ROME — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an outspoken abortion rights advocate, met privately with Pope Francis on Wednesday and received communion from a priest during a papal mass at the basilica. Saint-Pierre, according to a participant.
Ms Pelosi, who has denounced the Supreme Court’s decision to strip constitutional abortion protections as ‘outrageous and heartbreaking’, sat in a diplomatic VIP section of the basilica and received a private blessing from Francis before the morning mass celebrating the feasts of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Later, she stood in line to receive Communion from a priest along with the rest of the congregants.
The Vatican did not return a request for confirmation of the meeting, but released a photo of Ms Pelosi and her husband, Paul Pelosi, greeting Francis at the side of the basilica.
Pope Francis has consistently called abortion evil and deadly, and supported the church’s absolute opposition to it, and at Wednesday’s Mass he said church leaders must “continue to take care of human life”. But Francis has also vigorously opposed the politicization of the church’s sacraments and told newly consecrated archbishops whom he bestowed the woolen pallium stole on Wednesday to be inclusive and not to “get pinned down to certain of our sterile debates”.
He added, “So many times we become an open-door church, but only to turn people away, to condemn them.”
Earlier today, Francis released a new apostolic letter on the church’s liturgy, in which he stressed that the celebration of Mass belongs to “the totality of the faithful united in Christ.”
“The liturgy does not say ‘I’ but ‘we’,” Francis wrote, “and any limitation of the scope of this ‘we’ is always demonic.”
Francis has said in the past that “I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone” and preached that Communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners”. The Vatican has urged conservative U.S. bishops not to reduce the sacrament to a political issue after several floated the idea last year of denying communion to President Biden and other pro-right Catholic leaders to abortion. The priest in Ms Pelosi’s hometown, conservative Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, had said he would deny her the sacrament until she stopped publicly supporting abortion rights.
The rift between these conservative American bishops and Pope Francis, who has explicitly identified the United States as the source of opposition to his pontificate, has resulted in a rare open fracture in the Church. Last year, Francis’ top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote a letter to U.S. bishops warning them that continuing an effort to deny communion to Catholic abortion-rights supporters could “become a source of of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the largest church in the United States.
Long before Ms Pelosi’s visit on Wednesday, Francis had made it clear through the symbolism favored by the Vatican that he preferred an inclusive approach.
During a visit to Rome in October, President Biden, the first Roman Catholic to hold the Oval Office in 60 years, received communion at St. Patrick’s Church in Rome after announcing that Pope Francis had told him during their long private meeting in the Vatican that he should continue to partake of the sacrament. The Vatican declined to comment at the time.
At a pre-Independence Day hot dog and burger reception on Tuesday evening at the residence of the US Embassy to the Holy See, Ms Pelosi toasted the evening in front of a crowd of hundreds, including ambassadors and priests, and the former US ambassador. at the Vatican Callista Gingrich and her husband, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Ms Pelosi spoke about the importance of faith and called Mr Biden a man of deep faith.
“Faith is an important gift, not everyone has it but it is the path to so many other things,” she said.
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On Wednesday, Ms Pelosi, who also visits Italian leaders while in Rome, followed Mass with a visit to the Sant’Egidio community, a Catholic charity Francis admires for its work with refugees and the poor.
Ms. Pelosi met refugees there and, at an event to mark a $25,000 State Department donation to the charity, mentioned attending Mass with Francis and leaders of the church and spoke about the importance of preaching the gospel through action.
“We had the pleasure of attending Mass this morning with His Holiness and so many church leaders,” Ms Pelosi said. “In the spirit of St. Francis, which is the name of His Holiness and my city of San Francisco, I thank you for preaching the gospel, sometimes using words.”