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The Nancy Pelosi communion conflict, explained

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is facing pushback from her archbishop over her stance on abortion rights

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, of California, speaks during a news conference on May 19, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The conservative Catholic archbishop of San Francisco said Friday, May 20, 2022, that he would no longer allow Pelosi to receive Communion because of her support for abortion rights.

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

As battles over abortion rights intensify across the country, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is facing pushback from top Catholic leaders over her abortion views.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who leads Pelosi’s home Archdiocese of San Francisco, announced that he was barring the speaker from taking Communion in his region after failing to convince her to change her stance on abortion rights.

“After numerous attempts to speak with her to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that the point has come in which I must make a public declaration that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate her support for abortion ‘rights’ and confess and receive absolution for her cooperation in this evil,” he wrote in a May 20 letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The Rev. Cordileone wrote that his decision was “pastoral, not political” and that he had sincerely and diligently worked to change Pelosi’s mind.

Many conservative Catholic leaders have applauded the move. Three went so far as to extend the Rev. Cordileone’s ban to their regions, meaning that Pelosi is now barred from receiving the Eucharist in at least four dioceses, Religion News Service reports.

Other top Catholics have criticized the decision, arguing that it’s wrong to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights while allowing politicians who disobey other church teachings by, for example, supporting the death penalty, to continue receiving it.

“Some people want to repair the scandal of pro-choice Catholic politicians by refusing them the Eucharist. But that’s a misguided response for at least two reasons: As Jesus said, it’s the sick people who need a doctor, not the healthy, and he gave us the Eucharist as a healing remedy; don’t deny the people who need the medicine. Also, to be consistent, to repair the scandal of Catholics being indifferent or opposed to all those other life issues, they would have to be denied Holy Communion as well,” said Archbishop Michael Jackels of the Archdiocese of Dubuque in a statement last week.

Pelosi made a similar point during her May 24 appearance on “Morning Joe.”

“I wonder about death penalty, which I’m opposed to. So is the Church, but they take no action against people who may not share their view,” she said.

Conflict over Communion access has deepened in recent years amid President Joe Biden’s return to the political spotlight.

In 2020, a South Carolina priest made the national news for refusing to serve then-president candidate Biden at his church. Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops debated whether to call out Catholic politicians who support abortion rights in a new document on the significance of the Eucharist in the life of the church. “In the end, the document did not mention politicians who support abortion rights or single out abortion in particular,” The Washington Post reported.

Pope Francis has previously said that he has never denied anyone the Eucharist, and he offered Biden his support during the U.S. bishops’ debate last year, according to Religion News Service.

“After the pontiff met with Biden at the Vatican in October, the president said the pope told him to ‘keep receiving Communion,’” the article noted.