How the Papal Pelosi Scandal Affects Priests
Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, #3384]
Scandal affects all of us. The reception of Holy Communion by pro-abortion politicians is a chronic and wearisome example.
Catholics formed with an orthodox understanding of the sacraments and grace know that we never should approach Communion in the state of mortal sin. It is necessary to go to Confession before we receive Communion. Even prominent politicians are not exempt from Catholic teaching. While we can never judge a soul, we must accurately judge sinful behavior. The promotion of abortion by self-identified Catholic politicians scandalizes the faithful.
When Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco decreed the refusal of Holy Communion to “devout Catholic” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it was an act of charity on many levels. On the one hand, he put Pelosi on notice that she risks damnation by promoting intrinsically evil behavior. We need not repeat all of the (by now) well-known arguments that the good archbishop used when he executed his degree. By warning Nancy Pelosi, the archbishop also tacitly warned us to refrain from Communion if we are conscious of an unconfessed grave sin.
Priests are the ministers of four or five of the seven Sacraments. Bishops ordain priests (and bishops) and administer Confirmation. Priests are also the ministers of Confirmation under particular circumstances (Easter Vigil or in danger of death). The bride and groom are the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Priests routinely busy themselves with two of the Sacraments: celebrating daily Mass and hearing Confessions. The relationship between Mass and Confession is not inconsequential. Confessions are dramatic in a spiritual sense but seldom are melodramatic encounters. A good confession may take but a couple of minutes, properly executed. More time may be necessary, of course, when the circumstances require.
Confession is like Whac-a-Mole. Whac-a-Mole is an arcade game in which players use a mallet to hit toy moles that randomly appear, whacking them back into their holes. The penitent presents his sins, and the priest hears them. Both priest and penitent, in a sense, with God’s grace, whack the sins into spiritual oblivion, removing guilt (although the duty of reparation remains). The penitent emerges from Confession with the forgiveness of sin and the graces of the Sacrament. He receives a new lease on the spiritual life as he renews efforts to fulfill his Christian vocation.
There is nothing exciting for a priest when he listens to Confessions, nor should there be. The penitent usually avoids details and only confesses the nature and the number of sins—especially mortal sins if applicable—the best of his ability. Confession is not psychological therapy, although it can have profound psychological effects of consolation and peace of soul. Hearing Confessions is often hard work for the priest, especially with long confessional lines. (Suck it up, Father. That’s why you were ordained.)
A priest sustains his zeal by reminding himself that his work has eternal consequences. The confessional is where the priest is a party to the transformation of the culture, one penitent at a time. The confessional provides a rare cultural context prompting one to say before God: “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.” The priest’s work is essential.
When the Archbishop of San Francisco put Nancy Pelosi on notice, he lifted the spirits of hard-working priests in the confessional. He affirmed, by implication, that when a priest forgives mortal sin, he provides an essential service to the people and the culture. The archbishop’s decree reaffirmed that zeal for the salvation of souls is the central component of the priestly ministry. He inspired thoughtful priests of the great dignity of priestly ministry in the confessional.
When Nancy Pelosi recently traveled to Rome to meet with the Holy Father, she subsequently received Holy Communion at the hands of an anonymous priest at a papal Mass. Vatican authorities could not have missed the publicity stunt. Yet the Vatican silence was deafening. It was a slap in the face of Archbishop Cordileone and scandalized the faithful—on many levels.
The scandal of undermining the pastoral authority of Archbishop Cordileone is but one piece of the puzzle. The highest level of the Church—by deed and silence—presumes to sever the connection between the state of our souls and our worthiness to receive Holy Communion. The action places all of us on notice that Canon Law and the admonition of St. Paul are irrelevant as a matter of pastoral practice. “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” (1 Cor. 11:29)
The papal Pelosi scandal provokes priests to question their ministry. Why bother hearing Confessions? Are the long hours in the confessional a waste of time? If everyone goes to heaven regardless of behavior, there is no need for Confession. There is no need for the Anointing of the Sick. Indeed, there is no need for Baptism! By effectively decoupling Holy Communion from the sacramental forgiveness of sin, the priest becomes the chief therapist or parish political officer. No wonder many churchmen are more comfortable preaching climate change, taking a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and seeking the admiration of LGBTQ+ activists—than warning the faithful of the dangers of mortal sin.
Priest and people alike must firmly resist the temptation of discouragement and renew our understanding of mortal sin and its effects. Pope Francis, give us a helping hand according to your sublime ministry as a successor of Saint Peter. Pelosi, Biden—and others party to scandal (James Martin, SJ, most German bishops, Cardinal Hollerich, etc.) will abandon you without notice at the drop of a hat. Speak the truth with charity and clarity, and we will follow. They are using you. We need you.
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Posted by: frjt -
Jul. 09, 2022 10:59 AM ET USA
especially with long confessional lines. (Suck it up, Father. That’s why you were ordained.)... 39 yrs & long confessional lines? Only in two parishes during the entire time... Suck it up?! We're living in a land without sin... One would hope that a brother priest would encourage us to stick with the short lines & not get discouraged... Many of us PRAY for long lines!
Posted by: jalsardl5053 -
Jul. 08, 2022 6:49 PM ET USA
Pope Francis' behavior is a perfect mirror of modern culture in so many ways. A prime example: will quote or modify Canon Law when it suits him; otherwise, it doesn't exist (except for us Philistines). And, as they used to say "go along to get along" which has now morphed into "go along or get" (us Traditionalists). To close, extra prayers for priests who may be discouraged or even tempted by this all too typical papal misbehavior.
Posted by: TheJournalist64 -
Jul. 08, 2022 5:59 PM ET USA
Fr. Jerry always hits the nail on the head. Putting the words "Pelosi" and "wearisome" together needs to be a habit of pretty much every conservative, orthodox commentator. Let's continue to pray daily for her and our amateur theologian-in-chief so that they are saved and begin telling the truth.
Posted by: Retired01 -
Jul. 06, 2022 2:28 PM ET USA
Thank you Fr. Pokorsky for a good article. As to who may be using whom, however, it may be the other way around. Or perhaps, they are all in cahoots.
Posted by: CorneliusG -
Jul. 06, 2022 9:35 AM ET USA
I would not hold your breath waiting on support from PF in this matter.