Despite her status as one of the U.S.’s most prominent pro-choice politicians, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was invited to the Vatican by Pope Francis and received Holy Communion at St. Peter’s Basilica at a papal mass on Wednesday. In doing so, the strongly anti-choice head of the Catholic Church effectively sided with a progressive feminist in a debate with the more doctrinally pure leader of her own diocese.
While unremarkable on its face—Pelosi is a practicing Catholic —the act of welcome carried symbolic weight. It took place mere days after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively ending abortion in numerous states and propelling a long-simmering issue to the center of American national politics as well as to the streets of San Francisco. Pelosi called that decision “outrageous and heart-wrenching.”
Perhaps more importantly, though, Pope Francis’ gesture came five weeks after San Francisco’s conservative Archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, issued a letter prohibiting Pelosi from receiving communion until she repudiated her pro-abortion stance.
By citing “the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking,” Cordileone inserted himself into a controversy that Francis has attempted to downplay. Instead, the pope has stressed that communion is not meant to be weaponized, but rather, it is an invitation for the imperfect faithful to grow closer to God.
As the Associated Press noted, the Pope has made it clear that the church welcomes all, including sinners, urging the hierarchy not to “remain pinned to some of our fruitless debates.”
In this light, Francis effectively flexed his authority over a wayward subordinate—laying down the canon law, as it were. Additionally, the move arrived on the heels of the pope shoring up his legacy. Widely considered a liberal-leaning reformer in the Church, Francis elevated 21 archbishops to the rank of cardinal in late May, reconfiguring the pool of prelates who will eventually choose his successor. Many are considered progressives; Cordileone was not among them.
While Pelosi was seated in the VIP section at St. Peter’s, arguably the single most important church in Catholicism, she received communion from one of the many priests celebrating Mass, not from the pope himself. She did, however, have a separate audience with Francis on Wednesday, as NPR reported.
The Speaker was in Rome to celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which is also the name of the North Beach church where Archbishop Cordileone gave his assent to a July 2020 wedding in spite of San Francisco’s strict prohibition on indoor public gatherings. At least 10 guests contracted Covid as a result.
Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]