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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone are seen in this composite photo. (CNS composite/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters, and Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

On May 20, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a public statement that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a life-long Catholic, will be barred from Communion in her home diocese of San Francisco. Gloria Purvis, the host of America Media’s “The Gloria Purvis Podcast,” spoke to the archbishop about his decision.

The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Gloria Purvis: With all that’s going on right now—with Dobbs v. Jackson and the leaked opinion [suggesting] that Roe could be overturned—why make this decision now?

Archbishop Cordileone: The leaked decision and the Dobbs case really have nothing to do with the timing of it. [Speaker Nancy Pelosi] did meet with me and speak with me over the years a couple of times.

Her advocacy for codifying the Roe decision into federal law—it’s becoming more and more extreme and more and more aggressive. And I’ve been trying to speak with her about this.

But more recently, her advocacy for codifying the Roe decision into federal law—it’s becoming more and more extreme and more and more aggressive. And I’ve been trying to speak with her about this. I’ve been debating this within my own conscience for many years, actually. So this is not something that has just come up recently. I’ve been discerning this. I’ve consulted with people whom I respect for their intelligence, their integrity and their pastoral sensitivity, who would have different perspectives on the situation to get their thinking on it. I’ve done a lot of prayer and fasting. So I’ve been struggling with this for a long time.

G.P.: Can you talk a little bit more about the process for informing your conscience in making this decision?

A.C.: First of all, one has to be clear about what is right and what is wrong. The point of our conscience is not to decide what is right and wrong. Forming our conscience is a process of helping us to figure out, in principle, what is right and what is wrong. The role of conscience is to help us make the right decision in a specific situation based on what is right and wrong. Forming our conscience, it’s these three principles: the need to address the injustice; to repair scandal; and to move the person down the path of conversion because of the spiritual harm it causes themselves.

I’m guided by the principles articulated by Pope Francis and taking the approach of the advice that then Cardinal Ratzinger gave us.

So in this sense, I was also following the advice that Pope Benedict, when he was then-Cardinal Ratzinger in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent in a letter to bishops here in the United States back in 2004. He gave us advice on how to approach this, specifically with politicians, Catholic politicians, and specifically on the two issues of abortion and euthanasia. And he said we need to meet, to dialogue, to try to move them down the path of conversion. And if after several attempts it comes to the point where it’s clear [that] this is not going to happen, then the bishop or the pastor, [Ratzinger] says, is to declare that the person is not to be admitted to holy Communion. So I’m guided by the principles articulated by Pope Francis and taking the approach of the advice that then Cardinal Ratzinger gave us.

G.P.: You’ve reached out to her office privately, and you’re pretty confident she has received the messages you’ve sent her privately. Is there a pastoral reason to make this public?

A.C.: If she’s not to be admitted to holy Communion, our priests and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, all those who are Communion ministers need to know that.

G.P.: Is this in some way also to repair for the scandal—the public witness that she’s given on this? How does that work in this case?

A.C.: Scandal is an action that would lead others into error or into sin. So the scandal here is that someone who is strongly advocating for something as evil as abortion and taking Communion creates confusion among people. And they can begin to think that it is acceptable for a Catholic to believe this.

Scandal is an action that would lead others into error or into sin.

And sometimes people ask me about that. One news reporter in a secular media, not in Catholic media, asked me if it is acceptable for a Catholic to be in favor of the so-called right to abortion. So it wasn’t clear in his mind it, but it should be clear in everyone’s mind. So that’s how it leads people into a mistaken idea that this is acceptable and then can actually lead them into doing the evil or condoning it.

G.P.: And we’re talking about abortion; we are not talking about when the child has already died in the womb, and the mother has to undergo a D and C to remove the remains of her unborn child who’s already died. You’re talking about the direct, intentional killing of the child in the womb. That’s what you’re talking about when you’re talking about abortion

A.C.: Yes. And that’s what sets this issue [apart]. There are many really very critical issues we’re facing today, but the difference with abortion is it is involves the direct taking of an innocent human life. And as much injustice as there is and challenges we’re facing, I don’t see any legislators advocating the direct taking of innocent human life on any other issue. So that’s what really sets the gravity of this apart.

