After a Catholic archbishop in America barred Nancy Pelosi from Communion for her pro-choice views, she got it anyway from a priest in the Vatican, apparently with Francis' approval. This move highlights a growing rift between American hardliners and the mothership.
On Wednesday, Nancy Pelosi visited the Vatican, met privately with Pope Francis, and attended a Mass presided over by Francis. Then, just as millions of Catholics do during these ceremonies, she took Communion. Communion is a big deal to Catholics in America. But about a month ago, a Catholic archbishop in America barred Nancy Pelosi from being able to take Communion because of her vocal position on abortion rights. The Vatican clearly didn’t agree with this decision, and she herself clearly didn’t either. This entire drama only highlights a growing and deepening rift between American hardliners and the mothership.
Captain Cassidy’s Christianese 101: Catholic Edition
Communion/Eucharist: A big honking deal to Catholics. Communion is one of their major rituals, which they call sacraments. In the Bible, during the Last Supper, Jesus commanded his followers to celebrate his upcoming death on the Cross by eating bread and wine to symbolize his body and blood. Ever since then, Christians have celebrated the occasion. Some do it weekly (like Catholics), while others do it annually or seasonally.
Communion consists, usually, of a flat unleavened flour wafer and a sip of red wine. (But check out this very festive variation.)
If someone can’t receive or take Communion (a process also called celebrating the Eucharist), Catholics think that person will have a rough(er) time getting to Heaven.
Catholics call their church services Mass.
Excommunicated people can’t receive any of the sacraments until they apologize to their Catholic leader’s satisfaction. Abortion, incidentally, officially merits automatic excommunication.
Protestants also take Communion, though they don’t tend to call it the Eucharist. However, Protestants believe this ritual is really just symbolic. By contrast, Catholics think that the wafer and wine magically actually turn into Jesus’ flesh and blood in a process called transubstantiation. The result is not like literal meat and blood, but kinda it really is in a way.
Also, to simplify a very muddled order of procession, priests report to bishops, who in turn report to archbishops. A bishop’s domain is a diocese, while an archbishop commands an archdiocese. If you’re curious, the next level up is called a cardinal. Finally, the highest rank in Catholicism is the pope.
American Catholics are in steep decline
The more faithful and observant individual Catholics are, the more they tend to echo their leaders in opinion. Alas for those leaders, even though about 20% of America is Catholic, many of them aren’t practicing much at all.
It’s hard to say exactly how many practice their faith, thanks to Americans’ longstanding tradition of lying our asses off to researchers who ask us about religion. In 2015, 40% of Catholics in one survey claimed to attend church weekly. I’ve seen similar numbers elsewhere (and from Gallup). Chances are this number is fictional, of course, because church attendance has been dropping steadily for years. In 2021, someone estimated that fewer than 25% of Catholics attend Mass regularly.
That’s quite normal. Even my extremely fervent mother only attended Mass a few times a year, on big holidays mostly.
(Incidentally, my mom was excommunicated for divorce in the early 1970s. Back then, divorce without annulment meant an auto-excommunication. That rule ended in 1977, but she might not have known it did. As far as I ever saw growing up, she never received any sacraments. When my sister and I went up front for Communion, she always stayed behind in our pew and just looked sad. I didn’t know why till I got older).
As for church membership, that’s been dropping like whoa for years too. In one recent study, only about half of Catholics even said they were members of any church.
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Punishing Nancy Pelosi for ‘wrongthink’
So with all of that decline, you’d think that Catholic leaders wouldn’t be doing their level best to alienate the few people still willing to associate with their corrupt, degenerate gang. But here we are.
For years now, Catholic laity in America has often had way more liberal opinions than the clergy trying to control them. And also for years now, those clergies have been trying to force groupthink on the flocks. Particularly, they want the flocks to be as ferociously anti-abortion as they are.
But the flocks tend to have a different view of abortion. In fact, they have much more varied views of pretty much all of their leaders’ culture-war topics. That’s why you keep hearing about Catholic school teachers getting fired for marrying their same-sex partners or even just attending a same-sex wedding.
This disobedience drives their leaders up the wall, but they can’t do anything about it.
At least, usually they can’t.
When a very high-profile Catholic refuses even to pretend to hold such regressive stances, Catholic leaders let loose with both cannons.
In this case, American bishops used Nancy Pelosi’s vocal support for abortion rights as a way to send a clear message to the rest of the flocks.
Punishing Nancy Pelosi
This past May, an archbishop in Nancy Pelosi’s home state of California forbade her to receive Communion from any church in his domain. This archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, specifically declared that her defense of abortion rights had brought him to this decision.
Cordileone, as you might guess, is quite conservative in his opinions. Indeed, he’s quite the culture warrior. But he’s not the usual kind. We’re used to evangelical Protestant culture warriors screeching about abortion. This time, we’re dealing with a Catholic hardliner.
Catholic hardliners are the original, hardcore anti-abortion crusaders. Their official stance on abortion does not include any exceptions, not even for the preservation of the fetus’ mother’s life. (Officially, Catholic leaders think it’s totes awesome when women die giving birth or from ectopic pregnancies).
