Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., perhaps the most rabidly pro-abortion Catholic woman in Congress, has finally gotten what she deserved. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, has ratified the opinions of Canon lawyer Ed Peters. The former Speaker of the House, the Cardinal said, is not to present herself for Holy Communion.
Now, of course, the decision to obey Canon 915, which governs the reception of our Lord’s Body and Blood at the holy sacrifice of the Mass, is up to Pelosi’s bishops and priests where she lives. But the point remains the same. That woman is not eligible to present herself for Holy Communion unless and until she publicly recants her position favoring the mass murder of the unborn, and then receives absolution for that grave sin in confession.
But the more significant observation is that none of the notorious pro-abortion Catholics should receive Holy Communion, and that includes Vice President Joe Biden. He and Pelosi received Holy Communion at the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis, and they both have flat-out lied to the public about Church teaching on abortion.
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An important point: Cardinal Burke is showing more concern for Pelosi and her soul than the priests and bishops who refuse to act.
What Burke Said
Burke’s spoke of Pelosi during an interview with The Catholic Servant. The newspaper asked Burke about Pelosi’s ridiculous answer to a reporter’s question about mass murderer Kermit Gosnell, who ran the infamous abattoir in Philadelphia. A reporter for The Weekly Standard asked Pelosi what the difference was between Gosnell’s crimes and other run-of-the-mill abortions, whereupon Pelsoi unbosomed this remark: “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,” The Servant asked Cardinal Burke, “are we to react to such a seemingly scandalous statement?” And, the question continued, “is this a case where Canon 915 might properly be applied?” Canon 915 reads thusly: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declarationof the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
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.
Pelosi’s declaring that either her faith or abortion are “sacred ground”—it’s hard to determine what she meant—and that abortion “should [not] have anything to do with politics,” was consistent with her other ridiculous falsehoods about Catholic teaching on abortion, which she has to know are falsehoods if she is the “practicing and respectful Catholic” she claims.
When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, and told evangelical impresario Rick Warren that he couldn’t answer the question of when life begins because it was “above my pay grade,” Tom Brokaw asked Pelosi the same question on “Meet The Press.” Pelosi answered thusly:
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. … St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.
That was, of course, utter and complete nonsense, as Archbishop Charles Chaput noted immediately. “Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills,” he said. “Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them.” Dozens of other bishops followed Chaput’s lead.
After Pelosi propagated her scandalous falsehood, Biden performed similarly, also declaring himself as Catholic as the Pope.
Both of these politicians, of course, conflated the debate over when life begins with the debate in the early Church over ensoulment; i.e., when a human being is sufficiently developed in the womb to receive a soul. Although Catholics believe ensoulment occurs at conception, even before those debates took places many centuries ago, the earliest Fathers of the Church had already condemned abortion. So regardless of any debate over “when life begins,” the Church has always condemned abortion. Always.
Surely, as committed a Catholic as Pelosi knows this, but if she didn’t know it when she chewed the rag with Brokaw, she has had plenty of time to study up, and indeed should have known it after the bishops publicly corrected her. Thus, she has no excuse to continue saying the things she says, or to continue supporting abortion. Moreover, even if she’s clueless about the history of Church teaching, she well knows that supporting abortion is a mortal sin, and that being in a state of mortal sin bars one from Holy Communion. This, of course, means she commits a mortal sin each time she receives Our Lord, which in turn means the best thing her priests and bishops can do is stop her from receiving it.
As St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to pray, “let not this Holy Communion be to me an increase of guilt unto my punishment.”
Cardinal Burke’s remarks ratify the judgement of Canonist Peters, who has been writing about Pelosi for years.
In 2010, he wrote, “there is no US Catholic politician whose conduct at the national level is more stridently and widely pro-abortion (to name just one area in which Pelosi’s machinations are gravely objectionable) and whose scandalous rhetoric is more overtly Catholic (many of her bizarre assertions the bishops have had to stop and refute) than is Nancy Pelosi’s.”
If her prolonged public conduct does not qualify as obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin, then, in all sincerity, I must admit to not knowing what would constitute obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin.
But, if I am right about the objectively evil quality of Pelosi’s public conduct, then hers should be the first case in which Canon 915 is applied.
Two years later, Pelosi’s opinion had, obviously, not changed. And neither had Peters’. He explained precisely why Canon 915 applied to Pelosi: “Canon 915, as I and others have explained many times, is not about impositions on individual conscience, it’s about public consequences for public behavior. It’s about taking people at their word and acknowledging the character of their actions. It’s about not pretending that people don’t really mean what they repeatedly say and what they repeatedly do.”
