How to Handle Pelosi?

Deal W. Hudson

Today Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco spoke publicly in defense of marriage in Washington, DC in spite of a letter from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi asking him not to. She wrote her Archbishop not to show “disdain and hate towards LGBT persons” by speaking at a National Organization for Marriage march to the Supreme Court.

As Catholics of the United States, we have arrived at a moment in our history when the articulated defense, or even explanation, of the sacrament of marriage is called a hate crime by the House Minority Leader and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the nation’s most prominent “Catholic”politicians.

Even those who have followed the sad devolution of the Catholic presence in the US Congress into hardened dissent over the past 25 years were momentarily surprised by foolishness of Pelosi in calling out her own archbishop. Did she really think her ordinary would buckle? No, she knew better — priests and bishops such as Archbishop Cordileone may have an easy smile, a courteous manner, and a gentle touch but they do not cave in under public pressure, no matter how vitriolic, or dangerous, it may become.

The mention of danger is not, I believe, melodramatic, given the issue and the deep passions it invokes. Anger towards Cordileone has also been stoked by a letter he received the week before Pelosi’s, co-signed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom asking the Archbishop not to attend the NOM event. In addition, over 20,000 signatures were quickly gathered by an online petition sending Cordileone the same message. None of these public figures — Pelosi, Lee, or Newsom — we can presume, wishes any harm come to the Archbishop of San Francisco but they surely must know first-hand the unintended consequences they are risking.

Given that Pelosi wrote her letter knowing she would not persuade her Archbishop to stay home, why did she write it? No doubt the activists in the LGBT community asked her for some sort of public protest. Prior to the arrival of Archbishop Cordileone, the leadership in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, though firmly holding the line on the issue of marriage, has avoided gestures that would incite the powerful gay and lesbian community to action. The simplest explanation may be that Pelosi rebuked her Archbishop for getting out of step with his predecessors by giving the Catholic teaching of marriage a higher profile.

Pelosi, of course, doesn’t mind that her letter will insure that the substantial political support and donations she, and her political party, receives from gays and lesbians will continue. She also doesn’t mind restocking her capital on the Catholic left either, because Pelosi firmly believes the Church will one day “come around” on the marriage issue, along with abortion and contraception as well. Pelosi and her like do not see themselves as dissenters but a purveyors of what the future Catholic Church will be like. In her prophetic role, Pelosi views Archbishop Cordileone as simply another of those — mostly men — who have seen the inevitability of the Church bowing to the culture.

If this is a reasonable account of Pelosi’s actual reasons for writing a letter to her bishop and making it public, what then does Archbishop Cordileone do, beyond the letter he wrote in response to Pelosi. His letter denies the March is “anti-LGBT” and that to affirm the Catholic view of marriage does not imply an animus towards anyone or any group. “Rest assured that if the point of this event were to single out a group of individuals and target them for hatred, I most certainly would not be there.”

Anyone who knows anything about the Archbishop would not doubt his words for a moment, including, I am confident, Pelosi herself.

There are always calls for ex-communication when Catholic politicians express their dissent, which is entirely reasonable given the Canon 915 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The list of Catholic members of Congress who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” is long, though few are as flamboyantly manifest as Pelosi. Whatever course is taken by Archbishop Cordileone, I’m sure he concerned more for the salvation of her soul more than pursuing a public chastisement that would only further exacerbate the situation in San Francisco, both with Pelosi herself and the LBGT community that supports her. The pure foolishness of Pelosi’s action must give the Archbishop pause before making any further response.

Yet, it is also up to the Archbishop to clear the air the kind of scandal that misleads those who are unable to see Pelosi’s action for what it was. A wise and good shepherd, in the end, will find his sheep, especially the one who has strayed far away.

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