WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has written to San Francisco Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone asking him to skip a controversial "March for Marriage" to be held in Washington Thursday.

The Democrat from California, who is a Roman Catholic who supports same-sex marriage and abortion, referred to a controversial 2013 comment from Pope Francis to support her position, according to political reporter Carla Marinucci in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Invoking the words of Pope Francis with regard to gays and lesbians, (Pelosi) wrote, 'If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?’ ”

Her call — reportedly in a letter the Chronicle did not post online — joined an open letter co-signed by California's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and a host of other state officials and dozens of religious and community leaders. That letter ripped march organizer the National Organization for Marriage and said, "We respect freedom of religion and understand that you oppose civil marriage for same-sex couples. But the actions and rhetoric of NOM, and those of the event's speakers and co-sponsors, fundamentally contradict Christian belief in the fundamental human dignity of all people."

The open letter points out "incendiary rhetoric" accusing gay marriage proponents of engaging in tyranny and oppression "to silence anyone who disagrees with them."

Archbishop Cordileone, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, responded with an open letter of his own, saying, "The March for Marriage" is not anti-anything but is pro-marriage.

"The latter does not imply the former," he wrote. "Rather, it affirms the great good of bringing the two halves of humanity together so that a man and a woman may bond with each other and with any children who come from their union."

Archbishop Cordileone also quoted Pope Francis saying, “ ‘We must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and mother.' Rest assured that if the point of this event were to single out a group of individuals and target them for hatred, I most certainly would not be there."

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The archbishop added his own plea for tolerance: "While it is true that free speech can be used to offend others, it is not so much people exercising their right to free speech that drives us further apart than people punished precisely for doing so that does," he wrote, adding, "Please do not make judgments based on stereotypes, media images and comments taken out of context. Rather, get to know us first as fellow human beings."

One Catholic critic of Pelosi's letter, Thomas Peters of CatholicVote.org, is calling on Cordileone to deny her participation in the church's most sacred rituals: "If words can’t reach Pelosi, maybe excommunication would," Peters wrote at the group's blog. "Such a dramatic act would not only serve as the necessary wake-up call to Pelosi, it would also help protect the rest of us."

Pelosi, who from January 2007 to January 2011 served as speaker of the House of Representatives, has come under fire before by Catholic leaders. In September 2013, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was then prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican, said Pelosi must be denied communion because of her persistence "in a grave sin — cooperating with the crime of procured abortion — and still professes to be a devout Catholic," according to a CNS News Service report.

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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