The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

It’s Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Battle of San Francisco: Nancy Pelosi vs. Archbishop Cordileone in an Epic Battle over Abortion

An epic battle is shaping up in the city of San Francisco. But in this case, it is not about military powers. No, it is about a political power and a religious power. We’re talking about the titanic battle between the current Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Democratic representative of San Francisco, and the Roman Catholic bishop, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvador Cordileone. And they are squaring off in an epic battle that all of us had better watch very closely. Just to set the stage for why this battle exists, just consider the fact that Salvador Cordileone, as the archbishop of San Francisco, holding that position in the Roman Catholic Church, he actually sees himself as the custodian of Catholic truth and he sees himself holding a pastoral responsibility for the entire archdiocese of San Francisco.

And he sees a very errant Catholic Church member, in this case who happens to be one of the most important figures in American politics, one of the most important women in the history of American politics, the Democratic speaker of the House who holds to a thin minority but holds to a very thick pro-abortion position and has done so for the entirety of her political career, elected from a liberal district and a very liberal city within an extremely liberal region, Nancy Pelosi holds to a very liberal view on abortion and she holds to it tenaciously. In recent weeks as speaker of the House, she has forced to a vote legislation that did pass the House that would supposedly codify Roe v. Wade in the event the Supreme Court should reverse that decision, but actually as any intellectually honest person would have to recognize, takes abortion to an even more radical position.

Thankfully, that bill did not pass in the Senate. So, in one sense, this is a liberal conservative battle within the Roman Catholic archdiocese of San Francisco. So, why should evangelical Christians and others be watching this so closely? Because this fight is not only epic, it is also relevant to every single one of our denominations, churches, and religious movements. Because we are looking here at the fact that Nancy Pelosi, who repeatedly declares herself to be a devout Catholic, actually is operating in the political sphere in a way that directly contradicts central Roman Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life. And Nancy Pelosi and Roman Catholics are not alone in this quandary. The Roman Catholic Church defines this issue far more thoroughly than is the case in most Protestant denominations because it operates by catechesis and canon law.

But nonetheless, the reality is that Nancy Pelosi really does represent the left wing of the Democratic Party when it comes to abortion politics and she’s naturally elected from one of the most liberal congressional districts in the United States. By contrast, Catholic Archbishop Salvador Cordileone holds to a very traditionalist, conservative understanding of Roman Catholic moral teaching. And let me just state how conservative his position is. His position is so conservative that he actually believes that Catholics should believe Catholic doctrine, that Catholics should believe and operate by very clear, very codified, very defined Catholic moral teaching. And here’s the issue. The archbishop of San Francisco is not just worried about Nancy Pelosi and her political influence, he is, in his own words, very concerned about her soul.

The background of this really is fascinating. Nancy Pelosi comes from a form of Democratic royalty. Her father was very involved in politics back in Baltimore, Maryland, very famous as mayor of that city. She ended up in San Francisco, and even as a wife and mother married to a man who became very wealthy, she leveraged that into political leadership and eventually became not only a member of Congress, a very outspoken, well-publicized member of Congress, but she eventually became the House leader of the Democrats and the Speaker of the House, the first woman to serve as speaker of the House of Representatives. After a time out of office during a Republican majority, she is back and she’s back in a big way when it comes to abortion.

And the timing of this is not coincidental. Because even as the leaked draft of an opinion that would reverse Roe v. Wade by Justice Samuel Alito became an issue of controversy weeks ago, Democratic abortion rights supporters have been working over time to try to legislate Roe v. Wade. But as we’ve seen, even as they say that’s what they intend to do, they actually intend to take abortion rights in an even more radical position than Roe v. Wade. The midterm elections are coming up and it is expected by both parties that the Democrats will lose their majority in the House and thus, Speaker Pelosi will no longer be Speaker Pelosi. And given at least the signals coming from within the Democratic Caucus, it’s actually unlikely she would be back as speaker.

Given her age and given her tenure, also perhaps given her political profile which in the future might not be liberal enough, it’s unlikely that she would be back for something like a third act as speaker of the House of Representatives. But on the other side, you do have Archbishop Salvador Cordileone. How did he become Archbishop? Well, that’s important as well. He took that office in the year 2012. Just do the math, that’s the year before 2013. What makes the difference? In 2012, Benedict XVI was the pope and it was he as a conservative pope who appointed this very conservative Catholic prelate to be the archbishop of San Francisco.

And yet the very next year, 2013, Benedict XVI, having retired in historic first in the modern era of the papacy, Francis was elected. Pope Francis, coming as a cardinal archbishop from Argentina, he became the new pontiff and is, as you well know, considerably more liberal than Pope Benedict XVI. It is absolutely clear that the Catholic cardinal archbishop of San Francisco is much more allied with the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, which also means the official doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church, than the far more liberal and often temporizing Roman Catholic pontiff, Pope Francis. And that leads to another fascinating turn in this story. But first, let’s look at exactly what the archbishop said to the speaker of the House of Representatives.

