San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announced Friday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is barred from receiving Holy Communion due to her pro-abortion stance -- marking an escalation in a decades-long tension between the Roman Catholic Church and liberal Democratic politicians on abortion.
Cordileone has written to the California Democrat, informing her that she should not present herself for Holy Communion at Mass, and that priests will not distribute communion to her if she does present herself.
"A Catholic legislator who supports procured abortion, after knowing the teaching of the Church, commits a manifestly grave sin which is a cause of most serious scandal to others. Therefore, universal Church law provides that such persons ‘are not to be admitted to Holy Communion,'" he says in the letter.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is unambiguous on the question of abortion, both in procuring one and assisting in the practice: "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion," the catechism says. "This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable."
"Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law," it says, before calling abortion and infanticide "abominable crimes."
It also declares that "Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life."
However, despite that clarity, liberal Catholic politicians have consistently attempted to try and align their Catholic beliefs with their support of abortion rights. Then New York Gov. Mario Cuomo famously declared himself personally opposed to abortion in 1984, but said he could not impose that view on the country.
But since then, Democrats such as Pelosi have been more full throated in their support of pro-abortion policies.
President Biden, also a Catholic, had once supported the Hyde Amendment -- which prevented U.S. funding going to pay for abortions abroad. He flipped on that amendment when he ran for president in 2020, and recently described "a woman’s right to choose" as "fundamental."
Cordileone says in his letter that he wrote to her on April 7, informing her that "should you not publicly repudiate your advocacy for abortion ‘rights’ or else refrain from referring to your Catholic faith in public and receiving Holy Communion, I would have no choice but to make a declaration, in keeping with canon 915, that you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." He says that since that time, she has not done so.
"Therefore, in light of my responsibility as the Archbishop of San Francisco to be 'concerned for all the Christian faithful entrusted to [my] care" (Code of Canon Law, can. 383, §1), by means of this communication 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 publically repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of Penance." he said.
Pelosi has sparred with the Church for years on the matter as she has tried to present herself both as a "devout" Catholic, while also a full-throated supporter of a practice that the Catholic Church condemns as a moral evil.
In a 2008 interview, Pelosi claimed that "as a devout, practicing Catholic," the Church has "not been able to make that definition" of when life begins -- a remark that brought a slew of criticism from a number of top U.S. bishops – and then said that "the point is, it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose." In that interview she also said she wanted abortion to be "rare."
But in the wake of the leaked opinion this month suggesting that the Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v Wade, Pelosi has not talked about reducing abortion, but she has continued to claim that her pro-choice stance is in line with Catholic teaching.
"This [topic] really gets me burned up in case you didn't notice, because again I'm very Catholic, devout, practicing, all of that. They would like to throw me out. But I'm not going because I don't want to make their day," she said this month.
"For too long Catholic public officials have created confusion and disunity by advocating for policies that destroy innocent human life – in direct contradiction of the teachings of the Catholic faith," Brian Burch, the president of advocacy group CatholicVote, said after Cordileone's announcement. "The persistent disobedience of these public officials is a source of enormous sadness and scandal that begged for a response."
Pelosi met with Pope Francis last year, where the Vatican did not say if the topic of abortion was discussed. Pope Francis has compared having an abortion to hiring a hitman but has also been cautious about suggesting politicians be barred from communion.
"I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone," the pope said last year, although he said that he did not recall a time when a politician stood staunchly against Church teaching on abortion and came to him for communion.
He referred to communion as "a gift" and not "a prize for the perfect." In that same interview, however, he emphasized that the Catholic Church views abortion as homicide.
"Whoever has an abortion kills," the pope said. "It is a human life."