Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic bishops should serve politicians who support abortion rights with “compassion and sensitivity”, not condemnation, and warned that clergy should not let politics get into questions about getting Communion.
On his way home from Slovakia, Francis was asked about the debate in the US church about whether to reject the Holy Communion because of President Joe Biden and other politicians’ stances on abortion. US bishops have agreed to draft a “teaching document” that they hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including Biden, for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.
Francis refused to answer “yes” or “no”, saying he didn’t know the US case well enough. He reiterated that abortion is “murder” and that Catholic priests cannot perform Eucharist services to someone who is not in communion with the church. He spoke of the condition of a Jew or an unbaptized or fallen person.
Most importantly, he said, priests and bishops should respond to any problem that comes their way, not politically but pastorally. He said they should use “God’s way” to accompany believers with “closeness, compassion, and compassion.”
“So what should the priests do? Be a priest and do not go to condemnation, condemnation, ”said Francis.
Referring to the condemnation of Giordano Bruno during the Inquisition for alleged heresy, Francis recalled cases where the church adhered to a principle on political grounds and it ended badly. He was burned at the stake in Campo dei Fiori in Rome.
“When the church does not do it pastorally to defend a principle, it has taken a political side,” Francis said. “If a pastor leaves the pastorate of the church, he immediately becomes a politician.”
Francis said he never denied communion to anyone, but said before that he was not a purposefully pro-abortion politician. And he once confessed to giving Communion to an old woman who confessed to being Jewish.
Francis reiterated his belief that the Eucharist was not “a reward for excellence” but rather “a gift of Jesus’ presence in the church.” But while he declined to say whether a pro-abortion politician had left the congregation, he was clear that it couldn’t be given to someone who wasn’t “associated” with the church.
He was equally clear that abortion is murder and that even a week-old embryo is a human life that must be preserved.
“If you have an abortion, you will kill it,” said Francis. “This is why the church is so strict about it, because if you accept it, you accept murder every day.”
In June, the US bishops agreed that the conference doctrinal committee should draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church, which will be presented for consideration, possibly at a face-to-face meeting in November. To be officially adopted, the document will need the support of two-thirds of the bishops.
Despite a short return flight from the Slovak capital, Bratislava, Francis raised an unusually broad set of questions. Among other things, he said:
— That some people do not understand why they refuse to receive their COVID-19 vaccines because “humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines” and that calm discussion is necessary to help them.
—Since same-sex couples can and should pass civil laws that allow them to have inheritance rights and health insurance, but the church cannot accept same-sex marriage because marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman. “Marriage is marriage. This is not to condemn such people. No Please! They are our brothers and we have to accompany them.”
— Despite those surprised at his recovery, surgery to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon in July was not easy. “It wasn’t plastic surgery,” he muttered.