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Catholic Culture Solidarity

Cardinal Gregory cannot duck the Pelosi-Communion ban

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 27, 2022

Canon lawyers disagree on whether Church law requires other bishops to honor Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s “Notification” barring Speaker Nancy Pelosi from Communion. But the logic of the matter is unavoidable. Other prelates—most notably Washington’s Cardinal Wilton Gregory—cannot ignore the challenge.

The Washington archdiocese, in its first effort to avoid the question, issued an official statement: “The actions of Archbishop Cordileone are his decision to make in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.” While certainly true in itself—Archbishop Cordileone does indeed make the decisions in the San Francisco archdiocese—that statement subtly implies that the decisions are not binding elsewhere. Thus the statement continues: “Cardinal Gregory has not instructed the priests of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to refuse Communion to anyone.”

But just across the Potomac river from Washington, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, announced that he would honor the San Francisco decision, because the disciplinary action imposed by Archbishop Cordileone “is not limited to just a geographical area.”

So the bishops, along with the canon lawyers, disagree. As I observed earlier this week the Vatican “is not very likely to resolve that question any time soon.” But if other bishops are not obligated by Church law to support Archbishop Cordileone, are they not obligated by logic and by pastoral necessity?

Archbishop Cordileone is Nancy Pelosi’s bishop, the pastor of the archdiocese in which she lives. After multiple attempts to admonish her, he has reluctantly reached the conclusion that she must not receive Communion—because by doing so she imperils her own salvation and causes public scandal. To be sure, he made that decision in San Francisco. But the danger to her soul and the danger of public scandal do not magically disappear when she leaves the geographical confines of that archdiocese, to take her post in the nation’s capital.

Under any ordinary circumstances, different dioceses within the Catholic Church accept each other’s pastoral decisions, just as different American states honor each other’s actions under the “full faith and credit” clause of the US Constitution. If you plan to marry in another diocese, the pastor will require a letter from your own diocese, certifying that you are free to marry; and if Diocese A says that you are not free to marry, Diocese B will not allow the wedding,

So now Diocese A (San Francisco) has determined that Nancy Pelosi is not qualified to receive Communion. Can Diocese B (Washington) reach a different decision? This is not a question on which policies may differ, from one locale to another. The underlying facts of the case (not to mention the clear language of Canon 915) demand a constituent response. Has Speaker Pelosi “obstinately persist[ed] in manifest grave sin,” or not? Her pastor, who is presumed to have the best knowledge of her case and thus given the authority to judge, says that she has, and therefore must be barred from the Eucharist.

It is possible, of course, that Cardinal Gregory thinks Archbishop Cordileone is wrong. In that case, an injustice has been done to the Speaker. The faithful have the right to the sacraments if they are properly disposed, and if Cardinal Gregory really thinks that Pelosi should receive Communion, then concern for her spiritual welfare and for the good of the Church would compel him to disagree openly with his brother from San Francisco, and explain his reasons for the difference.

Either it is right to bar Nancy Pelosi from Communion, in which case other bishops should follow the Cordileone decree; or it is wrong, in which case other bishops should protest. This cannot be just a matter of local policy.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: nantista9155 - Jun. 01, 2022 4:19 PM ET USA

    Exactly! From another angle, consider that Archb. Cordileone not only instructed his priests to deny Pelosi Communion, but also directly and publicly enjoined her to refrain from presenting herself for Communion. One could quibble about whether clerics outside of his archdiocese owe obedience to his regulation of the Sacrament, but surely they have a moral duty not to actively cooperate with her sin of blatant defiance of her bishop. For it must be admitted that she is bound by his judgement.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - May. 30, 2022 9:11 AM ET USA

    Certainly there are other souls worth saving by supporting bishops in all the dioceses across the country. What are they waiting for? Is Pelosi the only soul worthwhile? How many decades will have passed before our Church demonstrates that it means what our catechism says it does. What passage of time constitutes obstinancy and scandal? There are 99 others in congress alone who are not different in any way from Pelosi.

  • Posted by: petew1977 - May. 29, 2022 11:16 PM ET USA

    "Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:20). Is this not the very times Jesus is talking about? Bishops are their diocese's primary catechist and teacher. Jesus came to restore the order and harmony of God's creation. We are in a time of great disorder. The bishops have a sacred duty to teach and preach the beauty and wonder of God's created order that Jesus came to restore. Prayers for our bishops to have the courage in the face all the promoters of disorder.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 29, 2022 5:00 AM ET USA

    Logical consistency? Is abortion a death penalty for an unborn child? Yes. Has this child committed a capital crime to be so deserving? No. Is the Church authorized by Christ to discipline its members? Emphatically yes (Matthew 18:17-18, 1 Cor 5:12-13). Even the state bears the sword, for "it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer" (Romans 13:4). Is withholding the Eucharist from an unrepentant public sinner an act of mercy or a "weaponization"? 1 Cor 11:23-34 is crystal clear.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 28, 2022 10:52 AM ET USA

    Looking for loopholes in Canon Law makes no sense, since "the salvation of souls must always be the supreme law in the Church" - "salus animarum in Ecclesia suprema semper lex esse debet" - Canon 1752

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - May. 28, 2022 10:20 AM ET USA

    This will be a Landmark Decision by the standards of the Supreme Court. Will our bishops hand the Catholic Church in America another Roe v. Wade to guide the faithful? And what, pray tell, will Biden's Ordinary do in this regard? And what will every other bishop do as the responsibility for abortion is thrown back to state politicians to decide? Are we going to look like Elizabethan England and feel like hell?

  • Posted by: petew1977 - May. 27, 2022 11:47 PM ET USA

    Prayers for Cardinal Gregory: His first and primary responsibility is the salvation of souls. And he knows very well what that entails. To shun his responsibility by permitting a politician or anyone else who publicly and willfully disregards God's Law and the Natural Law to receive Communion puts his own salvation in jeopardy. To borrow a line from Ms. Pelosi, "No one is above God's law, not even the Speaker of the House of Representatives."

  • Posted by: Cinciradiopriest - May. 27, 2022 10:40 PM ET USA

    The Washington USCCB summer meeting ought to deal with this. IF I was a betting man, Cupich and Gregory will work behind the scenes to garner opposition and work on the Nuncio.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - May. 27, 2022 8:40 PM ET USA

    In terms of the facts of the case, Mr. Lawler has an airtight argument. But facts aren’t the only thing that enter in with respect to a powerful politicians like Pelosi. Power is also part of the equation. And as we have seen overtime, cardinal Gregory respects political power in Washington DC. Like cardinals Wuerl and McCarrick be him, he bows to political power unless he is forced to do otherwise. So we shall see which carries the greater force with Cardinal Gregory, reason or political power…

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - May. 27, 2022 7:51 PM ET USA

    The logic of this argument is impeccable, but that does not mean that Cdl Gregory has a logical mind, or is brave enough to follow said logical trail.

  • Posted by: margieP - May. 27, 2022 7:47 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Gregory is now giving scandal. (signed— not a canon lawyer, just a faith full Catholic).