You’ve probably read a story of two on this topic already. Here’s from NPR: “An archbishop bars Pelosi from Communion over her support for abortion rights.” First sentence: “The Catholic archbishop of San Francisco says that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is no longer allowed to receive Communion because of her vocal support for abortion rights.” To put this into the context of Mormon policy (more on this below), this action was taken not because Speaker Pelosi did “submit to, perform, arrange for, pay for, consent to, or encourage an abortion” (quoting the official LDS abortion policy). What she did was publicly oppose the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade by the US Supreme Court and reiterate her support for abortion rights. So it seems clear the Archbishop of the Diocese of California (which covers the Bay Area) took this action in response to public statements by Pelosi, not based on any particular actions she took.

But wait, there’s more. Here’s a story from the National Catholic Reporter: “Banned by Cordileone in San Francisco, Pelosi receives Eucharist in Washington.” First sentence: “Two days after San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announced he would bar her from receiving the Eucharist in her home city due to her stance on abortion rights, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly received the sacrament at a Catholic church in the nation’s capital.”

I guess you could call this Archbishop roulette. Can Nancy Pelosi take the Eucharist (at a Catholic mass)? Yes, she can and just did. But she apparently cannot do so at a Catholic mass in San Francisco. Unless (and I’m a little unclear on this) the priest presiding at a performance of the mass in San Francisco nevertheless were to allow Pelosi to take the Eucharist despite the statement of the Archbishop for his diocese. It’s not clear to me how much latitude a priest has in this matter. In a sense, the story is more about the fragmented and somewhat arbitrary nature of Catholic church governance than about Nancy Pelosi.

And just to throw in a little interdenominational rivalry, here the first paragraph of a recent statement from Bishop Marc, the Episcopal Bishop of California:

As the Episcopal Bishop of California, I want to speak to the public announcement that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be denied communion in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and to say Speaker Pelosi is welcome to communion in all Episcopal churches in the Bay Area, as I am sure she is welcome to many faith communities everywhere. I support Speaker Pelosi in her clear commitment to women, children, and families, her evident deep, personal faith, and her embrace of a country founded on principles that include, importantly, separation of church and state.

What About the Mormon Sacrament?

So here is an interesting question: If Nancy Pelosi attended an LDS sacrament meeting, perhaps at the invitation of an LDS senator, could she partake of the LDS sacrament during that portion of the service? The simplest and most direct answer is yes, she could, since non-LDS visitors are not barred from partaking of the LDS sacrament. In theological parlance, the LDS Church has an open communion. Whether a particular person in attendance chooses to partake or not is largely up to the individual. In certain instances an LDS bishop may direct a member of his congregation to not partake of the sacrament for a certain period as part of formal or informal church discipline, but even this is largely self-policed.

A slightly different hypothetical question is whether Speaker Pelosi should partake of the LDS sacrament if she, as a visitor, attended an LDS sacrament meeting. Since it might be seen as a political rather than a religious act, perhaps she should (under this hypothetical) decline.

A more interesting hypothetical is whether an LDS representative or senator who publicly voiced the same views as Speaker Pelosi on abortion rights could or should partake of the LDS sacrament. I think the answer is, “Yes, he or she could and should,” given that the LDS policy states that an LDS person must not “submit to, perform, arrange for, pay for, consent to, or encourage an abortion.” The policy speaks to actions related to a particular abortion. It does not address public statements by elected officials, and the Church has wisely given elected officials who happen to be LDS a wide berth in the political positions they take and the public statements they make.

What About Mormon Communion?

LDS terminology can be confusing both to insiders (Mormons) and outsiders. In the Catholic church, the term “communion” is often used as a synonym for “the Eucharist,” what LDS call “the sacrament.” But “communion” also refers to what in LDS parlance is termed “full fellowship.” So to be in communion means both to be allowed to partake of the Eucharist and it also means being in full fellowship as a member of the Catholic church. You might say that being allowed to take or being barred from taking the Eucharist is, in the Catholic church, the primary marker of being in full fellowship.

In the LDS Church, the “full fellowship” status is regulated by bishop or branch presidents, sometimes in conjunction with stake presidents or mission presidents. Formally, that is a private matter between the bishop and the member, although in practice it is likely to be semi-public knowledge or even fully public knowledge. And there’s a whole spectrum of informal and formal discipline a bishop can impose, from mandated repentance to abstaining from the sacrament to disfellowship to excommunication.

So here is another hypothetical that addresses the full fellowship aspect of “communion” as opposed to the sacrament aspect: Could, would, or should an LDS senator or representative who voiced the same views on abortion rights as Speaker Pelosi have their “full fellowship” status called into question by their local bishop? I’m going to say no, using the same logic as in the earlier discussion: The LDS abortion policy (it’s official; it’s printed in the Handbook) speaks to actions related to a particular abortion. It does not address public statements by elected officials, so no bishop should presume to police public statements by LDS elected officials, at any level of government. Also as noted earlier, in the past the Church has wisely given elected officials who happen to be LDS a wide berth in the political positions they take and the public statements they make, about abortion or any other issue.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion becomes a very active political topic, there are two scenarios where this hands-off LDS approach could change. First and most obvious, there is nothing to prevent an activist and conservative LDS bishop from taking disciplinary action against an LDS elected official who is a member of the bishop’s congregation based on public statements about abortion, despite the limited scope of the LDS abortion policy and the previous tacit hands-off policy of the Church. For that matter, there is nothing to prevent a Trumpist LDS bishop (which describes at least half of the bishops in the United States) from taking disciplinary action against an LDS elected official who, for example, claims President Biden was lawfully and properly elected and that the 2020 presidential election was fairly conducted and free of any material fraud. There might very well be a lot of negative publicity if the action was made public and the action, whatever it is, might get rescinded. But with the Church half full of Trumpist bishops who embrace, to some degree, the Trumpist view that no laws or regulations or moral norms are valid (at least on Trump and his followers), who knows what LDS bishops will do in the future? Sitting US Senator Mitt Romney got booed and heckled by LDS Republicans at the Utah State GOP Convention last year. Maybe it won’t be long before Romney and other LDS officials get booed and heckled by their LDS Republican bishops.

Second and less remarked is the steady drift, under the leadership of President Nelson, away from moderate and reasonable policies and practices toward more extreme and fundamentalist positions. Who knows what counsel and direction is being given behind closed doors to General Authorities by the senior leadership, which is then passed down to local leadership in closed-door leadership meetings at the regional level? Whatever moderating influence was exercised by senior LDS leadership in the past may not be carried on by the Nelson-Oaks presidency. However one may describe the Nelson-Oaks philosophy of LDS leadership, the terms “moderate” and “reasonable” do not leap to mind. Who knows what the future LDS course will be, but the prevailing winds are definitely pushing the Good Ship Zion to starboard.

So here are some questions from this post worth discussing:

  • What do you think of a Catholic archbishop formally and publicly declaring Speaker Pelosi to be out of communion?
  • Would an LDS stake president or General Authority, like Episcopal bishop Marc, ever issue a public invitation to Speaker Pelosi to come attend an LDS service and partake of the LDS sacrament?
  • Would or should an LDS elected official who publicly voiced a position on abortion similar to that recently stated by Speaker Pelosi be barred from taking the LDS sacrament or subject to other informal or formal discipline by his or her LDS bishop?