Pelosi and the Pope: A Tale of Two Thursdays

On Thursday, April 17, known as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday on the 2014 Christian calendar, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Pope Francis both participated in a foot-washing ritual, but apparently with very different goals.

The pope stressed service and humility, appropriate since one of the pope's titles is Servus servorum Dei, or "servant of the servants of God." Pelosi may have had the same in mind, but she also didn't let an opportunity to make a political statement get away.

Pope Francis continued a tradition he began when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and brought with him to the Vatican last year, shortly after his election as pope in March.

In the Bible's Gospel of John, Christ washed the feet of the apostles on the day before He was crucified, and said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

"Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it."

In the Catholic Church, part of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on this day involves the ritual washing of feet by the pastor. Traditionally, this has been all-male, frequently all seminarians or priests (since Catholics also believe the priesthood was established on Maundy Thursday).

But in recent years, lay people of both sexes have been included at the discretion of local bishops, as the meaning of the ritual extended to emphasize not just the brotherhood of priests but the pastor's service to all his flock.

In his native Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio emphasized this second aspect by leaving the church and performing the ritual at other locations, among the lay people, including new mothers and AIDS sufferers. Last year, he went to a youth prison outside Rome, where the group included both sexes and Muslims.

This year, he went to a center for the disabled and elderly in Rome, where he knelt down before a dozen people, some in wheelchairs, poured water over their feet, dried, and kissed them. Italian news sources reported the group included women and a Libyan Muslim.

The pope said (translated into English from Italian), "Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant. And he leaves this inheritance to us: We need to be servants to one another."

Meanwhile, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) headed to St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church to assist Bishop Marc Andrus in washing the feet of two children, as part of his observance of the day.

Rep. Pelosi's Twitter account then provided a photo of the House Minority Leader during the ritual, saying, "Honored to be in the Mission to assist Andrus as he washes the feet of immigrant families."

She then took advantage of the occasion to stump for HR15, the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act," introduced last October.

It's not known if self-described "devout Catholic" Pelosi has presented or will present herself for Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass in San Francisco or elsewhere over the Easter holiday. For someone so adamantly pro-abortion, this is problematic.

Last summer, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome – the Vatican's highest legal authority, short of the pope – said of Pelosi in an interview with The Catholic Servant, "This is a person who, obstinately, after repeated admonitions, persists in a grave sin – cooperating with the crime of procured abortion – and still professes to be a devout Catholic.

"This is a prime example of what Blessed John Paul II referred to as the situation of Catholics who have divorced their faith from their public life and therefore are not serving their brothers and sisters in the way they must."

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has released a video and given interviews emphasizing that Catholics who dissent from Church teachings – especially bedrock ones like the prohibition on abortion – should not present themselves for Communion. However, he has stopped short of making a specific statement about Pelosi in this regard.

In an email to SF Weekly, Catholic Archdiocese spokesperson Christine A. Mugridge wrote, "To date, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has not released any specific statement directed at Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Headlines from news agencies may have indicated this in error."


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