I don’t see any legislators advocating the direct taking of innocent human life on any other issue.

G.P.: [Apart] from any other issue, where people may wonder, “Why not, you know, do something that’s on the death penalty or on immigration or on other economic justice issues?” You see this as a singular issue?

A.C.: Yeah. Or even racism. I mean, we’re horrified, when we look back 60, 70 years ago, that there was a time when lynchings were acceptable in some parts of the country, among some people. That is just horrifying to us. But it’s the same thing, right? It’s the killing of innocent human life. No one would tolerate that nowadays. So those of us who understand [that] are trying to open the eyes of our people that this is the direct taking of an innocent human life and what we envision is a society in which that is unacceptable and no one would ever dream of doing it.

G.P.: Nancy Pelosi has said that she’s a devout Catholic and her faith is important to her. How do you see that statement—where she says she’s devout Catholic and she’s an open supporter of abortion rights. How does that play in your assessment of her faith? Is she still Catholic?

A.C.: I cannot judge her conscience. I cannot judge her faith from my interactions with her. I think she’s sincere when she says that; I think her faith really is important to her. It really is important to her to be Catholic. And she feels devotion in her heart. Which makes me perplexed at why she would be so forceful on this issue as a politician. It’s very tricky as a politician; there are so many issues to balance out and trying to come to some kind of consensus and compromise and all that. But to be so aggressively promoting it—that’s not what a devout Catholic does. So I believe in her heart, she feels that way, but there is a disconnect on this issue.

I think her faith really is important to her. It really is important to her to be Catholic. And she feels devotion in her heart

G.P.: Is that one of the reasons you started your “Rose and Rosary for Nancy Pelosi” campaign last year?

A.C.: I want to help her to understand that it is unacceptable to kill babies in the womb and the harm so often it does to women. Those of us in pastoral ministry, we encounter women who have gone through this experience, and we understand how so often they feel alone, afraid, abandoned. And they really need support and love to help make a happy decision, a decision for life. So the rose and rosary campaign was to help sensitize—she has, it seems to me, a very maternal heart. She loves speaking about her five children, right?—to sensitize her to that. And also to convey that—I know people will accuse me of being political, but this is not political at all. It’s pastoral.

G.P.: But the very action she has to do to be able to come back to receive the Eucharist requires her to make a public repudiation of her support for abortion rights. And some would say, “How could she do that and it not be seen as political?”

A.C.: I’m very saddened at how this has polarized the country. Of course, we know abortion can never be justified because it’s the direct taking of an innocent human life. However, there are ways we can come to a consensus on how the law can work under the present circumstances. Because our vision is not making abortion illegal—that would be a big help toward the end—the end is to make abortion unthinkable. But I often say that the problem is not that women have choice; too many women don’t have choice. Their only choice is abortion. So the answer is, well, what Texas did: the alternatives to abortion programs; provide women with the resources they need to be able to give birth to their child.

Our vision is not making abortion illegal—that would be a big help toward the end—the end is to make abortion unthinkable.

And then there are other options: She can raise the child herself; she can put the child up for adoption. There’s also the old-fashioned solution of marriage, which is not to be always excluded. Sometimes the man does take responsibility, but we need to provide her all of this support. And if she’s, let’s say, a college student. A college student should be supported so she can carry the child to term and continue her education. And then if she chooses to put the child up for adoption, be supported in that; if she wants to raise the child herself, then be provided the support she needs. I don’t know. Do colleges have diaper changing stations, for example?

G.P.: There are many groups trying to work to get colleges to be more hospitable to pregnant and parenting students. That does make me want ask the question: What policy do you have in your own archdiocese for your own employees that may get pregnant? Do you have maternity leave policies?

A.C.: We have family leave policies for parenting employees. We have a generous family leave policy.

G.P.: You mentioned that this decision was a pastoral one, not a political one. And we know it still is going to be interpreted by many people as a political one. What would you say, though, to people who treat this public instruction for Ms. Pelosi to refrain from Communion as a victory to be celebrated and see it as a church exercising its power in the temporal order in a way that makes them celebrate. What would you say to them?

