Combine the issue of abortion with matters of faith, and you have a perfect recipe for media cluelessness. So, when the archbishop of San Francisco announced that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Franciscan, was not eligible to receive Holy Communion, the media world reacted with confusion, anger, and misrepresentations.

Without going too deep into Pelosi’s history or church teaching, here are the basics.

Did the archbishop just excommunicate Nancy Pelosi?

No. Excommunication is a very rare act by which a bishop declares, in effect, that a person is excluded from the Catholic Church. People can also do certain things (such as physically attacking the pope, homicide, getting an abortion, or desecrating the Eucharist) that result in automatic excommunication under canon law with or without a declaration. The bishop's public action against Pelosi is not an excommunication. She is still Catholic.

Is Pelosi being barred from communion because she committed a mortal sin?

No. A mortal sin on its own would not be enough to cause a bishop to take an action such as this one.

Wait, what is a "mortal sin," anyway?

The Catholic Church holds that some lesser (or "venial") sins merely harm our character and offend God, whereas "mortal" sins completely sever our relationship with him. Mortal sin always involves a grave violation of the moral law, committed with full knowledge and consent on the part of the sinner. Examples of grave violations include murder, adultery, fornication, lies about serious matters (or lies under oath), theft, robbery, disobedience to legitimate authority in important matters, and deliberate disrespect toward God. If not repented and confessed before death, a mortal sin will result in the ultimate separation from God — eternity in Hell.

What is the connection I keep hearing about between mortal sins and taking Communion?

Since the beginning of Christianity, the church has believed and taught that it is a sacrilege to receive Communion while in the state of mortal sin. As St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

This is one reason (there are others) why some people won't go to Communion every Sunday at Mass. In fact, in the Catholic Church, there is no strict obligation to receive Communion more often than once a year during the 50-day Easter season, although more frequent Communion is highly encouraged.

But there must be lots of sinners in San Francisco — why is Pelosi being singled out?

The reason is scandal. A “scandal” is an act that leads other people astray. This includes publicly misleading others about what is acceptable conduct for Catholics. Pelosi is known to everyone, and she routinely talks about her own Catholicism. She has on many occasions made clear that she prefers her own judgment on the issue of abortion to that of the church's moral teaching. Canon law says that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” "Manifest" refers to the public nature of her abortion advocacy.

Whatever the state of Pelosi's soul — only she and God know that for sure — she is a very prominent Catholic who strongly and publicly supports abortion. She has repeatedly and emphatically stated that she will not change this no matter what the church teaches. In the estimation of the archbishop, her public actions combined with her public practice of her faith risk giving all other Catholics the impression that this is acceptable conduct for Catholics in good standing.

What exactly is the church’s teaching on abortion?

The catechism of the Catholic Church says this: “From its conception, the child has the right to life. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a 'criminal' practice gravely contrary to the moral law. “ Catholic teaching forbids performing, procuring, assisting in, and advocating for abortion.

But that's not all: The church also teaches that the civil law must protect all human life, which among other things requires that the civil law must prohibit abortion: “Because it should be treated as a person from conception, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed like every other human being ... The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority.”

Pelosi, then, rejects Catholic teaching both on the morality of abortion itself and on the obligation of the government to protect human life.

Could Pelosi ever receive Communion in her home diocese again?

Yes. The bishop would likely rescind this sanction if Pelosi were to renounce her past support for abortion and embrace the church's teaching.