Recently a series of stories burbled through the mainstream media suggesting that Nancy Pelosi has been excommunicated or denied Communion by the Vatican.
Pelosi is a passionately pro-abortion California politician who describes herself as “a devout Catholic.”
She has long been a foe of the pro-life movement.
What’s the truth behind the story?
Here are 8 things to know and share . . .
1) What’s the origin of this story?
The story has its roots in an interview that was given by Cardinal Raymond Burke to the Minneapolis-based paper The Catholic Servant. It was later posted online by The Wanderer.
You can read the full interview here.
2) Did the Cardinal say that Rep. Pelosi was excommunicated?
No. He did make remarks that have a bearing on whether she should be admitted to Holy Communion, but he did not discuss her being excommunicated.
Despite the similarity in name, “excommunication” and not being able to receive Holy Communion are two different things.
Excommunication is a canonical penalty that does prevent one from receiving the sacraments, but it includes other provisions as well.
Excommunication is, in part, a medicinal penalty intended to encourage a person to repent and be reconciled.
Direct participation in an abortion can result in automatic excommunication, but this does not apply to politicians who have indirect involvement with abortion through the legislative process.
There is no indication that Ms. Pelosi has been excommunicated.
3) What was Cardinal Burke asked that led to his discussion of Nancy Pelosi and Holy Communion?
The interviewer for The Catholic Servant—Don Fier—asked the Cardinal the following question:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, when recently questioned at a press briefing about the moral difference between what Dr. Gosnell did in murdering a baby born alive at 23 weeks as compared to the practice of aborting a baby moments before birth, refused to answer.
Instead she is reported to have responded:
“As a practicing and respectful Catholic this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this. I don’t think it should have anything to do with politics.”
How are we to react to such a seemingly scandalous statement? Is this a case where Canon 915 might properly be applied?
4) What is Canon 915?
It is a provision of the Code of Canon Law that reads:
Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.
Since Nancy Pelosi has not been excommunicated (or interdicted), the part of the canon that potentially would be applicable would be the final part, which refers to those obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.
The argument would be that Nancy Pelosi fulfills these criteria by her support of abortion and thus should be denied Holy Communion.
5) How did Cardinal Burke answer the question?
Certainly this is a case when Canon 915 must be applied. This is a person who obstinately, after repeated admonitions, persists in a grave sin — cooperating with the crime of procured abortion — and still professes to be a devout Catholic.
This is a prime example of what Blessed John Paul II referred to as the situation of Catholics who have divorced their faith from their public life and therefore are not serving their brothers and sisters in the way that they must — in safeguarding and promoting the life of the innocent and defenseless unborn, in safeguarding and promoting the integrity of marriage and the family.
What Congresswoman Pelosi is speaking of is not particular confessional beliefs or practices of the Catholic Church. It belongs to the natural moral law which is written on every human heart and which the Catholic Church obviously also teaches: that natural moral law which is so wonderfully illumined for us by Our Lord Jesus Christ by His saving teaching, but most of all by His Passion and death.
To say that these are simply questions of Catholic Faith which have no part in politics is just false and wrong. I fear for Congresswoman Pelosi if she does not come to understand how gravely in error she is. I invite her to reflect upon the example of St. Thomas More who acted rightly in a similar situation even at the cost of his life.
6) What level of authority does this statement have?
Since it is a statement made in a newspaper interview, it is not a judicial act.
Cardinal Burke is the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, which is the highest tribunal in the Church.
As such, if a canonical cause against Ms. Pelosi were brought before the Signatura, he could participate in a ruling on the matter that would be a judicial act, but a statement made in a newspaper interview is not a judicial act.
Properly speaking, Cardinal Burke’s remarks thus appear to be a statement of opinion regarding the application of the law to a particular case.
It is also an informal statement since it was given in a press interview.
On the other hand, it is the opinion of an eminent churchman and canonist who happens to be the head of the Church’s supreme tribunal and should be taken seriously as such.
7) So there is not a formal ruling from the Vatican that Nancy Pelosi is not to be admitted to Holy Communion?
It appears that there is no formal ruling at this time—at least not one that is publicly known—as welcome as one would be!
8) Many Catholics are outraged by the way politicians like Ms. Pelosi flout Catholic teaching on life issues such as abortion. Did the interview touch on this matter?
Yes. The following exchange occurred:
Q. Many faithful Catholics are troubled when high-profile political figures with unconcealed antilife, anti-family positions are honored in such ways as receiving invitations to speak at Catholic university commencement ceremonies and given honorary degrees or memorialized at public Catholic funeral Masses without having renounced their immoral positions. Faithful Catholics, at the same time, are taught they have committed a serious sin if they vote for these same candidates. How are those who are seriously trying to live out their faith to reconcile this apparent contradiction?
A. You cannot reconcile it — it is a contradiction, it is wrong, it is a scandal, and it must stop! We live in a culture with a false sense of dialogue — which has also crept into the Church — where we pretend to dialogue about open and egregious violations of the moral law. Can we believe it is permissible to recognize publicly people who support open and egregious violations, and then act surprised if someone is scandalized by it? For Catholic institutions or individuals to give recognition to such persons, to honor them in any way, is a source of grave scandal for which they are responsible. In a certain way, they contribute to the sinfulness of the individuals involved. There is no way to reconcile it; it simply is wrong.
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