A.C.: I know there will probably be some people thinking that, but it’s a sad moment really. And I would just encourage them to see this in a bigger light. It’s sad that this kind of action would have to be taken, and we need to resort to more prayer and fasting.

G.P.: You did say that you consulted with people. How do you think your brother bishops are going to receive this public statement?

A.C.: I suppose there will be a variety of opinions, but I think as bishops, we respect each other’s decisions and matters like this. Each bishop has to decide in accordance with his conscience in these and other types of situations as well. And they’re usually very complex. There are a number of different values and priorities to weigh in taking an action or not taking an action. What good will it do? What evil will it avoid? What might be the side effects? All these things have to be weighed, and we can come to different prudential judgments, using our conscience.

We all agree on what’s right and wrong. That’s not in question. The question is how pastorally to respond to these complex situations.

The conscience is not to decide what’s right and wrong. We all agree on what’s right and wrong. That’s not in question. The question is how pastorally to respond to these complex situations. And I think we all pretty much respect each other in making our decisions because we’re all struggling to form our conscience and discern the right thing to do.

G.P.: So you’re not saying that they all have to necessarily follow your path. Because of course people are going to say, “Well, what other Catholic politicians perhaps are making the same kind of statements as Nancy Pelosi?” And of course, President Biden comes to mind. Have you spoken with Cardinal [Wilton] Gregory at all about this?

A.C.: I’ve had conversations with him about the issue. Yes.

G.P.: You’re the first bishop that I can think of to make a statement like this—other than, in most recent memory, I’m thinking of Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans, who actually went a step further and excommunicated people for interfering in his authority as a bishop to desegregate. Why not excommunicate her?

A.C.: First of all, I’m actually not the first bishop to do this. I was a new bishop back in the early 2000s when then-Bishop Burke of La Crosse, right before he moved to St. Louis, issued such a notification with regard to Catholic legislators in his diocese. Also the then-Father [Kevin] Vann, who’s now Bishop Vann of Orange, he was the pastor in a parish in Springfield, Ill., that was a parish of Dick Durbin. [He] spoke with him and advised him he should not be receiving Communion. The bishop of the diocese at that time, then-Bishop [George] Lucas, now-Archbishop Lucas of Omaha, backed him up. The current bishop there, Bishop Tom Paprocki, has reaffirmed that. Also Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., took this action with regard to Kathleen Sebelius, who was the governor of Kansas at the time.

Other bishops have taken this action, but excommunication has a whole other set of considerations. It’s more severe; I don’t want to take a more severe tack if I don’t have to.

So other bishops have taken this action, but excommunication has a whole other set of considerations. It’s more severe; I don’t want to take a more severe tack if I don’t have to. I’d rather do the minimum I need to do in order to repair the scandal.

G.P.: Let’s make sure everybody understands: She can attend Mass. She just may not present herself to receive the Eucharist until she repudiates her public support and receives the sacrament of reconciliation.

A.C.: Yes.

G.P.: Was there any other option for her, any other way she could correct this and be able to come back to the Eucharist?

A.C.: I issued a pastoral letter a year ago on this topic—about proper disposition to receive holy Communion, cooperation with evil and specifically on the abortion question. It’s Catholic 101 that we’re supposed to be free of any serious sin in order to be properly disposed to receive holy Communion. If we are guilty of serious sin, we have the great grace of the sacrament of penance. So we can go to confession, avail ourselves of that sacrament, receive God’s forgiveness in the sacrament to be restored to a right disposition. That involves contrition, right? A firm purpose of amendment, that we repent of the wrong that we’ve done and are sincere in avoiding that in the future. So cooperation is not just one who performs an abortion or is an accomplice to it, but actively promoting it is a cooperation in the evil that puts one in that situation.

It’s Catholic 101 that we’re supposed to be free of any serious sin in order to be properly disposed to receive holy Communion.

