San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer, home bishop to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, released a letter Friday saying that local Catholics are pressuring him to forbid the California Democrat to receive Holy Communion because of her recent televised remarks favoring abortion.
It was the strongest warning yet from a man who calls himself Mrs. Pelosi’s “pastor” that one of the country’s most powerful politicians may be denied the church’s top sacrament.
Before doing so, “I am writing to invite her into a conversation on these matters,” he said. “It is my obligation to teach forthrightly and to shepherd caringly, and that is my intent.”
The archbishop’s letter, a copy of which was delivered to Mrs. Pelosi’s district office Thursday, spelled out his objections to Aug. 24 statements the speaker made during a “Meet the Press” interview.
Mrs. Pelosi, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, said in the interview that church fathers, such as St. Augustine, had not defined over the centuries when life begins nor did they have a solid position on abortion.
The Catholic Church settled on life beginning at conception only about 50 years ago, she added.
Her remarks brought rebukes from 11 prelates, including the archbishops of Washington, New York, Chicago and now San Francisco. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also released a statement condemning and correcting her remarks.
In his letter, Archbishop Niederauer said it was his responsibility to clarify what the church does teach and to reject “erroneous, misleading and confusing positions.”
He added that “many” Catholics have e-mailed or written him since then to express “dismay and concern” about Mrs. Pelosi’s remarks and to ask whether she should be denied Holy Communion for her “public support for abortion.” Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, said the e-mails ran in the hundreds.
Normally, the church relies on people to appraise themselves as to whether they should receive Communion, he wrote. If they “knowingly and obstinately” reject church doctrines, he added, they should refrain.
“In his or her conscience, properly formed, a Catholic should recognize that making legal an evil action, such as abortion, is itself wrong,” he said.
Catholics who have “uncertainties and questions” about Catholic doctrine are still welcome to partake, he added, “as long as they are striving to understand what the Church professes and to resolve confusion and doubt.”
He concluded, “I regret the necessity of addressing these issues in so public a forum, but the widespread consternation among Catholics made it unavoidable. Speaker Pelosi has often said how highly she values her Catholic faith, and how much it is a source of joy for her.”
In fact, he said, the congresswoman “has been supportive of legislation that helped to implement some of the social teachings of the Church.”
Mrs. Pelosi’s office did not return several calls asking for comment. Officials from St. Vincent de Paul Parish also did not respond.
The California Democrat also occasionally attends St. Helena Catholic Church in the Napa Valley wine district in the Diocese of Santa Rosa. According to the California Catholic Daily, a San Diego-based publication, the church auctioned off a dinner - for $14,000 - with the House speaker last year as a fundraiser for its school.
Its pastor, Monsignor John Brenkle, identified Mrs. Pelosi as a “part-time member” of his parish and said he had not discussed her positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues.
“I’m not about to refuse her Communion,” he told the newspaper, “because if I did that, I’d have to take a litmus test on everybody.”
Deirdre Frontczak, spokeswoman for the diocese, said Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel F. Walsh also would not refuse Communion to Mrs. Pelosi.
“He’s never asked anyone not to take Communion,” she said.
In a 2004 statement on the issue, “he said it is the role of the church not to pass condemnation on someone,” she added. “He didn’t see using Communion as a tool of discipline.”