Archbishop Cordileone: Catholics Supporting Abortion Should Not Present Themselves for Holy Communion

Archbishop Cordileone was careful to emphasize that “abortion is never solely the mother’s act. Others, to a greater or lesser degree, share culpability whenever this evil is perpetrated.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrates Mass outdoors on the plaza at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco on August 22, 2020.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrates Mass outdoors on the plaza at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco on August 22, 2020. (photo: Dennis Callahan / Archdiocese of San Francisco)

SAN FRANCISCO — The Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, released on May 1, 2021 a pastoral letter about the worthiness required for the reception of Holy Communion in which he insisted that any Catholic cooperating with the evil of abortion should refrain from receiving the Eucharist.

“It is fundamentally a question of integrity: to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic liturgy is to espouse publicly the faith and moral teachings of the Catholic Church, and to desire to live accordingly,” wrote Cordileone. “We all fall short in various ways, but there is a great difference between struggling to live according to the teachings of the Church and rejecting those teachings.”

The letter, issued on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and at the beginning of the month honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, comes on the heels of growing media coverage regarding whether President Biden should be admitted to Holy Communion within the Catholic Church.

Contained within his letter was a section specifically for Catholic public officials who advocate for abortion. “You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” he said. “Please stop the killing. And please stop pretending that advocating for or practicing a grave moral evil – one that snuffs out an innocent human life, one that denies a fundamental human right – is somehow compatible with the Catholic faith. It is not. Please return home to the fullness of your Catholic faith.”

Both the Washington Post and the AP published articles earlier this week which highlighted debate about whether Biden, a staunch promoter of abortion and funding for abortion but also a Catholic, would be asked to refrain from reception of the Eucharist.

According to the longstanding teaching of the Church outlined by the archbishop, formal cooperation and immediate material cooperation with evil, such as cooperation in the evil of abortion, precludes one from receiving Holy Communion. “The Church’s teaching and discipline on worthiness to receive Holy Communion has been consistent throughout her history, going back to the very beginning,” the archbishop noted.

“[T]he teaching of our faith is clear: those who kill or assist in killing the child (even if personally opposed to abortion), those who pressure or encourage the mother to have an abortion, who pay for it, who provide financial assistance to organizations to provide abortions, or who support candidates or legislation for the purpose of making abortion a more readily available ‘choice’ are all cooperating with a very serious evil,” stated archbishop Cordileone. “Formal cooperation and immediate material cooperation in evil is never morally justified.”

The Archbishop quoted St. Paul’s teaching in First Corinthians to explain the danger of receiving Holy Communion while cooperating with grave evil, an act long hailed in the Church as unworthy: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor. 11:27-29).” 

He also included the testimony of early Church Father St. Justin Martyr who taught that, “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes what we teach is true; unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”

The debate about President Biden and communion hit a new high when the Washington Post published a story and tweet that described President Biden as “very Catholic,” sparking an impassioned response from Catholic leaders.

The archbishop's own response addressed the importance of witnessing to the truth about the grave evil of abortion. “For decades now western culture has been in denial about the harsh reality of abortion. The topic is swathed in sophistries by its advocates and discussion about it is forbidden in many venues.

“In the case of public figures who identify as Catholic and promote abortion, we are not dealing with a sin committed in human weakness or a moral lapse: this is a matter of persistent, obdurate, and public rejection of Catholic teaching,” he penned. “This adds an even greater responsibility to the role of the Church’s pastors in caring for the salvation of souls.

“It is my conviction that this conspiracy of disinformation and silence is fueled by fear of what it would mean to recognize the reality with which we are dealing.

“The right to life itself is the foundation of all other rights. Without protection of the right to life, no other talk of rights makes sense,” he said, noting that the science is “clear” on when this life begins. “[A] new, genetically-distinct human life begins at conception.”

Archbishop Cordileone was careful to emphasize that “abortion is never solely the mother’s act. Others, to a greater or lesser degree, share culpability whenever this evil is perpetrated.”

He noted that his responsibility as pastor and shepherd of souls required him to be clear on the both the gravity of abortion’s evil and the reasons why a person who procures, assists, or promotes abortion in any way cannot receive Holy Communion unless they first repent and are absolved in confession.

“Speaking for myself,” he said, “I always keep before me the words from the prophet Ezekiel…I tremble that if I do not forthrightly challenge Catholics under my pastoral care who advocate for abortion, both they and I will have to answer to God for innocent blood.”

At the end of his letter, the archbishop thanked those in public life who stand firm for the cause of the unborn. “Your bold and steadfast stand in the face of what is often fierce opposition gives courage to others who know what is right but might otherwise feel too timid to proclaim it in word and deed,” he opined.

Archbishop Cordileone also reached out to women who have had an abortion and others affected by it. “God loves you. We love you. God wants you to heal, and so do we, and we have the resources to help you. Please turn to us, because we love you and want to help you and want you to heal,” he posited, adding that those who have healed from abortion can become tremendous witnesses to the Gospel of Mercy. “Because of what you have endured, you more than anyone can become a powerful voice for the sanctity of life."

The archbishop of San Francisco concluded the letter by inviting all those of good will to “work for a society in which every new baby is received as a precious gift from God and given a welcome to the human community” and by invoking the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn, as well as St. Joseph and St. Francis, patron of the archdiocese.

To read the letter in its entirety, click here.

Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks with St. John Paul II in San Francisco, Calif., in 1978.

A True Shepherd

EDITORIAL: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone responded to the death of political adversary Dianne Feinstein with charity and graciousness, as befits all Catholics.