San Francisco Roman Catholic Archbishop George H. Niederauer has asked Nancy Pelosi to stop by for a chat. He’s relatively new in San Francisco, and he’s been getting letters. Lots of them, it seems, and the writers are not happy.
Nancy Pelosi, you see, had the temerity to talk about her faith and her church on Meet the Press, and some of the other faithful did not like what they heard. And they wrote letters, demanding that the Archbishop do something about it and Deal. With. This. Woman.
To Niederauer’s credit, he did not lash out at Pelosi in the manner in which Raymond Burke, the former Bishop of St. Louis, went after John Kerry. Where Burke makes demands and issues ultimatums, Niederauer chose to offer an invitation and suggested mutual conversation.
One aspect of the conversation, I’m sure, will be the question of "who speaks for the Roman Catholic church?" Niederauer can’t exactly say "don’t talk about your faith in public." Most clergy want the members of their flock to do more public witness to their faith, not less. Still, in a hierarchical organization — whether you’re talking about the Roman Catholic Church or the Office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives — there are official spokespeople who speak for the organization, and others who can offer their private opinions.
But if the conversation turns to whether Nancy Pelosi will continue to be welcomed at the Eucharist, that’s going to move into some dangerous territory for the archbishop. If he and his church are going to start denying people like Nancy Pelosi communion for not holding to their extremely rigid stance on abortion, I wonder who else they will hold to the standard of doctrinal orthodoxy and theological purity before allowing them to receive the Eucharist.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ November 2006 document "Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper": On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist [pdf] tries to offer some guidelines, but I’m more interested in some specific situations myself.
Will Antonin Scalia be denied the Eucharist for his public mis-statements of the Roman Catholic church’s position on the death penalty? Will Scalia, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas be refused communion for their continued enabling of the very kinds of state-sponsored acts of judicially mandated killing opposed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops [pdf]?
Will Rudy Guiliani and countless other Roman Catholic politicians be denied the Eucharist because they are divorced and remarried? (Pope Benedict certainly thinks they should be, by the way.)
Will Roman Catholic priests be denied the Eucharist for their acts of sexual abuse of minors? Will Roman Catholic bishops, archbishops, and cardinals in other places be denied the Eucharist for putting their church’s reputation ahead of the safety of "the least of these," the children entrusted to their care?
Will David Addington and other Roman Catholics in the Bush Administration be denied the Eucharist for their planning and execution of an immoral war and their justifications for and enabling of the use of torture? (Both Popes John Paul and Benedict had a few things to say about the War in Iraq, as I recall.)
Will Roman Catholics who "harbor deliberate hatred" of Nancy Pelosi (like perhaps some of those who wrote letters to Niederauer) be denied the Eucharist, for this grave sin? Will Bill Donohue and those like him who stoke such deliberate hatred in others be denied the Eucharist, for their leading others into sin and thus causing grave public scandal?
"Happy Are Those . . ." states "we should be cautious when making judgments about whether or not someone else should receive Holy Communion." That’s a caution I hope the Archbishop takes seriously.
I know I do — and I’m not even a Roman Catholic.