- The Catholic Thing - https://www.thecatholicthing.org -

Does Enforcing Canon Law Harm the Flock?

Asked about the denial of Holy Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, Pope Francis commented in a recent interview [1]: “When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem. That’s all I can say.” The question was obviously prompted by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s announcement that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would no longer be admitted to Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The Speaker had rightly been found by Cordileone to be “obstinately persist[ing] in manifest grave sin” [canon 915] owing to her vigorous defense and promotion of the crime of abortion. And this despite multiple warnings that such activity contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church on the inviolability of innocent unborn human life.

Cordileone did nothing more than simply and courageously enforce canon law in view of the “salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law.” [canon 1752] When he promulgated the Code of Canon Law in 1983, Pope St. John Paul II stated:

We therefore, exhort all our beloved children to observe, with sincere mind and ready will, the precepts laid down, buoyed by the hope that a zealous Church discipline will flourish anew, and that from it the salvation of souls will be ever more fervently promoted, with the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. (Apostolic Constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges)

The pastoral aim of the Church is nothing other than the salvation of souls. The bishop who aspires to be a truly good shepherd must lead the flock by word, example, and – in the case of seriously wandering sheep – by the unapologetic use of canonical discipline, calling back those who have strayed, stirring them out of any complacency and complicity with evil that derive from rejecting the truth of Christ and embracing diabolical errors.

Pope Francis’ comments seem to imply that he thinks that bishops such as Cordileone have lost the “pastoral nature” of their office by actually fulfilling one of the duties of that office, namely upholding canon law. Is the enforcement of canon law an offense against the pastoral nature of the Church? Is it problematic for a bishop to insist that the spiritual welfare of his flock depends in no small measure upon the embrace of the Church’s law, which serves to safeguard her doctrinal treasury?

Does being a good pastor really mean ignoring canon 915 in the case of pro-abortion elected officials? Is canon law truly part of the pastoral mission of the Church? Or is it a cause of harm to the pastoral care of the flock?

Pope St. John Paul II stated that “a Code of Canon Law is absolutely necessary for the Church.  Since the Church is established in the form of a social and visible unit, it needs rules, so that its hierarchical and organic structure may be visible; that its exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to it, particularly of sacred power and of administration of the sacraments is properly ordered.”


When confronted by Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s obstinate and scandalous public rejection of the Church’s teaching on the inherent immorality of abortion, the aim of the Church’s pastors must be the putting to an end of such scandal by convincing the offending parties to repent and recant.

Any word or deed, any silence or passivity of the Church’s shepherds likely to create the impression that Pelosi and Biden’s support for abortion is not really a serious offense against God’s law, and therefore does not render them ineligible to receive Holy Communion, is in fact a grave scandal that leads to great harm to the pastoral mission of the Church.

In that same interview, Pope Francis repeated his earlier condemnation of abortion as being equivalent to hiring a hitman to solve a problem. If a bishop were to face the unlikely, but not impossible, situation of a Catholic who publicly boasted of his ongoing practice of hiring hitmen to kill various people, and who also asserted that he should be allowed to receive Holy Communion, should that bishop hesitate in rejecting such an incredible claim? Should the bishop pause to consider that perhaps the most pastoral thing to do is to ignore canon 915, or simply to say that it is not clear that the murderous acts of the hitman and his employer constitute manifest grave sins?

It is unimaginable that a bishop would do such a thing.

On the matter of killing unborn children, Pope Francis on the one hand forcefully condemns it, and on the other hand criticizes bishops who take steps to end public support for such killing by Catholic political leaders such as Pelosi and Biden. This puzzling dissonance frustrates bishops and others who see no good reason to avoid enforcing canon law in a matter of such gravity.

They are also saddened by the realization that Pope Francis’ words cannot but undermine Archbishop Cordileone’s efforts to call Speaker Pelosi to repentance, while giving Pelosi the mistaken impression that she can in good conscience receive Holy Communion – something she did on June 29th at St. Peter’s Basilica at a Mass presided by Pope Francis. Meanwhile, she continues to use her influence and authority to promote the grave sin of abortion. Pope Francis greeted the Speaker and her husband before Mass.

Catholic hitmen and their Catholic employers and Catholic abortionists and their Catholic allies in government are all called to obedience to God’s law. If they are publicly obstinate in pursuit of evil and try to justify their wrongs, they need to be publicly rebuked, lest they become hardened in their sinful thoughts and actions.

And the wider community needs to know that the Church places the salvation of souls above seeking a false peace with those who wreak deadly harm upon innocent people.


*Image: Nancy and Paul Pelosi greeted by Pope Francis in the Vatican, June 29, 2022 [Vatican Media]

You may also enjoy:

Robert Royal’s The Pelosi Dialogues [2]

Brad Miner’s Excommunicate Pelosi [3]

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.