So again, it would have to involve repentance, repenting of this evil. But also politicians have to find ways where they can come to some kind of compromise or better yet consensus on policies that everyone can live with. And I do believe there are ways to do that. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger also spoke about this in a document on Catholics and political life, that a politician can vote for a piece of legislation that would keep abortion legal if it has the effect of reducing it. That would not implicate them in a cooperation with the evil. So for example, a parental notification law. That keeps abortion legal; the minor girl can have the abortion, but the parents have to be notified or the parents have to give consent. That’s an example of a piece of legislation that a politician can vote for that does not implicate them in the evil of the abortion.

G.P.: So help us understand. I know people often bring up Canon 915, and one of the things to note about Canon 915 is that’s in the section on sacraments; it’s not in the penal section of canon law. Why are you referencing that section instead of the penal section, when many people are going to see this as more of a punishment?

A.C.: To underscore that this is not a canonical penalty. It’s a declaration of what the situation is in accordance with protecting the integrity of the sacrament.

G.P.: You quote Pope Francis quite a bit in your public statement, that “our defense of the unborn,” he says, “must be clear, firm and passionate.” The pope has also said that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but is nourishment for the weak. How does that come into play in this decision to tell Nancy Pelosi, “Don’t come to Communion”? How do you balance that? How does this figure into this decision?

A.C.: What Pope Francis says there doesn’t negate what I refer to as Catholic 101 about proper disposition to receive holy Communion. It does acknowledge that in a sense we are all unworthy, right? And we are weak. We have a weakened human nature. And when we’re properly disposed to receive holy Communion, we can avail ourselves of the grace the sacrament gives us to grow stronger. It’s kind of like exercising the spiritual muscle.

We’re all unworthy, and that doesn’t contradict the idea of also being properly disposed.

But the idea is that in a sense, we’re all unworthy, we pray that every time we have Mass. As Catholics, right before receiving Communion, we use the words of the Roman centurion when our Lord offered to go to his house. He said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” And other rites of the church have the same thing, a confession of unworthiness. So there is this sense in which we’re all unworthy, and that doesn’t contradict the idea of also being properly disposed.

G.P.: What do you think that this telegraphs to so many other Catholics who may have the same attitude and disposition and beliefs around abortion rights as Nancy Pelosi?

A.C.: I hope it will have the effect of clearly teaching on the issue. I would imagine some people are going to see this as being very heavy-handed and [think] I’m kind of being an ogre here. But I really would prefer not to do this. But I cannot in my conscience allow the situation to continue and cause this scandal. And people are getting confused, people are getting upset, and it’s also fueling these flames of polarization and dissension. Some people might accuse me of doing that as well. But I just know in my conscience, I have to do something to teach clearly about this evil and that there are solutions to this dilemma that we’re in.

G.P.: Do you think that this singles out Nancy Pelosi and a position? Does that square with what Pope Francis has talked about—that Catholics must recognize as equally sacred the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the under privileged and so on. Do you feel like this singles her out and singles out abortion in a way that’s apart from what Pope Francis has said?

A.C.: Not apart from what Pope Francis has said; it singles out abortion as the issue. I admire Speaker Pelosi for her advocacy for the poor; we’re all together on that. But abortion is different because it involves the direct taking of innocent life. If we think about, since the Roe decision 50 years ago, it’s over 60 million babies murdered in their mother’s wombs. Can we really grasp the depth of that evil? Sixty million babies murdered in their mother’s wombs. This is something apart. These other issues are very serious—some are evils that we’re dealing with—but this just sets it apart.

I really would prefer not to do this. But I cannot in my conscience allow the situation to continue and cause this scandal.

G.P.: I hear that, and I keep thinking, but you say you don’t want to excommunicate. Maybe help people understand: What is the difference here between what this is versus an excommunication?

A.C.: An excommunication really intends more people who have an office in the church because it’s a deprivation of other kind of rights and privileges of exercising jurisdiction, of having any role in a liturgical service, of titles and honors and things like that.

G.P.: So as it is now, she can attend Mass. She cannot receive the Eucharist. If she were to die tomorrow, she could still have a Catholic funeral Mass.

A.C.: Yes.

G.P.: I think about this—the Eucharist is a source and summit of our faith and being told that you need to repudiate what you’ve said publicly and you need to come to the sacrament of confession—how do you know when she’s done this? Obviously, we all know if she publicly repudiates, but in terms of the sacrament of reconciliation: Can she go to any priest or is it that she needs to come to you to confess?