We don’t have to wonder what he said because even as the news reports came that he had tried repeatedly to gain a conversation with the speaker of the House, instead, we are told that on May the 20th of this year, the archbishop of San Francisco released a statement telling the speaker of the House, not so much a speaker but as the fact that she was a Roman Catholic under his care in San Francisco, that she is not to present herself for communion. This is at least in temporary form what can only be described as an excommunication, not allowed at communion. But at this point, this does not invoke official Roman Catholic excommunication, this is a step of discipline short of that.

I have the actual document that the Archbishop sent to the speaker of the House of Representatives and also released to the public. After offering some prefatory material in Roman Catholic doctrine and his role as Archbishop, he goes on to say, “As you have not publicly repudiated your position on abortion and continued to refer to your Catholic faith in justifying your position and to receive Holy Communion, that time has now come. Therefore, in light of my responsibility as archbishop of San Francisco to be,” and this quotes the code of canon law, “concerned for all the Christian faithful entrusted to care,” the archbishop said, “by means of this communication, I am hereby notifying you that you are not to present yourself for Holy Communion, and should you do so, you are not to be admitted to 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.”

So, speaking as a confessional evangelical Protestant, let me step back and say maybe we need to talk about what it means for a Roman Catholic to be forbidden by the Roman Catholic archbishop from presenting herself for communion at any of the churches within the diocese. What does that mean? Now, remember, the Roman Catholic Church, and this is a crucial difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants and in particular between Roman Catholics and evangelicals, I’m speaking as an evangelical Baptist reformed theologian, I’m telling you that we do not hold as evangelicals to a sacramental understanding of the mass. We don’t even believe in the mass as the appropriate focus either upon the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ nor the center of Christian worship.

But nonetheless, Catholic theology is built around two issues here that are absolutely crucial. The first of them is the Roman Catholic notion of the priesthood and that includes the power and the authority of the priest to either admit or to not admit persons presenting themselves for communion, for the mass in this case, for the Eucharist. And what we’re talking about here is the fact that the archbishop of San Francisco is now publicly forbidding the Democratic speaker of the House, a Roman Catholic under his care, from presenting herself at any church within the archdiocese for communion. Again, what does that mean? Well, Roman Catholicism is sacramental. It holds to a sacramental theology.

It holds that persons in the state of grace need regularly the sacramental grace that comes by the means of participation in the mass and in communion, receiving communion which after all involves the Catholic doctrine or transubstantiation and many other issues that simply point to the fact that you cannot be a Catholic in good standing if you are forbidden from access to communion. But as an evangelical Protestant who doesn’t even believe in the mass or for that matter of priesthood, here’s what I do believe in courage when I see it, and I also believe in the fact that we have parallel issues here within our own churches and our own denominations where a similar kind of moral conviction and courage is very much necessary.

In a letter to all the faithful in the archdiocese, the archbishop wrote, “Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi’s position on abortion has become only more extreme over the years especially in the last few months. Just earlier this month,” he wrote, “she once again, as she has many times before, explicitly cited her Christian faith while justifying abortion as a choice, this time,” he writes, “setting herself in direct opposition to Pope Francis.” Now remember, Pope Francis is I think rightly understood as a far more liberal Pope. But nonetheless, the speaker, speaking of Pope Francis said, “They say to me, ‘Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the Pope.’ Yes, I do. Are you stupid?”

Now, just go on the record saying that the one thing I do think that Nancy Pelosi is right about is that she has, as a mother of five, more direct experience in giving birth to children than does the Roman Catholic pontiff. But the point here is that what you see is sarcasm directed by one who presents herself as a devout Catholic even to a liberal Catholic pope. By the way, the archbishop accused the speaker of the House in this case of committing the sin of scandal. And even as you think about it, remember that the very root of that means a stone of stumbling. And in this case, that Roman Catholic meaning is that the Speaker of the House would lead others by her own example and words away from the truth, in this case, the truth of the sanctity of human life, thus creating a scandal.

So, okay, just how much in conflict is the speaker of the House with historic Catholic doctrine when it comes to the issue of abortion? Well, very helpfully, the National Catholic Register has given us a series of comments made even very recently by the speaker of the House on the issue of abortion. We ought to take a look at them. Speaking against the reversal of Roe v. Wade, speaking for abortion rights and what she talks about as a woman’s decision making, she says, “And I say this as a practicing, devout Catholic, five children in six years and one week.” Again, she said, “as a practicing, devout Catholic.” But the point is she doesn’t get to say what devout is. In fact, no individual gets to say what devout is.

