Column: ‘It’s really none of his business.’ On abortion, San Francisco sides with Pelosi over archbishop

Split photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has denied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi communion in his archdiocese because of the Democrat’s stand on abortion.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times; Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Jeff Fleckenstein was headed to the gym for his usual routine — work on various muscle groups, strengthening his core — but even before he got there he was exercised.

“Cordileone is an ass,” he said of San Francisco’s archconservative archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, who made national headlines last week by cutting off House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a devout Catholic, from Holy Communion. The reason was her heretical stance on abortion.

“It’s just such a hateful way to come at people,” said the 70-year-old retiree who, like Pelosi, supports abortion rights. “Instead of being this inclusive church of love, it’s just very strict and hateful.”


Connie Lopez agreed. Like Fleckenstein, she was raised Catholic but no longer practices the faith.

“I don’t find that very Christian of him,” Lopez said of the archbishop’s punitive action. “Forcing your religious beliefs on other people? That’s what makes wars.”

The archbishop’s decision comes as the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Cordileone, 65, who fiercely opposes same-sex marriage and birth control along with abortion, has long been at odds with this city. Here permissiveness and embrace of the countercultural are widely considered two great civic virtues.

He fought against COVID-19 restrictions, allowing priests to secretly hold indoor services, and undermined public health experts by spreading misinformation about vaccines — no need, Cordileone said, because of his “strong” immune system — and claiming asymptomatic people “very rarely” pass on the deadly disease.

(Pelosi fought her church’s leader over that issue, too. “With all due respect to my archbishop,” the congresswoman said, “I think we should follow science on this.”)

San Francisco resident Jeff Fleckenstein
Jeff Fleckenstein said it was “hateful” to deny Communion to Rep. Nancy Pelosi because of her abortion stance.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times )

The formal ostracizing of Pelosi, in a tweet and a letter to members of the San Francisco archdiocese, garnered Cordileone the widespread attention he seems to crave and was celebrated by critics of the powerful Democrat as a well-deserved comeuppance.

“The archbishop’s notification might mark the beginning of the end for another experiment run amok: the notion that Catholics can simultaneously rattle rosary beads in public while working overtime against bedrock teachings,” one conservative commentator wrote in the Washington Post. “The phrase ‘pro-choice Catholic’ should no more run trippingly off the tongue than ‘carnivorous vegetarian,’ say, or ‘rampaging pacifist’ ”

The sanction has played quite differently, however, among Pelosi’s constituents, who for more than 30 years have routinely sent her back to Congress with overwhelming victory margins.

San Francisco resident Susan George
Susan George said Pelosi’s position on abortion is none of Archbishop Cordileone’s business.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

It was an unseasonably warm day in the city, the sun beating harshly down, when Susan George stopped to talk as she toted her grocery bags home to Bernal Heights. “I think he should be reassigned, or let go,” the 65-year-old physician said of San Francisco’s assertive archbishop.

George was raised Catholic by parents who left the church, five children into their marriage, because of its official opposition to birth control.

“It’s really none of his business where she publicly stands on abortion,” George said. “Pelosi represents all the people. Not just the Catholics.”

Even some of those who are not necessarily fond of their congresswoman, or who harbor ambivalence about abortion, said Cordileone had overstepped.

Nicky Starr recalled the dust-up over Pelosi’s solo visit to a hair salon amid COVID restrictions — “like she’s so special” — and suggested, at age 82, it was well past time for her to retire. Still, the 65-year-old pet store manager said, it’s not Cordileone’s place to weigh in on public policy.

“Religion shouldn’t get involved,” Starr said while unloading cartons of dog kibble. “The whole thing of state and religion, to me those are two different things.”

San Francisco resident Connie Lopez
Connie Lopez said it was un-Christian for the archbishop to deny Pelosi Communion.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

A few blocks away, Lopez was on a morning walk through Glen Park, a tidy village-like neighborhood tucked in the south end of the city. She wore a San Francisco Giants hoodie to complement her San Francisco 49ers face mask.

Lopez, who is 68 and retired after many years as an office receptionist, recalled working in an OB-GYN clinic soon after abortion became legal and thinking “it was a good way to get out of a really bad situation.” Then, Lopez said, she became pregnant, and “once I felt the baby growing inside me, I had to take a different opinion.”

“I don’t know if I could ever do it for myself,” Lopez said of having an abortion. But, she went on, “everybody ought to have the right to choose and nobody ought to tell someone else you must have this baby.”

Pelosi, for her part, responded to Cordileone this week on MSNBC, accusing him of a double standard by allowing proponents of the death penalty, which the church also opposes, to continue receiving Communion.

“I come from a largely pro-life Italian American Catholic family,” said Pelosi, whose mother hoped she would become a nun. “So I respect people’s views about that. But I don’t respect us foisting it onto others.”

The guessing over who’ll replace the legendary lawmaker gets extended for now.

Lauren Sujeeth agreed that Cordileone’s action seemed arbitrary.

“There are lots of canons the church likes to ignore,” said the 38-year-old attorney, as she hurried to an appointment in the Mission District. “I think it’s probably just going to drive people away, which is not what they want.”

Outside Chinatown, Chris House, 61, paused across the street from Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the oldest in California. The executive chef hailed the wisdom of “our Founding Fathers” for the separation of church and state.

“Pelosi has been a very proud Catholic over the years,” House said over the clatter of passing cable cars, “and for the church to objectify her in a way and certainly politicize her position is, I think, horrible.”

That was the overwhelming consensus. In nearly two dozen interviews around the city, only one person was even moderately supportive of the archbishop.

“I don’t like it,” Jim Wolff, 63, a fitness center manager, said of Cordileone’s decision to deny Pelosi the holy rite. “But I guess he’s just representing the church’s views.”

Cordileone, of course, is not subject to the whims of public opinion, vehement as they may be. Nor are faith and religious belief the sort of things that are put up for a popular plebiscite.

But if San Francisco voters were asked to choose between the prelate and the politician, it’s clear that Pelosi would win in a landslide.