ROME (AP) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Pope Francis on Wednesday and received communion during a papal mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, witnesses said, despite her stance in support of abortion rights.
Pelosi attended morning mass on the occasion of the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul, during which Francis gave the woolen pallium stole to newly consecrated archbishops. She was in a VIP diplomatic ward and received communion along with the rest of the congregation, according to two people who witnessed the moment.
The Archbishop of Pelosi, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, has said he will no longer allow her to receive the sacrament in his archdiocese because of her support for abortion rights. Cordileone, a conservative, has said Pelosi should either reject her support for abortion or stop speaking publicly about her Catholic faith.
Pelosi has done neither. She mentioned the recent Supreme Court ruling repealing constitutional protections for abortion, an “outrageous and heartbreaking” decision that fulfills the “dark and extreme goal of the Republican Party to take away the right of women to make their own decisions about reproductive health”.
And she has spoken openly about her Catholic faith, including at a diplomatic reception at the US Embassy residence to the Holy See on Tuesday night to mark Independence Day.
Speaking to a crowd of ambassadors, Vatican officials and other Americans based in Rome, Pelosi spoke about the Catholic virtues of faith, hope and charity and the important role they play in the mission of the US Embassy.
“Faith is an important gift, not everyone has it, but it is the path to so many other things,” she told the crowd.
Pelosi met Francis before Mass on Wednesday and received a blessing, according to one of those in attendance.
While Francis was presiding, he did not distribute Communion himself, and Pelosi received the sacrament from one of the many priests who distributed it. Ever since he was Archbishop in Buenos Aires, Francis has rarely distributed Communion precisely to avoid politicization of the sacrament.
Last year, after meeting Francis, President Joe Biden, another Catholic who also supports abortion rights, said the Pope had told him to continue to receive the sacrament. Biden receive communion later during a mass at a church in Rome under the authority of Francis as Bishop of Rome.
Pelosi’s participation in the sacrament in the Vatican during a mass presided over by the Pope was even more significant, and a sign of Francis’ unwillingness to refuse the sacrament. Francis has described the Eucharist as “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”.
Asked about some U.S. bishops who wanted to refuse Biden the sacrament, Francis told reporters at an airborne news conference in September that priests should not be politicians and condemn their flock, but should be shepherds guiding the faithful with tenderness and compassion.
The Vatican has not made a statement on the specific issue of Communion and politicians who support abortion in an important teaching document, although Church law says that people in a situation of persistent sin should not receive Communion. It has also issued guidelines for the conduct of Catholics in political life, urging them to uphold principles consistent with Church doctrine.
The then head of the Vatican Doctrine Bureau, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — the future Pope Benedict XVI — told US bishops in 2004 that priests “should” refuse the sacrament if a politician is going to receive Communion despite a “stubborn persistence in obvious grave sin,” including the sin of consistently campaigning for tolerant abortion laws.
Ratzinger wrote a confidential letter outlining the principles to American bishops in response to their question whether they should refuse communion to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president. In the end, the bishops ignored Ratzinger’s advice and instead voted for the current policy, allowing bishops to decide for themselves whether to abstain.