Devout means in keeping with devotion to the church, and that would include what the church teaches. And that principle holds whether or not you claim to be a devout Catholic or a devout Baptist. Devotion in this case is proved by commitment to the teachings held by the church. That comment was made on May the 15th just of this year, just days ago, just about a week earlier, a little more on May the 4th of 2022, speaking to The Seattle Times editorial board, the speaker of the House said, “The very idea that they would be telling women the size, timing or whatever their family, the personal nature of this is so appalling, and I say that as a devout Catholic.” She repeated, by the way, at that point, the sarcastic line about the pope and babies.

On March the 22nd of this year, the speaker of the House made very similar comments, offering words of warning to the Court against reversing Roe v. Wade. She said, “It isn’t about what is your religious belief. It’s what is the right of people to make their own decisions about the sizing and time or if they’re going to have a family. This really gets me burned up,” said the Speaker, “in case you didn’t notice, because again, I’m very Catholic, devout, practicing, all of that.” She then said, consider these words, “They would like to throw me out, but I’m not going, because I don’t want to make their day.” Well, in another way, the archbishop of San Francisco has made her day. On December the 2nd of last year, again, supporting abortion rights, the speaker said, “and I say that as a practicing Catholic.”

On September the 24th of last year, again, the Speaker of the House claimed her Catholicism while denying the teaching of the Catholic Church. On July the 22nd of last year, doing the same thing, supporting abortion rights, defending abortion, the speaker said that she was speaking “as a devout Catholic and mother of five in six years.” But then, we have to look at April the 18th of 2018 and a crucial issue here is that Ms. Pelosi was, at that point, speaking to a crowded Georgetown University, a Catholic institution. She said then, “I know this is touchy on this campus, on all Catholic campuses, and it’s an issue in the diocese. But the fact is, God gave us all the free will and our sense of responsibility to answer for that. So, I am a rabid supporter,” those are her words, “of a woman’s right to choose and a similar issue of the LGBT community,” and she went on to say, “because they are connected.”

In 2016, she defended abortion rights saying that she was doing so as a Catholic, a devout, practicing Catholic, in 2013 as a practicing and respectful Catholic, in 2008 as an ardent practicing Catholic. I think by now you get the point. You can see where the archbishop of San Francisco decides that one of them is going to have to defend Catholic truth. And evidently, that falls to him. And that means condemning the current Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives for claiming to be a devout Catholic while doing everything she can to undermine the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on a crucial doctrine including the sanctity and dignity of every single human life, including explicitly unborn human life. Now, why am I giving this so much attention today? Because this is, as I said, an epic fight. This is worth watching.

Even if you don’t know much about the abortion controversy in the United States and if you don’t know much about the internal workings of the Roman Catholic Church, when you have something like the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church telling one of the highest ranking women in the history of American politics that as a Catholic, she cannot present herself for communion, this is a massive story. When you come to understand what’s behind it, you come to understand it actually is an extremely important story. And as I said, the most important issue here is courage. The doctrinal courage in this case of a Roman Catholic archbishop that vastly, I say again, vastly exceeds the moral courage of many Protestant and evangelical church leaders and pastors in dealing with this same issue.

Part II

Local Editorial Board Argues Archbishop Cordileone Should be Removed for Pelosi Order — But Would a Catholic Bishop Be Removed Just for Upholding Catholic Doctrine on Abortion?

But we can’t leave this story there. There are two other big issues as a part of this that we really need to understand. One of them is the fact that the local newspaper or one of the two major newspapers in San Francisco, this one, The San Francisco Examiner, just recently released an editorial calling upon Pope Francis to fire, to remove the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco. Why? Because he dares to uphold Catholic doctrine far more skillfully, I might point out, than the pope himself. The paper says that the timing is awful because the archbishop has upped the ante, grandstanding on this issue, picking a fight with the most powerful woman, the second most powerful Catholic in American politics. Who would the first be? By implication, the president of the United States, a similarly undevout, devout Catholic, Joseph Biden.

The paper coming from the far left, and by the way, this paper was actually at one point owned by William Randolph Hearst and was the flagship paper of the Hearst newspaper empire. If you don’t know much about that, well, that’s pretty crucial to American history as well. William Randolph Hearst was so hungry for publicity, for news, he demanded a war to cover and later claimed to have actually started one. The editorial board of The San Francisco Examiner points to the archbishop saying that in 2015, “He attempted to force teachers and staff at San Francisco’s Catholic schools to condemn gay rights, abortion, and birth control as intrinsically evil.” Now, again, where would the Catholic archbishop have come up with that language? It would be from the official doctrine including the catechism and canon law of the Roman Catholic Church.

