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Interview: Archbishop Cordileone on Biden, Pelosi, abortion and Pope Francis

November 09, 2021

In this wide-ranging conversation on “The Gloria Purvis Podcast,” host Gloria Purvis speaks with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco about some of the most contested issues in the Catholic Church today. Gloria asks the archbishop about President Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis, his relationship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the ongoing debate over Communion for pro-choice Catholic politicians and more.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

President Biden’s Meeting with Pope Francis

Gloria Purvis: There has been a lot of reporting in the Catholic media and even secular media on the meeting between the Holy Father and President Biden. He says they did not talk about abortion. He says that “we just talked about the fact the pope was happy that I was a good Catholic, and I should keep receiving Communion.” It is well known that President Biden, while he says he’s personally pro-life, does not behave in a way that promotes policies around the issue of abortion that are in accordance with the church’s teaching.

How do you interpret this comment?

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone: You brought up that [Mr. Biden is] personally opposed [to abortion]. That was his position at one time. It’s not what it is now. He seems to be more guided by the Democratic Party than his Catholic faith on the issues where we’re not in harmony. He recently said that he no longer believes that life begins at conception, which is a problem for a couple of reasons. One is, it’s not a matter of religious belief when life begins. Science tells us life begins at conception. The church affirms that. So he is explicitly dissenting not only from church teaching but from sound science.

[Biden] seems to be more guided by the Democratic Party than his Catholic faith on the issues where we’re not in harmony.

[On the pope’s comment], we don’t know if the pope really said that. The Vatican has neither affirmed nor denied it, but he may not have said that. I tend to believe that the pope didn’t say that, or at least exactly that. Many people in a position of leadership have had the experience that I’ve had, where often I say one thing and people hear something else. People tend to hear what they want to hear.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Abortion.

GP: A politician in your diocese, who is vocally pro-abortion, has put forward legislation [the Women’s Health Protection Act] that you would call “child sacrifice.” You’ve called on Catholics to pray and fast for [Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s] conversion. How has Speaker Pelosi spoken to you about that?

SC: I haven’t gotten any communication from her office on it…. [But] we’ve had conversations in the past, and she’s very respectful of me. I have to give her credit for that. She’s never defiant or mean-spirited. She’s always been very respectful. So I think she’s a good example of how, when there are bitter disagreements, we can still converse civilly.

I think [Nancy Pelosi] is a good example of how, when there are bitter disagreements, we can still converse civilly.

GP: When you asked for prayers for Nancy Pelosi, one of the things that I was thinking about is the difficulty on the spiritual level. You’re dealing with your children—your spiritual children, and [as bishop] you have care and concern for our souls. But then some people somehow received that as attacking her or targeting her. What would you want to say [to them]?

SC: Pope Francis tells us that we should be pastors, not politicians. So I don’t know what could be more pastoral than prayer and fasting. How can you argue with that? This is a very serious issue. Since Roe, more than 60 million babies have been murdered in their mother’s wombs. I mean, it’s a bloodbath, not to mention the mothers who have been harmed and dealing with those scars, those emotional scars and psychological scars, and very often are not allowed to even talk about it. They’re feeling this hole, this anguish inside. Those who say that they’re for women, their response is, “You’re not supposed to be feeling that.” So then they have to bury it.

Pope Francis tells us that we should be pastors, not politicians. So I don’t know what could be more pastoral than prayer and fasting.

Who offers them healing opportunities? We do. Who offers them opportunities to give birth? There are many choices. Yes, abortion is only one choice. It’s the one wrong choice. But there’s adoption. There’s raising the child by herself. There’s the old-fashioned solution of marriage. Our pro-life crisis pregnancy clinics that are run by people of faith, they’re the ones who are pro-choice because they’re giving her every choice, except one. These abortion clinics, they give her only one choice. And one choice is no choice. You have to have at least two options to have a choice.

GP: I’m familiar with this as someone that has been active in the pro-life movement. We need to be doing something to help families in need, to help women in crisis, to help change the culture and their attitudes about pregnancy.

I also think we in the pro-life movement need to not put people down when they do have babies in less than “ideal circumstances.” I remember being shocked that prominent pro-lifers were deriding this graph that showed that there were a larger number of African-American women who were having children outside of wedlock. I saw the graph, and I was like: “Yay. The pro-life message is being heard.” Other people saw the graph and were like, “What’s wrong with these Black women?”

Critics of Pope Francis

GP: I’ve noticed in the American church, Catholics will be vocally disrespectful of the Holy Father. What is your take on the way people talk about the Holy Father in the United States in that regard?

SC: I know there are some Catholics that have difficulties with our current Holy Father, Pope Francis. But he’s not the only pope that has been subject to criticism either.

It is a little unusual; traditionally, Catholics have had such great respect for the pope. [But] the way things are nowadays, we can’t deny that if people have difficulties with a decision or statement of a pope, that they will make that known. But there’s a way to do that respectfully.

We can’t deny that if people have difficulties with a decision or statement of a pope, that they will make that known. But there’s a way to do that respectfully.

What concerns me is—and this is just one example of how this happens in so many ways within the church—we’re just being co-opted by the culture in which we’re swimming, which is very hostile. If someone disagrees with you, it becomes a personal attack on the other person. That has not been my experience with Speaker Pelosi, and even in public, she shows that respect to the person and to the office. We don’t have much of that anymore these days.