But here’s where things get curious.
These hardliner Catholic leaders have been talking for a while now about denying Communion to American politicians who defend abortion rights. Last year, they grumbled about doing this to Joe Biden. That idea failed, though one church in South Carolina did refuse to give him Communion in 2019.
Well, now they actually did that to Nancy Pelosi.
The battle lines draw tightly around Nancy Pelosi
In response, the mothership at the Vatican surprisingly said not to do that. And Pope Francis himself confirmed that denial of Communion was not meant to be used as a punishment to politicians.
I don’t think that nose-thumping made the American hardliners happy at all. See, Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, would absolutely have agreed with them and egged them on. According to the New York Times:
[In 2004] a group of conservative bishops sought to deny communion to then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for his support of abortion rights. Conservatives had more support in the Vatican then; the top doctrinal official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who soon after became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that politicians who persistently supported abortion rights were unworthy to receive the sacrament. . . .
The whole situation took a political toll on Mr. Kerry, who lost the election. . .New York Times, June 2021
The hardiners have always liked Benedict better than Francis. They think Francis is totally wrecking everything.
Meanwhile, Francis seems well aware that these hardliners want him gone.
Oh but wait! This story just gets better!
So okay. An American hardliner archbishop barred Nancy Pelosi from Communion in late May. Grr, he was big mad, and grr, no way no how does she get her wafer!
But what’s this?
A wild Nancy Pelosi appears!
Yes, Nancy Pelosi showing up in Rome!
Nancy Pelosi cruising up to the Vatican!
Nancy Pelosi visiting the Pope in private and getting a blessing from him!
And Nancy Pelosi going to a Mass that Francis led!
OMG, NANCY PELOSI GETTING COMMUNION FROM A PRIEST THERE!
I bet at the instant that wafer stuck to her tongue and began to turn to goo, Salvatore Cordileone began to sizzle and burst into flames, and he didn’t even know why yet.
Read: The Catholic Church cannot credibly take a pro-life stance
A very slight breakdown in communion—er, in communication somewhere
I loved how one Catholic news site, Crux Now, sounded so very, very hopeful in speculating that the priest who gave Nancy Pelosi her wafer might not have known who she was.
My cheeks actually hurt from laughing over all of this.
By the way, Catholics believe that to take Communion, they must be as pure in spirit as possible. When I was a kid, I was taught that confession was always necessary before Communion. But sites I consulted today indicated that Catholics just need to do that in the case of serious sins, which include lust, envy, and lying. (Communion itself officially represents instant forgiveness for minor sins.) If Nancy Pelosi is as fervent as she seems, she keeps up with confession. I wonder what priest received her confession and cleared her for Communion? Whoever it was, he probably knew about the hardliner proclamation—and he didn’t care to follow it either.
So yes. She knew. She knew she wasn’t supposed to take Communion. The archbishop back home had forbidden it. And she did it anyway. She visited Francis, got a blessing from him, went to the Mass he led, and headed off to the front altar for her wafer just like any Catholic would do.
Nothing about this story is accidental. Francis’ faction, which Nancy Pelosi clearly considers her own side, thumbed its collective nose at the hardliner faction. And there’s nothing the hardliners can really do about it.
It’s like watching a high school clique throw shade at their frenemies. But the stakes couldn’t be higher.
This attack on Nancy Pelosi brings Catholic faction warfare to the front and center stage
In 2019, according to another New York Times article, Francis specifically accused American hardliners of opposing him and his position as the pope, and of potentially leading Catholicism into a full-blown schism.
I’ve heard rumors that there’s been a very well-financed, well-backed opposition effort to fight against Francis for years. That article indicates this may well be true. For good measure, it also adds that in 2017, one papal advisor accused American Catholic hardliners of being in cahoots with evangelical hardliners to help Donald Trump. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sure sounds plausible. Evangelicals got in bed with Catholics over abortion years ago, and their politics fused as well. By now, they sound identical, which makes this Catholic rebuttal to a Calvinist take on their faith seem just as strange as the take itself.
So yes, I do find it very interesting that Catholic hardliners are trying yet again to bar an American politician from Communion because of a political stance. I find myself wondering if they chose to attack Nancy Pelosi precisely because she’s not as high-status as a president or presidential candidate. According to Wikipedia, they’ve done this to a few other politicians, but she’s arguably the highest status lately.
Read: The Red-Hot ‘American Gospel’ Mega-Review
But this fight is really about the future of Catholicism and the Papacy
I don’t need to mention, either, that Nancy Pelosi has not allowed her fervent faith in Catholicism to interfere with her support for human rights. She’s said that Communion is very important to her, and that losing permission to take it would bother her a lot. But here she is keeping both her faith intact and supporting abortion rights to the hilt. If Francis and his faction change their minds about letting pro-choice politicians take Communion, I hope she’s willing to stand by her support of human rights no matter how far Catholic leaders push her.
But this isn’t about Nancy Pelosi.
Rather, it’s about Catholicism itself, and who will control its future. However few Catholics remain when the dust settles on Christianity’s decline, and there will indeed be very few left, a ferocious fight is underway to control whatever is left of them.