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Archbishop Cordileone raises issue of excommunication for abortion advocates

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone / Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 5, 2021 / 18:07 pm (CNA).

Calling abortion “the most pressing human rights challenge of our time,” Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone on Sunday invoked the excommunication of prominent Catholic segregationists in the early 1960s as an example of a legitimate response to Catholics politicians who support “a great moral evil.”

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, the leader of the Archdiocese of San Francisco pushed back against recent statements by Catholic politicians who have denounced a new state law in Texas that prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The op-ed doesn’t mention any politicians by name, and it stops short of advocating excommunication for any specific pro-abortion politicians. President Joseph Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who lives in the San Francisco Archdiocese, are among the Catholic political leaders who have come out strongly against the Texas law.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Dennis Callahan, Archdiocese of San Francisco/Public domain.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Dennis Callahan, Archdiocese of San Francisco/Public domain.

In the op-ed, Archbishop Cordileone draws a parallel between the abortion politics of today and the institutional racial discrimination that existed in the United States in the mid-20th century.

He specifically cited the example of Archbishop Joseph Rummel, an outspoken civil rights leader who led the Archdiocese of New Orleans from 1935 to 1964.

“Rummel did not ‘stay in his lane.’ Unlike several other bishops throughout this country’s history, he did not prioritize keeping parishioners and the public happy above advancing racial justice,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote. “Instead, he began a long, patient campaign of moral suasion to change the opinions of pro-segregation White Catholics.”

Archbishop Rummel’s campaign included admitting two Black students to New Orleans’ Notre Dame Seminary in 1948. Three years later, he ordered the removal of “white” and “colored” signs from Catholic churches in his archdiocese. In 1953, he ordered an end to segregation in the archdiocese, and he formally integrated New Orleans’ Catholic schools in 1962.

“Many White Catholics were furious at this disruption of the long-entrenched segregationist status quo,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote.

“They staged protests and boycotts. Rummel patiently sent letters urging a conversion of heart, but he was also willing to threaten opponents of desegregation with excommunication,” he continued.

“On April 16, 1962, he followed through, excommunicating a former judge, a well-known writer and a segregationist community organizer. Two of the three later repented and died Catholics in good standing,” the archbishop wrote.

“Was that wrong? Was that weaponizing the Eucharist?” Archbishop Cordileone asked in the op-ed.“No. Rummel recognized that prominent, high-profile public advocacy for racism was scandalous: It violated core Catholic teachings and basic principles of justice, and also led others to sin.”

Archbishop Cordileone noted that Texas is providing $100 million to fund pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes while also providing mothers who want to keep their babies with free counseling, parenting help, diapers, formula and job training.

“You cannot be a good Catholic and support expanding a government-approved right to kill innocent human beings. The answer to crisis pregnancies is not violence but love, for both mother and child,” he wrote.

“This is hardly inappropriate for a pastor to say,” Archbishop Cordileone concluded. “If anything, Catholic political leaders’ response to the situation in Texas highlights the need for us to say it all the louder.”

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  1. Okay, this is great, but the time for talk is long past. It is time for this to move beyond theoretical discussion. An actual politician needs to be excommunicated by an actual sitting diocesan bishop. Otherwise, the statement has little credibility. Which bishop will be first to take action?

    • Sound observation, Andrew. At this time, the most recent public statements of Biden and Pelosi et al. are starkly in contrast to Catholic Teaching. As such, the ongoing delays in taking strong action against such politicians are remarkably even less justifiable than they were before when they should have already been taken. Among many such approaches, I suggest something along the following:

      The very first thing that should be done ASAP is for Abp. Cordileone to instruct all parish pastors under his jurisdiction to immediately refuse to give Communion to Pelosi (he still has not shown the courage to do this, I believe, which is long overdue) and any other offending politician, and to also have each pastor publish in the parish bulletin the bishop’s clear statement to this effect with the rationale behind it. Also, a copy of the main points of Cordileone’s statement should be posted prominently on some walls and/or doors at various locations within their churches for all parishioners/visitors to clearly see it, and also serve to advise any known reprobate politician of what they can expect at that church. The statement can also include an invitation to the reprobates to make an appointment with the parish pastor (perhaps better yet, the bishop) to receive the proper catechesis with an explanation as to why any nonsense like “personally opposed but” is not acceptable.

      Next, Cordileone should strongly advocate that all of his fellow bishops adopt the same policy throughout the US, and work more forcefully toward getting some fellow bishops to support the effort and, more importantly, ACT in a similar manner. Following almost immediately on this should be the development of a policy (aided by sound canon lawyers) which makes it crystal clear that any currently elected politician who continues to advocate for abortion after having been denied Communion and does not publicly change their views will be excommunicated within no more than 6 weeks from the first date the denial of Communion goes into effect. This is more than enough time for the politician to examine his/her conscience, seek the catechesis, and so on.

      More details, requirements, etc. addressing various situations can of course be worked out as needed, but the denial of Communion must begin ASAP along with the establishment of a policy of excommunication for any politician who continues to publicly defy Church teaching.