I can’t help but think the pope is a father figure, right? And I’m sure somehow psychologically, definitely spiritually, [this] has to do with the demise of fatherhood. There’s such disrespect for fathers. Some people don’t even know what a father is, sadly enough, because of the circumstance that they had growing up, or their father was more of a problem than a grace and a help in their life.

Consistent Ethic of Life

GP: I read your pastoral letter “Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You,” which explains why we believe what we believe about abortion. You say it’s a pre-eminent issue because everything else is built on it. But you also make it clear that because of what we believe about the human person, we are also going to be opposed to racism. We’re also doing things around immigration. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

SC: This is the Catholic consistent ethic of life, right? I think one of the greatest breakthrough documents that our bishops’ conference has issued was the binational pastoral letter with the Mexican bishops’ conference on immigration, “Strangers No Longer.” It laid out very clearly five principles that any immigration policy has to respect, applying Catholic social teaching to the issue of immigration.

I hear criticism from some people that “the bishops are laser-focused on abortion; it’s the only thing that’s important to them; everything is invested there.” Well, first of all, in terms of investment, the church invests far more resources in programs to give immediate assistance to the poor than it does for the cause of respect for life in the womb.

But, as you said, abortion is pre-eminent. It’s difficult to compare abortion to racism per se or immigration per se because racism is an attitude, and it’s an attitude that manifests itself in different ways, some less serious and some more serious. So a racial slur is racist. It’s wrong, but it’s not as bad as segregation, which is not as bad as lynching. We’re horrified to think that this was tolerated and condoned in the pre-civil rights South, right? Well, abortion is at the same level of lynching because they both involve the killing of innocent human beings.

Abortion is at the same level of lynching because they both involve the killing of innocent human beings.

Immigrants are suffering tremendously. We need to come to their aid. I don’t see any legislators pushing a policy requiring border patrol agents to shoot at people crossing the border without documentation. That’s what abortion would be at that level. So we have to always recognize that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life in the most brutal way imaginable.

GP: People seem unable to understand the church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person being from womb to tomb legitimately means from womb to tomb. Too often we will get swallowed up in the talking points of a political party and believe that we have to have this kind of allegiance. Therefore we don’t talk about this other issue because it might not look good in my political party.

What is causing this ideology that makes us think that if you are talking about racism or immigration or anything else that somehow you’re less Catholic because you don’t talk explicitly about abortion—and vice versa?

SC: There’s obviously no problem if someone is more animated on the issue of immigration or capital punishment or some of those issues that are politically on the liberal side. It doesn’t mean they’re less [faithful], unless they’re denying the issues that are on the conservative side of the spectrum, unless they think abortion’s O.K. It’s great that some people are more energized on immigration. There’s so much work to do there. And so many of these other issues: Housing is a huge issue; homelessness is a huge issue here.

No matter what issue a Catholic is animated on it has to be with that broader perspective of the consistent ethic of life and all stages and all conditions.

The Communion Debate

GP: Next week, the U.S. bishops are going to gather for their annual meeting in Baltimore and discuss this new teaching document on the Eucharist in the life of the church.

But with the secular press getting involved, [asking], “What’s going to happen with President Biden or Speaker Pelosi regarding the sacraments?”—that seems to me to have been dominating the conversation around the Eucharist. What’s your take on how this has all played out in the media?

SC: The media certainly has been politicizing it. They keep bringing up [President] Biden and [Speaker] Pelosi. And the bishops were making the point that it’s not going to mention anyone by name, but it’s going to be a teaching document to clearly spell out these issues. Although, I have to admit with all honesty that it was the election of President Biden that really spurred this.

I have to admit with all honesty that it was the election of President Biden that really spurred this.

But it was way overdue. And now [having a] Catholic president who is so aggressive for abortion makes it very urgent. But it’s not going to be focused just on that. It’s going to be a teaching document about the Eucharist as a gift to be celebrated and to be received and to be lived.

GP: The question that I’m often asked and I’ve discussed this with people is: Should there be such a thing as banning “politicians” from receiving Communion? Do we need to just out-and-out ban certain people?

SC: A bishop or a pastor of a parish would have to have conversations to help the person move down a path of conversion. But if the pastor determines that there’s no way that this Catholic is going to get any further down the road—and this is a very serious matter causing a lot of scandal—there can be cause for [banning someone from Communion].

GP: I think polarization has seeped into the church, and we do see different pastoral and theological approaches among the bishops. Is this normal, healthy diversity, or is there a real threat to communion and unity within the U.S. hierarchy?

SC: We’ve had disagreements on this for a long time that seem to be getting more bitter now, and that does worry bishops. And I think we need to respect each other in doing what we think is the right thing in our conscience. So to criticize a bishop for doing or not doing [something] is to judge his conscience. So no matter what the bishop decides in this situation, we have to respect that.

Gloria Purvis is host of The Gloria Purvis Podcast from America Media. A radio and media personality, she has appeared in various media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS Newshour, Catholic Answers Live, and EWTN News Nightly, and hosted Morning Glory, an international radio show.


When Kelly Anne and Anthony Ferraro decided to tie the knot, Kelly wanted to make the day extra special for her soon-to-be husband. Since Anthony is blind, she knew he wouldn’t get to view her in her wedding finery, but nonetheless, she was determined to make sure he got to “see” her by on their big day.

Thanks for reading!

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