A.C.: She could go to any priest. If she makes a public repudiation, I would presume she will have done that.

G.P.: There’s been in the history of this country and a lot of fear of Catholics actually being ruled by Rome in terms of politicians and things like that. For people who maybe don’t understand the faith, how would you help them see this isn’t that the pope or bishop is actually ruling or making political decisions in place of their elected politicians?

A.C.: There are many great human rights issues of our time, but abortion is really paramount. So we can compare it to other periods of history and what the great human rights issue was—whether it was slavery in the mid-19th century or civil rights in the mid-20th century. They were faith leaders who led those efforts. It was faith leaders. Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, but other leaders of faith who joined with him to advocate for civil rights in the Jim Crow south. Were they being political? Were they delving too much into politics? Should they have just stayed in their churches? Or were they living out their faith and advocating for what is just and true for people who are being oppressed? Isn’t that part of our role as faith leaders?

We can compare it to other periods of history and what the great human rights issue was—whether it was slavery in the mid-19th century or civil rights in the mid-20th century.

G.P.: That’s one of the things that people would like us to not think that we have a role in—the public square when we’re motivated by our faith. But the civil rights movement had very much a Christian ethos. There’s no doubt about that if you study the movement, if you study the writings of Dr. King. I think perhaps in this country, the notion of participation in the public square may be too narrow. People will say things like “separation of church and state” thinking that means that people who are of faith are not to act on their faith in the public square. I imagine that you and I both, and many other Catholics, including our church, would say, that’s an incorrect understanding.

A.C.:: We need to make a distinction between basic values of what’s right and wrong and what is faith-specific doctrine. So to say “thou shall not steal” is a universal principle. And we have laws that punish people who steal. And “thou shall not lie.” These are basic rules of right and wrong. That’s not imposing our religion on others; imposing our religion on others would be something like requiring people to attend church on Sunday. That’s a religious doctrine.

G.P.:When you talked about abortion, you talked about ministering to women; you talked about the horror of abortion. Can you talk a little bit about that? What has been your experience in dealing with women who maybe were considering abortion or have had abortions?

A.C.: I’m very proud of my own church that offers these healing experiences for women and for men as well. Often men are scarred by the experience. So we have Project Rachel that helps to heal people who have this experience and to help provide resources for women who are in crisis pregnancies. I’ve heard women say, “I didn’t want to go through with it, but I felt like I had no choice.” And I hear after they go through with it, that they can’t talk about it, they’re shamed into silence. They’re not supposed to feel guilty about it. So then this sense of isolation then begins to worsen. So [there’s a] need for these sorts of healing experiences.

I’ve heard from women who changed their mind when they were being led into the clinic, and they were lied to, told it’s just a clump of cells.

I’ve known of women who turn it into something positive, that become pro-life advocates, and with their experience they can be very compelling witnesses to the sanctity of life. I’ve heard from women who changed their mind when they were being led into the clinic, and they were lied to, told it’s just a clump of cells.

G.P.: In your formation in seminary, in preparing you to become a priest, did they talk about these kinds of things, how to minister to women in these situations? Or was it just once you were ordained that you had these encounters? I’m just wondering what kind of experience and encounters you’ve had in addition to understanding the teachings of the church that have softened your heart to see this is really something that’s damaging to women.

A.C.: I was ordained a priest in 1982. So I was in the seminary in the mid- to late ’70s, early ’80s. And this was just emerging. I don’t think seminaries had really begun to think through how to minister to women in that situation. But in the first parish that I was assigned to, there was an abortion clinic in the parish [boundaries]. So I would join with parishioners who would gather in front of there to pray on Saturdays. Because to me it’s always been obvious: That’s a little baby inside of the mother.

I would join with parishioners who would gather in front of there to pray on Saturdays. Because to me it’s always been obvious: That’s a little baby inside of the mother.