The archbishop didn’t make that up, it’s official Catholic doctrine. You’ll notice here that the newspaper joined by liberal Catholics called upon Pope Francis to fire the archbishop then for actually being Catholic. One particular paragraph in this absolutely atrocious editorial just points to what will happen to someone who shows courage like this in the public square. The editors wrote, “The answer is that Cordileone’s chief loyalty is not to Christ, but to the cabal of far-right American bishops led by Raymond Leo Burke, a Catholic prelate who has led a continual campaign to undermine Pope Francis’ authority.” Now, again, you have a newspaper editorial board saying that the Catholic archbishop and upholding Catholic doctrine is not loyal to Christ, but rather to a far-right group of American bishops. The astounding arrogance of an editorial board writing that way.

But you’ll notice so many of these groups believe in say a Catholic archbishop keeping his nose and his hand out of their business, but they certainly do not return the favor. In making a theological judgment, The San Francisco Examiner says, “It is Nancy Pelosi, not Archbishop Cordileone, who reflects the true spirit of Christian care in the city of St. Francis.” That’s right, San Francisco. “For the Catholic Church to continue to thrive here, we need a leader who opens the church’s doors to all, not a small-minded man who locks out his political adversaries.” Now, just notice again how this is redefined, “just a small-minded man against political adversaries.” You’ll also notice the very subtle or not so subtle warning here for the Catholic Church to continue to thrive here in San Francisco.

Just consider Pope Francis, you share the name with the city itself, if you want Catholicism to be relevant to San Francisco, it had better be well, San Francisco relevant.

Part III

Biden, Pelosi, and the Kennedy Move: Tracing the History of a Liberal Maneuver at the Expense of Doctrine

But finally, before leaving this issue for today, I’m giving it so much attention because this isn’t just about this epic battle in San Francisco. It’s about a battle that might eventually show up in every denomination, in every church. Everywhere, there are people of conviction who argue about just how far we have to take this abortion logic after all. And let’s also recall that evangelicals were brought rather slowly to make a comprehensive affirmation of the sanctity of human life and to understand that this is a matter of doctrine, and teaching, and morality.

And we also have to remember that we all face those who would like to change that doctrine. And we also face a similar move, and this is a very successful liberal move of recent decades to say, “Oh, I’m a devout Catholic,” and then to turn around and undermine Catholic teaching. Now, where would Nancy Pelosi, and for that matter, where would Joe Biden and so many others have learned that? They learned it from a family with a big Catholic name. They learned it from the Kennedys. I’ve discussed this before on The Briefing. I just want to remind you that as recently as 1971, the then surviving Kennedy in the United States Senate, Senator Edward Kennedy, had written to a constituent saying that he recognized the sanctity of human life and opposed abortion.

But the family made a turn, and they made a turn even as they were seeking to perhaps platform another Kennedy for a national role as in a presidential race. The family basically changed its position, but it did so based upon a conversation that was held in 1964. The Kennedy family had invited to Hyannis Port, the Kennedy Family Compound, a group of liberal Catholic theologians who helped them to work through how to go around Catholic moral teaching. We know that that meeting was held in the summer of 1964. It’s very well-documented by one of the theologians who was present at the meeting. The liberal Catholic theologians were trying to help the Kennedy family to find a way to be personally opposed to abortion and thus faithful to Catholic doctrine while suggesting that their political responsibility could lead them to do the opposite.

Reverend Giles Milhaven, one of the theologians present at that meeting, reflected this, “The theologians worked for a day and a half among ourselves at a nearby hotel. In the evening, we answered questions from the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Though the theologians disagreed on many a point, they all agreed on certain basics, and that was that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion.” That is over against the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, by the way, updated a generation later in the current Catholic catechism. That catechism gives no ground. It liberalizes in no way the Catholic Church’s commitment to the sanctity and dignity of unborn life.

But the point we need to make is that the Kennedy move has been repeated over and over again and that includes by the current president of the United States and the current speaker of the House. But at least in the case of the speaker of the House, her local archbishop in San Francisco has decided to close the door of communion in a public move. And yet, he says that his ultimate goal is not just publicly to rebuke the speaker of the House, but rather to call her to repentance and correction on this matter of grave, moral consequence. As I said, what we need is this courage for more religious leaders. We need pastors and church leaders, denominational leaders to make this an issue. Because if you do not, then you really do not hold to the doctrine.

But I mentioned this last part about this conversation with the Kennedy family going back to 1964 just to remind us that one of the temptations we face is to try to find a way around very clear biblical doctrine, around the very clear theological and moral teachings of our church, to find a way to say, “Yes, I can hold to that personally but in my public life, my political life, my other life, I can hold to an absolutely contradictory position.” Let’s be honest. That didn’t make sense in 1964. It doesn’t make sense now. It doesn’t make sense for Roman Catholics. It doesn’t make sense for evangelical Christians either.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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