Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) home diocese in San Francisco, California, penned in an essay for The Washington Post over the weekend noting that excommunication from the Catholic Church remains an option for those Catholic politicians who insist on being publicly supportive of abortion in violation of Church teachings.
The archbishop said, plainly, in his appeal to Catholic politicians to resist support for abortion, particularly in light of abortion restrictions taking effect in places like Texas, that “[y]ou cannot be a good Catholic and support expanding a government-approved right to kill innocent human beings.”
“This summer, we provoked an uproar by discussing whether public officials who support abortion should receive the sacrament of the Eucharist,” Cordileone wrote. “We were accused of inappropriately injecting religion into politics, of butting in where we didn’t belong.”
“I see matters differently,” the archbishop continued. “When considering what duties Catholic bishops have with respect to prominent laymen in public life who openly oppose church teachings on abortion, I look to this country’s last great human rights movement — still within my living memory — for inspiration on how we should respond.”
Archbishop Cordileone went on to suggest that today’s Church leaders follow in the footsteps of Catholic leaders during the Civil Rights movement, who used excommunication and the threat of excommunication as a way of driving home how unacceptable it was to support racism.
“The example of New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel, who courageously confronted the evils of racism, is one that I especially admire,” the archbishop noted. “Rummel did not ‘stay in his lane.’ Unlike several other bishops throughout this country’s history, he did not prioritize keeping parishioners and the public happy above advancing racial justice. Instead, he began a long, patient campaign of moral suasion to change the opinions of pro-segregation White Catholics.”
Rummel did not just wage a patient campaign, he pressed hard on individuals he knew who supported policies of segregation, “closed a church for refusing to accept a black priest,” desegregated New Orleans Catholic schools, and when confronted about his decision, “patiently sent letters urging a conversion of heart.” When that failed, he threatened excommunication. In three separate cases, he followed through. Two of those individuals, Cordileone noted, eventually repented.
Rummel, the archbishop noted, “recognized that prominent, high-profile public advocacy for racism was scandalous: It violated core Catholic teachings and basic principles of justice, and also led others to sin.”
Abortion, he said, is now “the most pressing human rights challenge of our time. Can we pastors speak softly when the blood of 60 million innocent American children cries out for justice?”
Cordileone suggested, in his piece, that those who support abortion head off scandal and refrain from participating in Holy Communion so as not to cause scandal — and so as not to spread scandal to priests and other faithful. The matter, he added, is the preservation of that person’s soul: “To publicly affirm the Catholic faith while at the same time publicly rejecting one of its most fundamental teachings is simply dishonest.”
If abortion-supporting politicians persist, Cordileone suggests that Church leaders take action.
“If their participation in the evil of abortion is not addressed forthrightly by their pastors, this can lead Catholics (and others) to assume that the moral teaching of the Catholic Church on the inviolate sanctity of human life is not seriously held,” Cordileone concluded. “The constant teaching of the Catholic Church from her very beginning, the repeated exhortations of every Pope in recent times up to and including Pope Francis, the frequent statements by the bishops of the United States, all make it clear what the teaching of the Catholic Church is in regard to abortion.”
Archbishop Cordileone’s letter is particularly interesting given that Pelosi has been an outspoken opponent of the Texas “heartbeat law,” which effectively bans abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. She has also insisted, publicly, that her support for abortion is not at odds with her Catholic faith.
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