By Paul Kengor
Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020).
“I think I can use my own judgment on that.”
That was the assessment of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a longtime “pro-choice” Catholic when asked her reaction to U.S. bishops and the Vatican considering the question of whether abortion-advocating Catholic politicians should be denied the Eucharist. The reporter acknowledged the Church’s position that the priest or bishop has the authority to decide whether the politician can receive this blessed sacrament. Here was the exchange:
“It will be up to the individual priests?” noted the reporter. Pelosi authoritatively answered, “No. It basically said, ‘Don’t be divisive on the subject.’”
The “it” was the statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To Pelosi, neither the CDF nor the Vatican nor the pope nor her bishop nor her priest have the say on whether she receives communion. She does. She alone does.
“I think I can use my own judgment on that.”
I’ve covered Nancy Pelosi on this issue for years, and I’ve dealt with a long list of egregious remarks from the Catholic congresswoman. That includes the infamous exchange in June 2013 when an annoyed Pelosi told a reporter asking about her defense of late-term abortion, “as a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me.” And yet, I can say definitively that this might be her most audacious statement yet.
What’s so ironic about this particular statement is that certain liberal bishops and many liberal Catholics are trying hard to give cover to pro-abortion Catholic politicians like Pelosi and Joe Biden. They say that to deny a pro-choice Catholic official Holy Communion would be to “weaponize” the Eucharist, to hold the sacrament “hostage” to “politics.” They counter that there ought to be a range of sins for which Catholic politicians should be held accountable—i.e., not only abortion but policies liberals care about, like immigration and “climate change.”
Sure, shrugs the liberal Catholic, abortion may have led to the deaths of over 60 million unborn babies in the United States since 1973, but that pales in comparison to a politician’s position on greenhouse-gas emissions or how to best enforce the federal government’s pre-established limits on illegal immigration. A Republican Catholic politician who doesn’t support tax increases on the rich or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deals sure as Hades dooms his soul just as mightily as the Catholic Democrat who refuses to vote against partial-birth abortion.
Can’t you see the obvious equal evil in both politicians?
So what if a Catholic politician supports Planned Parenthood, protests the “social justice” Catholic, don’t you know that there are Catholic Republicans who support pipelines and fracking?! Nancy Pelosi demanded not an investigation of Planned Parenthood for peddling fetal body parts, but of David Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress for exposing the sick business.
That’s the moral universe in which Pelosi the Catholic politician stands.
And yet, for Pelosi, this latest statement on the Eucharist is a new low, and it will be of no help to her liberal Catholic defenders. She contends that the only authority on whether she should receive Communion is herself, which plainly doesn’t help the liberal bishops trying to protect her. (One imagines the frustration of, say, San Diego Bishop McElroy, who must have read that statement and mumbled in frustration, “What in the world is she doing?”) It adds a fresh new layer of rebellion to her longstanding defiance of the Church on the matter of the Eucharist.
This latest spectacle brings me back to another Pelosi moment, when she was likewise accused of being her own priest.
It was Easter 2014. Congresswoman Pelosi was fresh from accepting a coveted prize, the highest annual honor bestowed by Planned Parenthood: the organization’s Margaret Sanger Award. She accepted another curious invitation. This one was from the devoutly pro-choice Episcopal Church, the same denomination that’s a member of the odious Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which, along with Planned Parenthood’s official chaplain (no, I’m not kidding), literally prays for legalized abortion.
That Holy Week, the Catholic congresswoman went to Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in San Francisco, where she helped wash the feet of the faithful on Holy Thursday, in the spirit of the leader of her flock in Rome, Pope Francis, who had recently found himself lumped among Pelosi’s legion of “dumb” people who are pro-life. (That particular Pelosian insight, as I had written about at the time, was her epiphany as she hugged Planned Parenthood’s 2014 Sanger Award. Speaking of pro-lifers, Pelosi told the Planned Parenthood faithful: “When you see how closed their minds are, or oblivious, or whatever it is—dumb—then you know what the fight is about.” The ladies at Planned Parenthood leapt up in appreciative applause.)
At Saint John’s in San Francisco, Pelosi was acknowledging not the stupid who oppose abortion, but rather, she sought to “honor the dignity and work of immigrants.” She helped Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus wash the feet of two immigrants, and she did some preaching of her own. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Pelosi “used the occasion to talk about passing HR15—bipartisan immigration legislation that her office says would ‘reduce the deficit by nearly $1 trillion, secure our borders, unite our families, protect our workers and provide an earned pathway to citizenship.’”
All things to make the liberal Catholic swoon.
Political preaching aside, it seemed likewise audacious that Pelosi would participate in this ritual. In her Roman Catholic Church, the priest washes the feet of the faithful on Holy Thursday as part of his servanthood and in keeping with his role in persona Christi. In Pelosi’s Church, the priest assumes that awesome responsibility: he stands in the literal person of Christ. That being the case, it looked as if Pelosi stepped up from her usual duties as a Democrat congresswoman into an even higher role. Was this Pelosi in persona Christi?
I wrote about it at the time, noting that “Of course, it’s probably only a matter of time. Pelosi in the past has taken upon herself the awesome responsibility of speaking for her Church on literal life-death issues.”
Do you remember this one?
“When does life begin?” Pelosi was asked by Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press in August 2008. Pelosi answered firmly for her Church, telling a national television audience: “I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator—Saint Augustine—said at three months. We don’t know. The point is that it shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to choose.”
Again, note the sheer audacity. Nancy Pelosi has never been publicly reticent or cautious about her support of abortion, nor perhaps apologetic or embarrassed about it or carefully avoiding comment because she knows it pits her against her Church. To the contrary, she is vocal and aggressive. In short, she refuses to let her Church instruct her on the abortion issue. We always knew that, but this latest statement goes even further.
Who decides whether Nancy Pelosi is worthy of Holy Communion and will be administered the sacrament? She has spoken: she does. This is Pelosi acting in the person of her priest. In persona Pelosi.
And yet, troubling as this is, Pelosi, like all of us (myself included), ultimately is accountable to herself in presenting herself for Communion.
“Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord,” says 1 Corinthians 11:27. St. Paul admonished that whoever takes the bread unworthily profanes the body of Christ and brings judgment upon himself or herself.
The bishops have a special responsibility (and accountability), and they can choose to aid Nancy Pelosi in that profanation or stop her. In the end, however, it’s her soul. She might not feel she has to answer to anyone on this issue. But ultimately, she will need to answer to God.