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Pelosi receives Communion at Vatican after earlier U.S. bishop refusal

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/29/2022 Stefano Pitrelli
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., looks at Pope Francis as he celebrates a Mass on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, June 29. © Alessandra Tarantino/AP Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., looks at Pope Francis as he celebrates a Mass on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, June 29.

ROME — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic and vocal supporter of abortion rights, received the Holy Communion on Wednesday during a papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, according to an attendee at the Mass who observed it.

The ceremony at the Vatican stood in marked contrast to the decision by conservative San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone to ban her from receiving it in his own diocese because of her stance on abortion.

In September, Pope Francis had said, “I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone,” although he later added that he had never knowingly encountered during Communion a politician backing abortion rights, and reiterated the church position that abortion is “murder.” But critically, Francis had said that the decision about granting Communion to politicians who support abortion rights should be made from a pastoral point of view, not a political one.

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Pelosi’s Communion comes shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, erasing the constitutional right to abortion. The Vatican’s own Pontifical Academy for Life had reacted to the decision by calling for a “nonideological” debate: “In the face of Western society that is losing its passion for life, this act is a powerful invitation to reflect together on the serious and urgent issue of human generativity and the conditions that make it possible,” said the academy’s head, Mons. Vincenzo Paglia.

During Wednesday’s Mass at the Vatican, according to media reports, it wasn’t Francis who personally handed Pelosi the holy wafer, as his active participation in Masses is increasingly prevented by a knee condition that often requires him to use a wheelchair. Before the Mass, Pelosi had a greeting with the Pope where she received a blessing, according to an attendee.

The Vatican did not provide any statement on the matter and declined to comment. But in a city-state such as the Vatican, steeped in religious symbolism, Pelosi’s Communion can hardly be considered an oversight. It took place on the day that Francis issued an apostolic letter extolling the virtues of Mass, reminding his church of how such celebration belongs to “the totality of the faithful united in Christ.”

“The liturgy does not say ‘I’ but ‘we,’ ” wrote Francis in his letter, “and any limitation on the breadth of this ‘we’ is always demonic.”

It remains to be seen whether the Communion given to Pelosi may have any effect on Cordileone’s decision, which was shared by at least four other U.S.-based dioceses. Cordileone’s order to deny Pelosi applies only to churches in his diocese, where Pelosi resides.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrives for the Mass of Saint Peter and Paul, in St Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, June 29. © Remo Casilli/Reuters U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrives for the Mass of Saint Peter and Paul, in St Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, June 29.
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