    • This issue is and has been a Thomas More moment and long since past it’s time of action as this commenter states. I truly believe the Church(and other Christian denominations), Jews included should have stopped all of this after Roe.
      So many speak of America as the bed rock of freedom and opportunity. Where were they when these millions of lives were extinguished for what ?
      The rhetoric now is just that. Appreciate the Archbishop for the letter, but not enough

  2. I agree with the previous commenter. The time for talk is over. The sides have been drawn and the Cardinal is not about to persuade anyone who wasn’t already pro life to become pro life. Biden, Pelosi, and the others need to be excommunicated. And that needs to happen now. How do I teach my children that abortion is a mortal sin and an abomination in God’s eyes when the Catholic Bishops allow these pro abortion and pro sodomy “Catholic” politicians to receive Holy Communion? And how do I teach my children that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of God Himself when the Catholic Bishops allow these pro abortion and pro sodomy “Catholic” politicians to receive Holy Communion?

  3. Biden and Pelosi both claim to be practising Catholics. Yet each of them openly supports and promotes abortion, and indeed other positions contrary to Catholic teaching.
    Their position is a direct and sustained public challenge by them to the Church, of which they claim to be loyal members. It would in my opinion be reasonable to excommunicate them. This would send a powerful message to all catholics and more widely throughout the world. The Church has to be a sign of contradiction to the world – it should not conform to the world. It should not be afraid to take a stand on this issue. We should not be afraid! Let’s do it.

  4. The time for talk is over now and has been for a long time – with Catholics like most of us. But – we are dealing with a majority of people ‘catholic’ (small c) and non-catholic for whom the taking of helpless human lives in the womb is not a big deal.

    Step by step – The Texas ruling being the most recent. Both Biden and Pelosi are over the roof about it, which is to be expected – to the extent that they can be ignored because their reactions are so completely predictable. The ‘press’ is (predictably) taking sides with them, saying that this proves that Catholics are really divided about this and only those like Nan & Joey are forward thinkers who can be trusted about it.


    With every passing day, less and less ‘Catholics’ can really support it with a straight face, and I believe that the day is coming closer when a Bishop will publicly excommunicate a ‘Catholic’ politician who publicly supports abortion.

    Congresswoman Pelosi is probably shaking in her boots, and she should be.

    She needs our prayers.

  5. Compared to LGBT abortion is the greater evil because it’s killing of the innocent. It’s the world’s greatest crime. Many who support it politically in Congress or by individual vote are morally complicit. Archbishop Cordileone is himself morally obliged to act. As said previously regarding Vatican reengineering of the original USCCB agenda to address the issue and sanction, then sandbagged by CDF prefect Cardinal Ladaria at the Pope’s bidding. What was produced an insignificant letter to the faithful of what’s contained in the Catechism. Bishops are Apostolic defenders of the faith. There’s no justification to refrain from their duty. And like the good shepherd guide misled souls from the precipice. From condemnation at judgment. Malaise is not limited to sins by laity. When there’s so much at stake talking of morality has virtually no effect on the support given abortion by Catholics. A few have acted as bishops. All others not simply should, they must act.

  6. I think it is one thing for a Catholic politician to argue he has an obligation uphold the law of the US irrespective of his personal beliefs. Its another to have a tantrum over a Supreme Court ruling upholding a law which would limit ( but not completely prevent) abortion and say you are going to make a full court press to overturn the ruling and make abortion as freely available as possible. Its more than a little disgusting and certainly against Catholic teaching. Its past time for these Bishops and Cardinals to stop talking and ACT. Pretending these offending politicians are not giving public scandal is not fooling anyone.

  7. Curious about how long Pelosi has held the pro-choice “Catholic” view, I searched and found an NCReporter interview from 2002. Notable among other quotes was this by Pelosi:

    “The divinity in me bows to the divinity in you.” Any theologian want to comment???

    There was also this question put to Pelosi: “Is it more difficult today to be a pro-choice Catholic then it was, say, ten years ago?” [NOTE: She had been a member of Congress since 1988; the interviewer was asking about 1992…]

    A [Pelosi]: “It’s about the same….

    “I have never in my district in California, in my archdiocese…if I was going to [be allowed to] receive communion; I never knew if this was the day it would be withheld. And that’s a hard way to go to church. Fortunately, I’m invited — I have a big family — I go to a lot of weddings, I’m in a different church every week. I’m a moving target. I travel, so I’m not exactly a target in terms of always being in the same church, although I go to St. Vincent DePaul, which is my neighborhood parish.

    “In addition to that, on many occasions the archdiocese has told the nuns that I couldn’t be the speaker at some event. And that’s hurtful because we have so much in common. But it’s the decision the church has made.”

    The decisions Pelosi has made at the intersection of her faith and her politics are her own. If she were to think with the Church, with God’s commandments, and with common sense, she would put herself in penitential stock for whatever days remain in her natural life.

    Ms. Pelosi has been in Congress since 1988 and has apparently held her pro-abortion “Catholic” view for all this time.