Enter Cardinal Burke, who explained something else about abortion that is crucial to understanding it. Abortion is not an odious crime because the Church says it is. It is not a grave evil because the Church teaches against it. The prohibition of abortion is not merely a discipline of the Church, such as meatless Fridays or clerical celibacy. Abortion is a moral outrage because murder trespasses the natural law. As with stealing, adultery, fornication, lying and other violations of the Ten Commandments, abortion is morally unacceptable for all human beings. The prohibition against abortion, which is willful murder, violates the law God implanted in us all. It is one of the four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.
In speaking of Canon 915, a priest told me, the language used is important. “I always speak of obeying Canon 915, rather than applying Canon 915. The reason is that denial of Communion is not a penalty, so if a priest denies [Holy] Communion to Pelosi, he is not applying a penalty to her. He is, instead, obeying the Church’s mandate against committing sacrilege and giving scandal.”
And, the priest said, members of the hierarchy speak of a “penalty” vis-a-vis Canon 915 because “if it’s a penalty, then he has discretion about whether to ‘apply’ the penalty.” Such a priest or bishop would “assiduously pretend that it is not a mandate, which binds him under pain of mortal sin.”
So, a key point in understanding Canon 915: Obeying it is not a matter of choice. A bishop or priest must always protect our Lord’s Body and Blood from sacrilege and scandal.
Why This Is So Important
Yet the cardinal’s remarks are less important for what they say, which most Catholics know, than what they can accomplish. American prelates have been reluctant to impose penalties upon the renegades who scandalize the Faithful not only by telling lies about Catholic teaching and misleading Catholics, as Pelosi and Biden have, but also by unworthily receiving Holy Communion. It is a bishop’s and priest’s duty to refuse Holy Communion to politicians such as Pelosi; and such a refusal has nothing to do, as heterodox or unschooled Catholics and even some bishops say, with using the Eucharist as a weapon. Speculation abounds about the reasons no one has stopped Pelosi. Not least among them is the fear of losing federal subsidies to Catholic charities.
Whatever the answer, the good Cardinal’s clear admonition can provide cover for any American prelate to do the right thing, as Archbishop Joseph Naumann did with Kathleen Sebelius. They can blame it on the highest juridical authority in the Church. Cardinal Burke is in a sense, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Holy Mother Church.
The question is whether the orthodox faithful, who are increasingly frustrated at what Pelosi, Biden and the rest are getting away with, can expect action from the American Catholic hierarchy. It should be obvious that all Catholics, and most especially priests and bishops, are obliged to protect the Holy Sacrifice at the altar. Indeed, canon law requires a priest to deny Holy Communion to those such as Pelosi. Thus, Pelosi isn’t the only one who commits a sin when she receives. Any priest who gives her Holy Communion violates canon law. Canon 914 instructs a priest thusly: “It is for the pastor to exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.” And then there’s 915.
As canonist Peters wrote when Pelosi and Biden received Holy Communion at Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass, “Nancy Pelosi will not change on her own.”
It is obvious that, if left to her own lights, she will never mend her ways. For her sake, therefore, and for those confused by the chronic scandal she gives, Pelosi needs to be formally warned against taking Holy Communion for so long as she promotes, as consistent with our Catholic faith, a variety of gravely immoral policies (per cc. 916, 1339); ministers, meanwhile, in her environs need to be directed to withhold Communion from her till advised otherwise by the competent ecclesiastical authority.
One would think Cardinal Burke is a competent ecclesiastical authority, depending on how one defines those terms, and Peters reminds us of an important aspect of the Canon 915 debate. The canons that govern the reception of Holy Communion aren’t merely intended to protect Our Lord. They are also meant to protect the would-be communicant from eternal damnation by receiving Our Lord unworthily. Thus, if Pelosi’s shepherds in the Church continue to permit her to waltz up the aisle to receive Holy Communion, they are not only subjecting our Lord to profanation by one of the most despicable Catholics in the country, but also encouraging Pelosi to commit a sin that will send her to Hell.
If those competent ecclesiastical authorities want to give Pelosi the pastoral care she needs, they must stop her from receiving Communion in the hope that she will reconcile with the Church and return to the fold of the faithful. If they don’t, and she continues what she is doing, God may well judge them accessories in her sin and hold them partly responsible for the disposition of her soul.