Here's what to know about Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone attends the Mass and imposition of the pallium upon new metropolitan archbishops held by Pope Francis for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul at Vatican Basilica, June 29, 2013. Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone attends the Mass and imposition of the pallium upon new metropolitan archbishops held by Pope Francis for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul at Vatican Basilica, June 29, 2013. | Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is in the news for saying that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat and professed Catholic, may not receive Holy Communion because of her staunch, obstinate political support for abortion.

The response of Catholic bishops to politicians who promote legal abortion has long been a topic of discussion. Cordileone’s action comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to overturn precedent that mandates legal abortion across the country.

Where is the archbishop coming from?

The 65-year-old archbishop has headed the San Francisco archdiocese since 2012, after four years as Bishop of Oakland across the San Francisco Bay. The San Diego native was an auxiliary bishop for the San Diego diocese for ten years.

It will be hard for Pelosi’s defenders to say he doesn’t know Catholicism. Cordileone’s educational background includes seminary studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, an undergraduate degree in sacred theology, and a doctoral degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Before he was named a bishop, he spent seven years in Rome as an assistant at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s “supreme court” on matters of canon law.

In Italian, Cordileone’s last name means “Heart of a Lion.”

While the archbishop is outspoken on pro-life concerns, he has also focused on San Francisco’s homeless population. He has offered a requiem Mass for homeless people who have died.

He has also focused on beauty and music in the Catholic liturgy, launching the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship in 2014. When vandals and protesters toppled statues of Catholic missionary St. Junipero Serra, he performed an exorcism at one vandalism site.

Is Cordileone’s move against Pelosi political?

The archbishop’s previous words on abortion politics declare a higher purpose:

“It is souls that are at stake, not elections. Lost sheep are to be lovingly called to return to the fold, not angrily denounced in the way that would imitate so much of the animosity of our political culture.”

As an authority, he cited Pope Francis, who reminds bishops “to think and speak as pastors, not as politicians.”

And in a letter to priests of his archdiocese explaining his action, he said, “I have been very clear all along, in both my words and my actions, that my motive is pastoral, not political.”

“This is simply application of Church teaching,” he added. “One would have to demonstrate that a person’s actions in following Church teaching is explicitly for a political purpose in order to justify the accusation of ‘weaponizing’ the Eucharist.”

Cordileone previously gave Pelosi thousands of roses to try to sway her heart.

The archbishop led a pro-life campaign to collect thousands of roses for Pelosi. On the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, campaign leaders placed 7,700 roses outside the U.S. Capitol.

“This is what equality means: Every human life is equally sacred,” Cordileone said at the time. “Speaker Pelosi, we love you. It is not too late: choose life.”

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More than 10,000 roses were dedicated to Pelosi through the campaign, called "Rose and a Rosary for Nancy Pelosi."

Why does the archbishop link the Eucharist to politicians’ actions on abortion?

Cordileone sees an “intimate connection” between reverence for the Eucharist and “reverence for human life where it is most vulnerable and defenseless,” as he explained in an October 2021 column.

“When politicians pontificate about abortion as a choice or even a human right, do we see beyond the rhetoric to the ugliness of what they propose: the deliberate snuffing out of innocent lives, each one of them unique, irreplaceable, and loved by God?” he asks.

People judge too much by appearances when they dismiss the humanity of other people, whether they are the unwanted unborn child or the homeless person.

“As political issues, homelessness and abortion are treated as separate things,” the archbishop has said. “But with the Catholic sacramental sense we can see that whether we are speaking of the unhoused or the unborn, the underlying issue is the same: Can we see beyond the merely material to the deeper spiritual reality?”

Has abortion has become a parallel religion? The archbishop thinks so.

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At a January 2022 Mass for the Walk for Life West Coast, he said that abortion has become an inverted “blessed sacrament.” For some of its supporters, it has become “what they hold most sacred, the doctrine and practice upon which their whole belief system is built.”

This is why, he explained, “we see such visceral and violent reaction to any even minimal regulation of abortion in the law.”