    Question for the Bishop: HOW MUCH LONGER WILL Nancy BE ALLOWED TO CAUSE SCANDAL, SHAME, AND DISGRACEFUL PAIN to the Body of Christ? HOW MUCH LONGER WILL Nancy BE ALLOWED to PUT HER OWN and many another’s ETERNAL LIFE/SALVATION AT GRAVE RISK? Will you wait another 33 years???

  8. I’m not against excommunicating pro-infanticide “Catholic” politicians. But the question is whether they can be excommunicated? Canonist Edward Peters wrote several essays (many of them published on this very site) stating that Canon Law as it stands does not provide for excommunicating pro-aborts.

    I’m not a Canon Lawyer myself (just the regular civil kind) so anyone comments from those more knowledgeable than me on this subject would be appreciated.

    • Response to Johann du Toit:

      Canonist Peters is indeed a fine canon lawyer who at times uses the fallacy of credentialism as a hammer to dismiss legitimate possibilities of canon law interpretations/applications that differ from his, especially if such possibilities are raised by those who are not canon lawyers. In this he frequently resembles those “experts” of the past who rhetorically asked “is this not the carpenter’s son”? Still, he has a well-deserved reputation as a legitimate voice of canon law interpretation that should always be taken seriously and honestly engaged. However, many people look to Peters as if he has a gift of canon law interpretation infallibility, and so his views on certain Church matters involving canon law are all too often considered the final word on such things. This is, of course, not the case, and Peters does not make this claim, plus at times he will state that his interpretation of this or that law or application may not be correct. This prudent humility is most welcome in the following section from one of the articles cited above:

      “Canon 1369 authorizes a ‘just penalty’ against those who violate its terms. That broad (but not unlimited) phrase ‘just penalty’ allows for tailoring the canonical consequences in specific cases to the wide variety of fact patterns that could be addressed in its light, here, everything from Cuomo’s speeches and comments in support of this abortion law to his ordering a ghoulish light show in celebration of its enactment. That said, while the notion of a ‘just penalty’ is broad, there is some question as to whether it extends, at least immediately, to excommunication. Here is not the place to air that technical issue, but neither should its presence derail consideration of using Canon 1369 against Cuomo. Some justice is better than no justice and even if (I say, if) excommunication could not be imposed immediately on Cuomo, the Church could still impose some canonical sanctions for his conduct. If, moreover, such sanctions as could be imposed per Canon 1369 were ignored by Cuomo, Canon 1393 would allow for their augmentation, making the possibility of a ‘just penalty’ reaching to excommunication stronger.”

      So instead of declaring that canon law as it stands does not permit excommunication for politicians like Cuomo, Peters acknowledges the possibility of excommunication in the interpretation and application of Canon 1369 and/or Canon 1393 against Gov. Cuomo. Accordingly, the possibility of also “reaching excommunication” in the cases of Pelosi, Biden, and others who continue to act in defiance of Church doctrine seems equally reasonable if not more so based on the public stances of these people that include, at least in the case of Biden, openly declaring his opposition to Church teaching that life begins at conception. No faithful Catholic can maintain this erroneous position, and those who do also at least tacitly deny some related Church teachings, including the infallible teaching of the Immaculate Conception (it is not the Immaculate Transplantation, nor is it the Immaculate Birth, and even before modern science demonstrated that life begins at conception, we see once again the Church ahead of its time in declaring an infallible doctrine in 1854 that also underscores when life begins). What’s the point of honoring/celebrating the conception of the Blessed Virgin if she wasn’t even alive according to the heretical beliefs of Biden and others of a similar mindset?

      As I set forth in my previous comment, I favor the immediate withholding of Communion from openly reprobate politicians, and then excommunication in due course for those who remain openly hostile to the Church’s teaching in this regard. Even if some canonical hoops have to be jumped through to get to excommunication, such jumping should be done in defense of the Faith.

  9. Long, long past time for this to be done, not merely discussed. One is left to wonder what the eternal consequence is for an episcopate which refuses to admonish the sinner as a result of its own self interest.
    Stop “agonizing.”
    Do it.

  10. The good archbishop better excommunicate these politician(s) before he submitts his required retirement because this pope (if still in) will accept his retiremnet within minutes.

  11. Texas abortion “law” is far from a pro-life idea. Roe is still “settled law”. Hence, Texas “law” remains unconstitutional until we re-write it to the Hyde Amendment concept. Texas “law” also removes rape or incest and illegally arms the citizenry to act like vigilantes/bounty hunters allowing anyone to file a lawsuit for observing an attempt at abortion. That would more than likely flood the courts with cases.

    Anyone openly wearing abortion-on-demand on their sleeve should also be excommunicated. As always, it would be hard to invoke.

    Pray to Jesus for guidance on the most egress of mortal sins.

  12. I’m with Terence McManus above. I think Abp. Cordileone is addressing all Catholics, not just Biden and Pelosi and co., all Americans, in fact. He is very articulate and very courageous. To go into the Washington Post is to go into the lion’s den. (Hey). I give him a lot of credit.

  13. Abortion is in deed a terrible thing. And so is sexual abuse of minors. Why does abortion receive so much attention and sexual abuse is swept under the rug? Why are the unborn more important than the already born? Just asking.

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