Pope Francis on Wednesday said abortion is “murder” and urged priests and bishops, especially in the United States, to be pastoral rather than political when faced with the question of who can receive Communion.
On the flight returning from Slovakia, the pope was asked for his opinion about the debate within the US Bishops’ Conference, about whether President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, should be denied communion because of his support for a woman’s right to choose.
“For me, I don’t want to particularize […] the United States because I don’t know the details well, I give the principle … Be a pastor and the pastor knows what he has to do at all times, but as a shepherd. But if he comes out of this shepherding of the Church, immediately he becomes a politician,” said the pope.
Last June, the US Catholic bishops voted to draft a statement on communion that may admonish Catholic politicians, including Biden.
“Communion is not a prize for the perfect … communion is a gift, the presence of Jesus and his church,” said Pope Francis.
Meanwhile, he said “abortion is murder.. Those who carry out abortions kill.”
“At the third week after conception, often even before the mother is aware (of being pregnant), all the organs are already (starting to develop). It is a human life. Period. And this human life has to be respected. It is very clear,” he said.
“Scientifically, it is a human life,” he said.
Church law says a Catholic who procures an abortion automatically excommunicates themselves from the Church.
But there is no clear policy on Catholic politicians who say they have no choice as elected officials to support abortion rights even if they are personally opposed.
This has led to heated debates in the United States.
The pope also cited the controversy over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics that followed the publication of his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.
“Do you remember the storm that was stirred by Amoris laetitia when that chapter on accompanying separated, divorced couples came out: ‘Heresy, heresy!’ Thank God there was Cardinal Schönborn, a great theologian who clarified things,” he said.
“But always condemnation, condemnation, enough with excommunication. Please let us not place any more excommunications. Poor people. They are children of God. They are outside temporarily, but they are children of God and they want, and need, our pastoral closeness. Then the pastors work things out by the Spirit of God.”
Pope Francis said that he had never personally refused the Eucharist to anyone, adding that he was not aware of ever having been in the situation that a pro-choice politician coming to him for Communion.
The pope also told the story of a time when he inadvertently gave Communion to a Jewish woman at a retirement home who had approached the sacrament in ignorance.
Pope Francis said: “Those who are not in the community cannot take Communion — like this Jewish lady, but the Lord wanted to reward her and without my knowledge — why?”
“Because they are out of the community, excommunicated, they are ‘excommunicated’ it is called. It is a harsh term, but what it means is that they are not in the community, or because they do not belong, or are baptized but have drifted away from some of the things.”
Out of the six questions that the pope was asked during the in-flight press conference, he spent the most time speaking about abortion and Holy Communion. – with reports from Agencies