The Archbishop of San Francisco George H. Niederauer has issued a response to remarks made by U.S. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi regarding her recent comments on abortion and Catholic teaching. Commenting that her rejection of the immorality of abortion has produced “widespread consternation,” the archbishop said it is his duty to consider whether Rep. Pelosi should receive Holy Communion. He then invited the Democratic leader to converse with him about Catholic faith and morals.
Writing in the September 5 issue of Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, Archbishop Niederauer stated that Rep. Pelosi’s remarks were in “serious conflict” with Church teaching. He said it was his responsibility to “teach clearly what Christ in his Church teaches about faith and morals, and to oppose erroneous, misleading and confusing positions when they are advanced.”
Citing other bishops’ comments on Rep. Pelosi’s two televised interviews and a statement released through her office, he said it was his “particular duty” to address them.
On an August 24 interview on Meet the Press, Rep. Pelosi referenced her dissent from Church teaching, saying, “So there's some areas where we're in agreement and some areas where we're not, and one being a woman's right to choose, and the other being stem cell research.”
Calling Rep. Pelosi a “gifted, dedicated and accomplished public servant,” the archbishop noted both her statements about “her love for her faith and the Catholic Church” and her support for some legislation that is in line with the social teaching of the Church.
“However,” Archbishop Niederauer said, “her recent remarks are opposed to Church teaching.”
The archbishop cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which calls direct abortion “grossly contrary to the moral law,” adding that the early Christian writings called the Didache also commands: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”
He then referenced Rep. Pelosi’s August 26 statement which said “While Catholic teaching is clear that life begins at conception, many Catholics do not ascribe [sic] to that view.”
Criticizing her remark, the archbishop said it “suggests that morality can be decided by poll, by numbers. If ninety percent of Catholics subscribe to the view that human life begins at conception, does that makes Church teaching truer than if only seventy percent or fifty percent agree?” he asked.
He then emphasized the Catholic teachings on the authority of the Church, citing the Second Vatican Council. “As Catholics, we believe what the Church authoritatively teaches on matters of faith and morals, for to hear the voice of the Church on those matters is to hear the voice of Christ himself,” he said.
Archbishop Niederauer reported that many Catholics have written him messages in which they had “expressed their dismay and concern about the speaker’s remarks” and had asked whether it was necessary to deny Holy Communion to some Catholic figures in public life because of their open support of abortion.
Noting that Catholics ought to receive Holy Communion worthily, he said that self-examination should help us realize whether we have committed a serious sin and should seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The U.S. bishops’ 2006 document “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper,” he remarked, advises “we should be cautious when making judgments about whether or not someone else should receive Holy Communion." The document adds that Catholics who “knowingly and obstinately” reject defined doctrines of the Church or Church teaching on moral issues should refrain from that Sacrament.
“To give selective assent to the teachings of the Church deprives us of her life-giving message, but also seriously endangers our communion with her," the 2006 document says.
The archbishop cited the writings of his predecessor who is now Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada. In 2004 Cardinal Levada wrote that each individual bishop must decide whether to deny someone Holy Communion.
“From that statement I conclude that it is my responsibility as Archbishop to discern and decide, prayerfully, how best to approach this question as it may arise in the Archdiocese of San Francisco,” Archbishop Niederauer wrote.
“I regret the necessity of addressing these issues in so public a forum,” he continued, “but the widespread consternation among Catholics made it unavoidable. Speaker Pelosi has often said how highly she values her Catholic faith, and how much it is a source of joy for her. Accordingly, as her pastor, I am writing to invite her into a conversation with me about these matters.
“It is my obligation to teach forthrightly and to shepherd caringly, and that is my intent. Let us pray together that the Holy Spirit will guide us all toward a more profound understanding and appreciation for human life, and toward a resolution of these differences in truth and charity and peace.”