Published May 24, 2022
For decades, first as a rank-and-file congresswoman and now as speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi has championed abortion as a “woman’s choice.” She rallies for the brutal killing of children until the moment of birth. She opposes even minimal limits, celebrates abortion perpetrators like Planned Parenthood and NARAL ProChoice, and urges an end to conscience protections and funding restrictions—all in the name of “choice.” But that’s not the end of it. Pelosi consistently defends and justifies her stance on abortion by invoking her Catholic faith, openly disavowing the Church’s clear and constant teaching that abortion is a grave moral evil.
Actions have consequences, and Pelosi now has a choice to make because of her deliberate and systematic actions. Last May, Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, issued a pastoral letter reprimanding “public figures” who “profess to be Catholic and promote abortion.” He called this cravenness “a matter of persistent, obdurate, and public rejection of Catholic teaching.” Last Friday, Archbishop Cordileone fulfilled his pastoral duty, announcing that, in accordance with Church law, specifically Canon 915, Pelosi “is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate[s] her support for abortion ‘rights’ and confess[es] and receive[s] absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance.”
To be clear, the notification does not sanction or punish Pelosi. It is not an excommunication, either. It is an official, public finding of fact. Church law requires all Catholics who are “conscious of grave sin” to refrain, of their own accord, from “receiv[ing] the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession” (Can. 916). It also stipulates that “Those… obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (Can. 915).
This opposition to abortion is enduring and unambiguous. Pelosi knows this. Furthermore, the Church’s concern about Catholic public figures who promote abortion has been a recurring theme of Pope Francis’s teaching documents and statements. Pelosi knows this, too.
In 2004, then-Cardinal Ratzinger advised U.S. bishops on the appropriate pastoral steps they should take before applying Canon 915: Seek a personal meeting with the individual who has wavered; convey Catholic teaching; and instruct him or her not to approach Communion, absent a public change of heart. Ratzinger charged that if these efforts failed, Canon 915 should then be applied, meaning “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” to the individual. Archbishop Cordileone described the spiritual weight of this responsibility in his 2021 letter: “if I do not forthrightly challenge Catholics under my pastoral care who advocate for abortion, both they and I will have to answer to God for innocent blood.”
Cordileone previously responded to Pelosi’s abortion advocacy with private, personal, and pastoral outreach (as he has done numerous times with others since becoming San Francisco’s archbishop). He conveyed his pastoral concern, outlined the far-reaching harm to others, and warned about the spiritual danger to her soul. He sought private dialogue, while cautioning that her continued public promotion of abortion would require a public response.
Pelosi, however, rebuffed the archbishop’s request for a meeting and refused to acknowledge his pastoral concerns. She repeated this behavior multiple times over the course of several months. Cordileone continued to seek a meeting, reiterated Catholic teaching on abortion, asked Pelosi to stop invoking her Catholic faith to justify abortion, and requested that she refrain from presenting herself for Holy Communion. Pelosi often neglected even the courtesy of a reply, and she continued to present herself for Communion.
What will happen now? As for God, the Church, and its pastors, they never give up on anyone, ever. Last fall, Catholics across America bountifully responded to Cordileone’s invitation to pray the rosary for Pelosi and to flood her office with a symbol of life: roses. These efforts will continue. The community of faith will pray that Pelosi responds to the grace of conversion and both publicly and privately changes her ways.
The speaker of the house now faces perhaps the most important choice of her career: party platform or life and fundamental human dignity. As Archbishop Cordileone wrote in his entreaty to public figures last year, “We await you with open arms to welcome you back.”
Mary Rice Hasson is the Kate O’Beirne Senior Fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.