Officially, bishops and archbishops in the Roman Catholic Church have one boss, the pope. Of course, their ultimate authority figure is Jesus.
That’s why many Catholics and non-Catholics have been asking a very simple question in recent days: W.W.J.D.? What would Jesus do?
The question has been circulating since the archbishop of San Francisco announced on Friday that priests there no longer are allowed to provide communion to one of the most prominent Catholics in America, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi’s home is in San Francisco. But the liberal Democrat’s views on abortion have put her on the radar of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, whose views are more conservative than hers.
On Friday, he released a letter to Pelosi in which he said she must disavow her support for abortion rights or stop coming forward for communion.
He wrote, “I am hereby notifying you that you are not to present yourself for holy communion, until such time as you publicly repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of penance.”
Cordileone’s letter prompted a flood of observations, and some should make church leaders squirm with discomfort.
Yes, there have been statements of support from Cordileone’s fellow bishops and from faithful Catholics.
But Pope Francis himself has spoken out on the debate among U.S. Catholics over the issue of whether politicians who support abortion rights should be permitted to receive communion. Last September, he said bishops should be pastors, not politicians.
“What must the pastor do?” Francis asked. “Be a pastor. Don’t go condemning. Be a pastor, because he is a pastor also for the excommunicated.”
Of course, Francis is steadfast on abortion. He calls it murder. But he also reminds people, and his fellow church leaders, that we are all sinners and communion is not a prize for the perfect, but a medicine and nourishment for the weak.
Last year, when Archbishop Cordileone and other U.S. bishops pushed to ban President Biden, another prominent Catholic, from receiving communion, Francis conveyed his thoughts by saying communion “is not the reward of saints but is the bread of sinners.”
Most Americans are not absolutists on the abortion issue. They are neither totally anti-abortion, nor totally pro-choice. They see circumstances when they believe the procedure is proper and should be allowed. But they also see circumstances when it should not be permitted.
The archbishop and his letter and the spectacle it creates will sow division and further polarize an America that already is sharply divided — rather than working to bring healing at a time when our nation sorely needs that.
The archbishop’s statement on Friday led to comments like, “W.W.J.D.? I think he said something about casting the first stone,” and “I don’t advocate for pro-death-penalty Catholics to be denied communion. It’s wrong to weaponize a sacrament.”
Congressman Mike Thompson, a California Democrat and a member of the Catholic Church, shared a letter he received from a friend who is a priest. That priest grasps the significance of communion much better than does the archbishop.
“I want to write a longer piece about those bishops who seek to keep some from the table of Christ, but for now I will say this: It is not your table (nor mine). Bishops, priests, etc., are neither the hosts, nor the bouncers, nor the ones who wrote the guest list.
“Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests; he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared.
“We are the guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So, stay in your lane, please. The wait staff don’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag-tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.”
Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.
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