Christians who back abortion rights, he said, have been “mindlessly co-opted by the new secular religion and its false blessed sacrament,” comparing them to the ancient Israelites who worshipped Moloch, an idol whose devotees engaged in human sacrifice.

“But there is only one Blessed Sacrament; to live as if there were two brings desecration of what is sacred on both fronts: the Bread of Life on the altar and human life in the womb.”

Cordileone and Pelosi have clashed on pro-abortion rights legislation

In September 2021 he had warned that proposed pro-abortion rights federal legislation called the Women’s Health Protection Act was “nothing short of child sacrifice.”

The bill aims to override prohibitions on “pre-viability” abortions and would also allow for late-term abortions without “meaningful” limits, the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned, calling it “the most radical abortion bill of all time.”

“A child is not an object to be thrown away, and neither is a mother’s heart,” Cordileone said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the answer to a woman in a crisis pregnancy is not violence but love. This is America.  We can do better.”

Pelosi sought to bring the bill up for a vote.

She was dismissive of her archbishop’s comments, saying, “it’s none of our business how other people choose the size and timing of their families.”

“The archbishop of the city of that area, of San Francisco, and I had a disagreement about who should decide this (family size and timing). I believe that God has given us a free will to honor our responsibilities,” she said Sept. 23 in response to a question from Erik Rosales, Capitol Hill correspondent for EWTN News Nightly.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 218 to 211, largely along party lines. The same act faced a recent procedural vote in the U.S. Senate, where it failed to advance.

It is clear some influential Catholics don’t like Cordileone

Before he was named Archbishop of San Francisco, a longtime center for LGBT politics, Cordileone had served as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ point man on efforts to preserve legal marriage as a union of one man and one woman. In 2008, California voters had passed Prop. 8, which legally defined marriage as only a union of one man and one woman, though the U.S. Supreme Court later mandated that all states recognize same-sex unions as marriages.

In early 2015 he announced changes to archdiocesan high school teachers’ handbooks intended to clarify Catholic religious and moral teachings on several controversial topics, including religious teaching, sexual morality, and the ethics of assisted reproductive technologies. also proposed a clause to Catholic high schools’ teacher contracts outlining a ministerial understanding of their role – a proposal he later withdrew.

Some high school students, teachers, and parents publicly protested the archbishop’s proposals.

In 2015 a group of prominent Catholics paid for a full-page newspaper advertisement asking Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, claiming that he had fostered “division and intolerance.” The archdiocese responded that the ad does not represent San Francisco Catholics and misrepresents the facts.

Among the signers was Clint Reilly, a businessman and former political consultant who is a past president of Catholic Charities CYO's board of directors and has been a major donor to Catholic Charities.

Another signer, Brian Cahill, is a former executive director of the local Catholic Charities affiliate. He has been an outspoken critic of Catholic teaching on homosexual relationships.

Their ad also objected to Archbishop Cordileone's selection of a pastor at Star of the Sea Parish who decided only to have altar boys and not female altar servers.

Some foes of Cordileone had hired Sam Singer of the public relations firm Singer and Associates to back their cause. On Twitter, Singer published or re-tweeted over 40 tweets highlighting the anti-Cordileone ad. In one of his own social media posts he contended that “everyone is praying that the Pope will remove the San Francisco Archbishop.”

Singer told the National Catholic Reporter he had been hired by alumni, parents, and their supporters involved in a dispute over Star of the Sea Catholic School, a K-8 institution connected to the parish of the same name. Cordileone had allowed the priests of the parish and school to set their own policy on various topics, including limiting altar servers to boys.

The campaign against the archbishop intimidated some Catholics who supported him.

Some did speak out, like Eva Muntean, an organizer of the group SFCatholics.org.

“It's truly astonishing that a group of self-proclaimed 'prominent Catholics' has become so self-absorbed that they believe they can demand that the Holy Father remove an Archbishop because he refuses to sacrifice teaching Catholic values to children in our Catholic schools,” she said at the time.