lead some into committing grave sin. It could not be left unchallenged.

The Examiner continued:

Why don’t Republican Catholics have to fear being cut off from Communion when they vote against health care or funding for the poor? Where was Cordileone’s harsh judgment when right-wing politicians voted this week against a measure to ease the nation’s baby formula shortage?

It’s a mystery. Could it be that, according to the church, abortion involves the taking of a human life whereas voting on a budget measure to supply baby formula does not? 

The Examiner concluded by saying that San Francisco deserved an archbishop who would unite rather than divide the community and who would be true to the city’s values.

If only Archbishop Cordileone would put away his Bible and host beer and prawn nights!

But the role of a priest is to unite people around the truth of God’s word, not to unite people around unity. 

As for the city’s values, popular culture insists that the only absolute is that there must absolutely be no absolutes. I guess that’s the reason the Examiner can argue, straight-faced, that the church should be open to people of all faiths. 

But even readers of the Examiner would understand that a Catholic Church that accepted Muslim doctrine, Hindu doctrine, and Buddhist doctrine would no longer be the Catholic Church. What does it even mean to be ‘a believer’ when you can believe any old thing you want because every belief is as good as the next one?

Whoopi Goldberg, who often enjoys the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought, released a video chastising the Archbishop. She told him…

It’s kind of amazing. What is the point of Communion? Right? It’s for sinners. It’s the reward of saints but the bread of sinners. How dare you?’

If Goldberg is a Christian, it seems likely she has only been to churches where they present Jesus as a kind of personal life coach who exists to cheer your lifestyle choices rather than as the Bible presents him, as God.

(Warning: I’m going to give you one paragraph of very simplistic Bible teaching here. Stay with me.)

According to the Bible, communion is not a ‘right’. It is the public expression of your decision to participate in the life of Christ. But how can you participate in the life of Christ whilst choosing to deliberately and continuously live opposed to Christ? For this reason, the Apostle Paul says we ought to examine ourselves before taking communion lest we come under judgment.

The media don’t want to understand Christian teaching – even of the very simplistic kind – because the story of victimisation is far more interesting.

Worse, having successfully convinced most people that the message of the church is love by which they mean ‘approval’ and acceptance by which they mean ‘agreement’, it’s not in the interests of the media to discuss actual Christian doctrine.

After all, a church that approves of everything and that agrees with everyone is no threat to anyone. Its influence is effectively nullified. 

Tellingly, Pew Research reported that 67 per cent of Catholics agreed with Pope Whoopi.

That says more about the number of cafeteria Catholics than it does about the issue.

When Christian leaders – of all denominations – fail to teach their people the tenets of their faith we should not be surprised to discover that most believers believe little more than that ‘everyone has the right to their own beliefs’.

And, of course, everyone does have a right to their own beliefs. It’s for this reason that the Catholic Church is not compulsory.

Pelosi does not have to accept church teaching. And, in like fashion, the church does not have to accept Pelosi.

The Archbishop is not demanding his most famous parishioner be perfect. He’s simply inviting her to at least want to submit to Christ.

If that’s not a baseline for Christian fellowship, then what is?

Archbishop Cordileone explained that the decision to deny Pelosi communion was not done in spite of Christian love but because of Christian love. To allow a person to continue in grave error was to damn their soul. How is that loving? To point out their error and to invite them to change course was to offer salvation. 

Having one’s error pointed out is painful, but faithful are the wounds of a friend. Archbishop Cordileone is not self-righteously punishing a sinner so much as pastorally correcting a valued member of his flock. To use a Bible metaphor, the shepherd’s rod is not to inflict hurt on the straying sheep but to guide it back to the fold.

Pelosi’s struggle is now not with the church but with herself. Will she respond with humility or react with pride? 

As a devout Catholic, she will be only too familiar with the most encouraging and, at the same time, most challenging statement in the Bible – ‘God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.’

You can follow James on Twitter. You can order his new book Notes from Woketopia here.

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