Cardinal Gregory Cannot Duck the Pelosi-Communion Ban

Canon lawyers disagree on whether Church law requires other bishops to honor Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s “Notification” barring Speaker Nancy Pelosi from Communion. But the logic of the matter is unavoidable. Other prelates—most notably Washington’s Cardinal Wilton Gregory—cannot ignore the challenge.

The Washington archdiocese, in its first effort to avoid the question, issued an official statement: “The actions of Archbishop Cordileone are his decision to make in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.” While certainly true in itself—Archbishop Cordileone does indeed make the decisions in the San Francisco archdiocese—that statement subtly implies that the decisions are not binding elsewhere. Thus the statement continues: “Cardinal Gregory has not instructed the priests of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to refuse Communion to anyone.”

But just across the Potomac river from Washington, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, announced that he would honor the San Francisco decision, because the disciplinary action imposed by Archbishop Cordileone “is not limited to just a geographical area.”

So the bishops, along with the canon lawyers, disagree. As I observed earlier this week the Vatican “is not very likely to resolve that question any time soon.” But if other bishops are not obligated by Church law to support Archbishop Cordileone, are they not obligated by logic and by pastoral necessity?

Archbishop Cordileone is Nancy Pelosi’s bishop, the pastor of the archdiocese in which she lives. After multiple attempts to admonish her, he has reluctantly reached the conclusion that she must not receive Communion—because by doing so she imperils her own salvation and causes public scandal. To be sure, he made that decision in San Francisco. But the danger to her soul and the danger of public scandal do not magically disappear when she leaves the geographical confines of that archdiocese, to take her post in the nation’s capital.

Under any ordinary circumstances, different dioceses within the Catholic Church accept each other’s pastoral decisions, just as different American states honor each other’s actions under the “full faith and credit” clause of the US Constitution. If you plan to marry in another diocese, the pastor will require a letter from your own diocese, certifying that you are free to marry; and if Diocese A says that you are not free to marry, Diocese B will not allow the wedding.

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