A little later on when I got to know more people involved in pro-life advocacy and women who’ve gone through the experience, I understood more how it affects the mother. And later on, when I worked with people who were trying to bring people affected into these healing experiences, how much it affects others in her network of relationships; it’s not just the mother, the child who’s affected. It’s her parents, her siblings, her other children, sometimes the father of the child, if he wants the child to be born. So there’s a whole network of relationships that’s affected by it. So the more I’ve been involved in advocating for life and getting to know others who do this, the more my eyes have been opened to the wider reality of this.

G.P.: It seems like to me, you’ve over time, through experience, come to more fully understand what the Holy Father has talked about, the interconnectedness of the issue. You see how it affects more than just the child in the womb and the woman, how it affects the whole community. Is there any other issue that has that kind of interconnectedness, or maybe any other issue or situation where you think you would have to make this kind of decision—that someone, until they repudiate what they’ve said publicly and done publicly, needs to not present themselves for Communion?

A.C.: It’d be hard for me to say at this point.

G.P.: Are you still having your “Rose and Rosary for Nancy” campaign now that this public statement [has been issued]?

A.C.: We’re still doing that. We’ll send rosaries now. People can sign up for that at benedictinstitute.org if they want to participate, and we’ll send their rosary.

We would never go back to allowing Jim Crow laws now because we realize how evil it is. A lot of people back then didn’t.

G.P.: So you still have a lot of hope. You still have a lot of hope for Nancy Pelosi to come to repudiate this.

A.C.: As I said, I can’t judge her conscience, but I do believe she’s sincere when she says she’s devout and she speaks so fondly of her five children. I have to believe there’s hope. Yes.

G.P.: You’ve said that when you’ve interacted with her, it’s been pleasant. So to me that says there has to be a way that we can constructively dialogue on these issues, especially within the church. Do you have any tips on how we might be able to do that?

A.C.: Try not to judge others. Try to have a human interaction to try to see the other as a fellow brother or sister in our human family, and get to know them personally. It helps to put things in a different perspective. I am grateful to the speaker, who’s always been respectful to me in public and in private. I think that’s a good example of how we can talk about these issues without being so divisive. But we do need to talk about this; and to be frank, it has been a frustration that I haven’t been able to speak with her for quite some time about this. But we do need to come together to speak, but to keep our powder dry when we do so.

G.P.: Is there anything you haven’t said that you’d like to say now, before we wrap the interview, is there anything you want to say directly to Nancy Pelosi?

A.C.: What I’ve said before: She has a wonderful maternal heart, and she’s a great advocate for the poor. Women in these crisis pregnancy situations need a lot of advocacy. So to see that, and we await her with open arms.

I’ve let her know I’m ready and willing to speak if ever, whenever, wherever and however she wishes. The channels of communication are still open

G.P.: I don’t sense a lot of animosity here from you toward her at all. That’s one thing I’m taking away from this. You don’t have any animosity toward her. You seem very hopeful that she will respond positively, affirmatively to this. I imagine you see this as an invitation to her and not a punishment. But she responded in that way. And I think it could be difficult with all the other voices in our society who are going to weigh in on this and are going to position it as something negative and punitive. Do you still have open channels for her to be able to talk to you privately if she chooses to?

A.C.: I’ve let her know I’m ready and willing to speak if ever, whenever, wherever and however she wishes. The channels of communication are still open. And no, I don’t have animosity. It’s something I really would rather not do. And I know I’m going to be judged harshly. I know I’m going to be accused of being punitive, of being political. That’s all false, but my conscience won’t allow me to refrain from doing this. I cannot [have] peace of conscience without doing so.

G.P.: Since you’ve mentioned your conscience and made some clarifications about conscience—I know there are going to be people asking, “But what about Nancy Pelosi’s conscience?” How would you respond to that?

A.C.: Well, on this issue, she needs to better form her conscience.

G.P.: And you’re willing to help her do that.

A.C.: I mean, we don’t say that with other issues, right? We didn’t say that with slavery. “What about in my conscience? It’s legitimate to own slaves.” Do we allow that to continue? What if in my conscience [tells me] separate but equal is a good thing. Do we allow that to continue? We don’t do that with other issues that are objectively wrong. So instead, we need to help people open their eyes to the evil. We would never go back to allowing Jim Crow laws now because we realize how evil it is. A lot of people back then didn’t.

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